April 30, 2012
Allergies to Pets
You can have a happy, healthy life with your pets, even if you're allergic to them
It's not you, it's me
Any and all cats and dogs may cause reactions for people who are allergic to animals. Cats tend to cause more reactions than dogs for allergic people, although some people are more sensitive to dogs than cats. Contrary to popular belief, there are no "non-allergenic" breeds of dogs or cats; even hairless breeds may cause symptoms.
Dogs with soft, constantly-growing hair—like Poodles or the Bichon Frise—may be less irritating to some individuals, although this may be because they are bathed and groomed more frequently. One dog or cat may be more irritating to an individual allergy sufferer than another animal of the same species.
What to do
If someone in your household has been diagnosed with a pet allergy by an allergist, carefully consider whether you can live with the symptoms before you bring a new pet home. Except in the case of children, who sometimes outgrow allergies, few people with allergies become accustomed to pets to whom they are allergic. Too many allergic owners obtain pets without thinking through the challenges of living with allergies.
If your or a family member's allergies are simply miserable, but not life-threatening, take these five steps to reduce the symptoms:
1. Create an "allergy free" zone in your home—preferably the allergic person's bedroom—and strictly prohibit the pet's access to it. Use a high-efficiency HEPA air cleaner, and consider using impermeable covers for the mattress and pillows.
2. Use HEPA air cleaners throughout the rest of the home, and avoid dust-and-dander-catching furnishings such as cloth curtains and blinds and carpeted floors. Clean frequently and thoroughly to remove dust and dander, washing articles such as couch covers and pillows, curtains, and pet beds.
3. Bathing your pet on a weekly basis can reduce the level of allergy-causing dander (shed old skin cells). Cats can get used to being bathed, but it's critical to only use products labeled for them; kittens may need a shampoo safe for kittens. Check with your veterinarian's staff or a good book on pet care for directions about safe bathing, It's a good idea to use a shampoo recommended by your veterinarian or other animal care professional.
4. Don't be quick to blame the family pet for allergies. Ask your allergist to specifically test for allergies to pet dander. Many allergy sufferers are sensitive to more than one allergen. Reduce the overall allergen level in your environment by concentrating on all of the causes, not just the pet allergy.
5. Try treatments. Additional treatments for allergies to pets are include immunotherapy (allergy shots), steroidal and antihistamine nose sprays and antihistamine pills. It is important to find an allergist who understands your commitment to living with your pet. A combination of approaches—medical control of symptoms, good housecleaning methods, and immunotherapy—is most likely to succeed in allowing an allergic person to live with pets.