Are you allergic to your pets? Allergies can make pet ownership difficult. Having pets around us brings companionship and joy on a daily basis. But with that happiness comes the need for training, time, attention, love, veterinary care, and tolerance. Tolerance is very important, especially when the owner of the pet is allergic to it.
Different studies conclude that approximately 15 percent of the world’s population is allergic to cats or dogs. About 2 million Americans who are allergic to cats live with at least one cat in their home–despite the allergy. In fact, in a study of pet owners who were encouraged to give up the pets they were allergic to, only one in five did. Not only that, many of those same owners bought another pet after the previous one died. Clearly, the benefits of raising pets as companions outweigh the drawbacks of pet allergies for many pet owners. Comfortably living with an animal as a companion while being allergic to it can work if pet owners follow some basic rules.
All dogs and cats cause allergies in people who are allergic to them. Studies show that cats tend to produce more allergens–though some people tend to be more sensitive to dogs. Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as an allergen-free animal; even hairless breeds produce some allergens. Dog breeds with soft growing hair, like Bichon Frise or Poodles, can be less irritating to some people, though these results are often also impacted by grooming and training. Some allergy sufferers are more sensitive to specific breeds.
What is the source of irritation from pet allergies in humans?
The glands in your animal’s skin release very small proteins–known as allergens–that stick to the animal fur and then get into the air. They are also found in the animal’s saliva and urine. Allergens may turn airborne when saliva gets dried up in their fur. The allergy symptoms vary from one person to the other, but often include sneezing and sniffling, but can also lead to life-threatening asthma. Symptoms can worsen if the allergy sufferer is also exposed to environmental irritants.
If a family member is suffering from bothersome allergies–but not life-threatening ones–follow these steps to lessen the symptoms:
- Use a high-efficiency HEPA air cleaner (available at almost any home and garden store or discount department store) in the bedroom.
- Create an “allergy free” zone in the home—preferably the bedroom—and strictly prohibit the pet’s access to it.
- Consider using impermeable covers for the mattress and pillows because allergen particles brought into the room on clothes and other objects can accumulate in them.
1. Employ the use of HEPA air cleaners to prevent dust and pet dander from lingering on your furniture, clothing, curtains, and carpets. Thoroughly clean and remove dust and pet dander. Wash items like couch covers, pillowcases, curtains, and pet bedding. Use micro-filter bags in your vacuum cleaner to trap all the allergens around your house.
2. You can lessen the level of allergens in the fur of your pet up to 85 percent by bathing them on a weekly basis. Some specialized products claim to lessen the number of allergens in your pet’s fur. Most studies show that these products are less effective than a weekly bath. Some cats and dogs can come to enjoy their baths. Talk to your vet or consult a reliable book on the best way to go about this process. Use the shampoo type recommended by your veterinarian.
3. Don’t assume that your allergy problems are caused exclusively by your pet. Consult with an allergist. Know that some allergies are cumulative over time. Many allergy sufferers react to more than one allergen. If you are allergic to cat dander, dog dander, dust, pollen, insecticides or cigarette smoke, you will need to cut down on all of the allergens in your home. Focus on the problem as a whole, not just the allergy caused by pets. For instance, you may have to come up with ways to eliminate cat dander from the home while also staying indoors during spring months when pollen counts increase.
4. Allergy shots (Immunotherapy) can help alleviate symptoms but will not get rid of them completely. This treatment works slowly by desensitizing the immune system to the pet’s allergens. Proteins that cause the allergy are injected under the sufferer’s skin, causing the body to release protective proteins (antibodies) which prevent the allergen from causing reactions. Those who choose to receive allergy shots may receive several over a short period to quickly boost results and then receive maintenance doses over time.
5. Other treatments for allergies caused by pets include steroidal pills, symptomatic treatment, antihistamine pills, and antihistamine nose sprays. For asthma, there are a variety of treatments. Consult your doctor.
It is important to consult with an allergist who understands how much you love your pet. Combining different approaches, such as medical treatments, home cleaning methods, and immunotherapy often is the most effective. Your results will vary.
If you don’t currently have a pet, but plan to own one and know that you suffer from pet allergies, you should plan accordingly. Taking the right precautionary and maintenance measures can be the difference between suffering and comfort.