Tips for Allergic Pet Owners

One of the most common reasons people give up their pets is because they are allergic to their animals. While some reactions can be quite severe, especially in the case of asthma, most people suffer mild to moderate symptoms. If you’re in the latter category, there are a number of steps you can take to improve your situation without having to give up your beloved companion!

Many people believe that they are allergic to their pet’s hair but the real culprit is dander- tiny specks of skin, saliva and related proteins that come from an animal’s body. More people tend to be allergic to cats than to dogs, perhaps because cats clean themselves constantly, increasing the presence of saliva allergens on their bodies.

If you suspect that you or someone in your family might be allergic to an animal, some personalized research is in order BEFORE you decide to adopt. Visit dog or cat-owning friends for a weekend; play with their pets, groom them, stick your face in their hair and breathe deeply. You may find out immediately that you are allergic, although there is always the chance that an allergy will emerge or grow more severe later on. Be aware of that possibility, and consider it seriously before making the commitment to a pet.

If you do develop mild allergies to your pet, try the following:

  • Purchase a commercial-sized air purifier. If you are allergic to your pet, chances are you are also allergic to other substances, particularly other kinds of fur, house dust and molds, feathers, cigarette smoke and pesticide spray. Since the effect of allergies is cumulative, your pet may be just one of many allergens building up in your environment. An air purifier can bring dramatic results.
  • Decorate your home with easy-to-clean surfaces. Wood or linoleum floors, furniture with simple lines and venetian blinds that wipe clean are a better choice than carpets, upholstered and ornate furniture, and draperies that collect dust. Synthetic fabrics attract and hold dust much more than natural fabrics.
  • Wash bedding, rugs and slip covers often.
  • Vacuum frequently and thoroughly. Wet-dust and damp-mop appropriate surfaces. Mist rooms with distilled water to keep air-borne particles to a minimum.
  • Use plain clay litter for cats. Cat litter can also be an irritant for allergy sufferers. Plain clay litter is usually the least irritating; try to find one with a low-dust ratio.
  • Use a dust and pollen mask. Wear the mask when grooming your pet or changing the litter box. Better yet, give those chores to someone else in the family!
  • Groom your pet daily. Try to groom your pet out-of-doors. Bathe your pet every six weeks, but watch for dry skin. There are many allergy control grooming products now available.
  • Establish “off-limit areas”. Designate certain rooms of the house (such as the bedroom) as off-limits to your pet. This will allow a safe haven where the allergic person can escape to in case of an allergy attack.
  • Consult your physician. First of all, find an allergist who is supportive of your goal – living with a pet despite your allergies. Some physicians may automatically recommend “no pets” without considering the human-animal bond that likely exists. Have an allergy test to ensure that your pet is actually the problem! There are many treatments that your allergist can recommend. If you or anyone in your family has a severe allergic reaction to a pet, consult your physician immediately.

For many people, the thought of living without a canine or feline companion is far more devastating than allergy symptoms could ever be. And we now know that living with an animal can also increase our chances of good health. Pets can actually help us dispel stress and loneliness, decrease depression and even lower blood pressure! Most pet-owners do have a choice; one need not simply succumb to the allergy. There ARE steps that can be taken.