Tips on Living With Allergies & The Pets That Cause Them
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, about 1 in 5 Americans suffer from at least one type of allergy. Pet dander is one of the more common allergies, affecting roughly 15-30% of allergy sufferers. Considering that between one-third and nearly one-half of homes have a dog or a cat, there are plenty of people who are allergic to pets yet still consider pets to be part of their family and share their home with them. Knowing how to manage your allergy symptoms and limit contact with dander can go a long way towards creating a peaceful, breathable home for those with pet allergies.
Understanding Pet Allergies
Many people mistakenly believe that they are allergic to an animal’s fur, but it is actually the dander (dead skin that is shed) and saliva, known collectively as allergens that causes a person’s symptoms to erupt. Fur, however, does carry a heavy amount of allergens, especially cats since they groom themselves frequently, coating their fur with saliva.
While genetics do play a role in a person’s likelihood of having allergies, no one is born with allergies. Rather, they may develop later in life due to various triggers as the body’s immune system tries to figure out what is safe and what isn’t. Usually, this allows the body to successfully identify and ward off viruses and other harmful invaders. But sometimes our body overreacts and attacks harmless substances like pollen and pet dander. Of course, not everyone develops allergies and people who do have them in varying degrees of severity. Many people’s allergies are so mild they don’t do anything to treat them.
Studies have shown that raising children in a home with a dog or cat can actually strengthen their body’s immune system, especially when they are exposed while under 2 years of age. Additionally, these children have reduced risk of allergies and are less likely to develop respiratory infections, coughs, and colds.
Unfortunately, most allergens including pet dander are light and clingy: they travel easily through the air and attach to just about anything fabric: clothing, carpet, and furniture. In order to eliminate exposure, you should address how dander travels and collects in your home. Whenever possible, replace carpet and install tile, wood or laminate flooring so allergens don’t get trapped and linger in the fabric. Place filters over air vents to prevent dander being blown through the air ducts, especially into the bedroom of those with allergic reactions. These are very inexpensive and can be found at any home improvement store. Invest in a decent air filter, preferably one with HEPA (High Efficiency Particle Arresting) technology which means it captures at least 94 percent of allergens, greatly helping to purify the air and help you breathe more easily.
Of course, regular washing of bedding, both human and animal, in hot water is suggested. Routine vacuuming and cleaning will also help, even if you do have a HEPA filter. If symptoms are severe enough for a member of your family, you might consider having ‘pet free zones’ in your home, especially bedrooms. Allergies are the cause of about 11 percent of cats surrendered to shelters, according to the American Humane Association, and not all of them will make it out. For this reason, and the fact that your pet is already comfortable and happy to be part of your family, it is best to do anything possible to ensure you all can stay together. If visiting friends or relatives have allergies, your pet can stay in a separate room for the duration of their stay and will be just fine.
Your house might be hoarding allergens, but they are originating from your pet, so why not address the source directly? Daily brushing is important, and so is regular bathing. Shaving your pet may be helpful for decreasing the fur, but it will not have an impact on dander, since that comes from the skin itself. For in between baths, use hypoallergenic and shed-control wipes. Pets with unhealthy coats or skin will produce an excess of dander, so make sure your pet- and their coat- is healthy. Dietary supplements, such as fish oil, can be very helpful in maintaining a healthy skin and coat. No need to buy the pet-specific kind from Petsmart, you can just use a generic brand from a grocery or health food store , which tends to be cheaper. Be sure adjust the dosing depending on your needs and pet’s weight.
While allergies to animal dander are always an inconvenience at best, in most cases it can be managed. Taking the advice above, as well as speaking to your doctor or allergist if needed can help. All avenues should be explored to ensure that you and your pets can live happily ever after, together.
*Disclosure* This article is not a substitute for medical advice. You should speak with an allergist to identify your specific allergens and discuss treatment options for living with pets and allergies. If you have any personal tips, please share in the comments.