Battling Pet Allergies

Almost 70% of U.S. households have domestic pets, equally divided between cats and dogs – that’s 100 million pets! But almost 10 million pet owners — including kids — are allergic to their animals and must be extra careful around their furry friends.

A pet’s dander, skin flakes, saliva and urine can cause an allergic reaction in some people. Hair or fur also can collect pollens, mold spores and other outdoor allergens. Yet a recent Japanese study found that one in four patients with pet allergies continue to keep a pet despite having problems with their allergy and asthma.

The study also indicated that about 80% of the people surveyed who had pets kept them inside their home most of the time. This may explain why allergy symptoms, such as itchy and watery eyes, sneezing, coughing, wheezing and hives in allergic children and adults, get worse with continued exposure to pets.

The presence of allergic dander in cats and dogs is not affected by length of hair or fur, and there are no truly “hypoallergenic breeds.”

Keeping animals outside is only a temporary solution, since pet dander will eventually collect in the house as it is carried inside on clothing. Even the kind of clothing you wear can affect the transportation of pet dander. A study at the University of Sydney found people who wore wool sweaters were exposed to more than 10 times the amount of cat dander than individuals who weren’t wearing clothing on their upper body. People who wore freshly washed T-shirts were exposed to the least amount of cat dander.

Taking Control
Keeping pets out of your bedroom can reduce allergy symptoms since you spend about eight hours every day in this room. The presence of cats and dogs on beds contributes greatly to the amount of airborne allergens in the home. Exposure to airborne allergens, which also are spread by air currents, can be reduced by keeping your pet out of bedrooms, dens or living rooms with upholstered furniture. And, as hard as it may be, pet owners should consider removing pets from their homes if they wish to avoid allergic reactions.

Because pet dander is light and buoyant, and floats freely in the indoor air, electrostatic or HEPA air cleaners can be a big help in removing unwanted allergenic particles, especially cat dander. Placing a screen or filter over room vents may keep dander from traveling through the heating and air conditioning system.

It may take six months or more to completely get rid of cat dander particles in the home, even after the pet is removed.

Here are some things that you can do to minimize allergy symptoms caused by your pet:

  • Try not to hug and kiss pets if you are allergic to them.
  • Stay away from litter boxes and place them away from vents in homes with central heating and air-conditioning.
  • Wash hands after touching a pet so you don’t spread the dander.
  • Think about placing plastic covers on the couch or other upholstered furniture where your pet sleeps or rests.
  • Wash your pet every week. Recent studies have indicated that some significant reduction in the amount of pet allergens occurs with weekly washing of dogs and cats. This seems to reduce the amount of dander that causes allergy symptoms. Several shampoo products are available in pet stores that may neutralize or inactivate allergens present on the skin of cats and dogs.
  • Someone who doesn’t have allergies should brush the pet regularly, outside of the home.
  • Talk to your vet about getting a well-balanced diet for your pet. This change in diet may help to minimize hair loss for the pet, which can reduce dander indoors.
  • Use a double or micro-filter bag in the vacuum to reduce the amount of pet allergen present in carpeting that leaks back into the room air.
  • There are chemical solutions that may remove allergens present in carpeting. However, getting ride of carpeting and rugs is the best way to reduce exposure.
  • If you have a pet allergy but still want keep your pet, talk to an allergist/immunologist about allergy shots (immunotherapy), which can reduce the unnecessary suffering associated with having a pet in the home.

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