Dog Allergies: Allergies to Pets

11 Tips to Reduce Allergies to Pets

Woman blowing her nose
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Spring means allergy season is here, and allergies to pets can be a big problem for pet lovers. Hot weather games may be fun or may mean more time spent indoors avoiding sunburn for both people and pets. It’s also the time of year for pollen, mold, and dust, so allergy sufferers double up the dose of misery. Even if you aren’t directly allergic to your cat or dog, they act like furry dust mops that trap and hold allergens that do set you off.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, six out of 10 people in the United States come in contact with cats or dogs and folks who already have allergies are more likely to react to fur or feathers. Approximately 15 percent to 30 percent of people with allergies have allergic reactions to cats and dogs with cat allergies about twice as common as dog allergies. That means it doesn’t have to be spring for you to react to your pets with allergy symptoms. Symptoms include itchy eyes, coughing, wheezing and/or hives.

Sensitive people don't react to the pet hair at all. Even the “hairless” puppies like the Chinese Crested Dog or the Sphynx cat can prompt a reaction. That’s because of a specialized protein produced by most pets causes the reaction. Any pet may provoke an allergic reaction--there’s no such thing as a “hypoallergenic” pet, despite marketing claims you may hear. That said, there are individual pets that an allergic person may be able to tolerate either because they build up a resistance to that particular dog or cat, or the animal happens to produce less dander (dried saliva, urine and skin secretions).

Understanding The Sneeze Threshold

The common knee-jerk reaction from health care professionals is to get rid of the pet. That is NOT going to happen for most pet lovers! The truth is, the allergens shed from pets tend to be sticky and stay in the environment long after a pet has left the premises so giving the puppy away won’t offer a night and day cure.

Also, since many pet-allergic people also react to other things, it may be possible to reduce the allergy threshold so that they have less reaction.

Picture an empty glass representing NO allergens and no reaction. As you add things like pollen and dust to the container, the glass fills up. Once it reaches the “sneeze threshold” you react with allergy symptoms.

Everyone has a different threshold, though, with some folks able to tolerate one amount of exposure (3/4 of a glass full) while others are more sensitive (react at the 25 percent mark). But if you can reduce the number of allergens in your personal glass, that may drop the level to a tolerable level so that you react less (or not at all) to your pet. Perhaps you react to puppy dander, grass pollen and dust mites and the three combined fill up your allergy glass. If you can have someone else dust the house or use other techniques to reduce pollen, that may drop the allergen level in your personal glass below your individual sneeze threshold.

11 Tips to Reduce Pet Allergies

Your own physician can best guide you about human health concerns. Just be sure you convince the doctor of your commitment to keeping your pet. There are steps pet owners can take to feel better, without having to give up their special cat or dog.

  1. Bathing your puppy can help. Washing the pet weekly in plain water dramatically reduces allergic reactions by rinsing away the dander. If like my dog Magic, your dog may welcome a dowsing with the hose to cool off in this hot weather. For cats, use a wet washcloth and wipe them down, since they tend to object to dunking.
  2. Wear an old shirt or smock to play and cuddle with your pet, and then change clothes and wash your hands and face. That rinses off allergens that otherwise you carry with you.
  3. Create a "pet-free zone" such as the bedroom, and make it off limits to the pet. That gives you eight or more hours a day of reduced exposure.
  4. Forced-air heating and air-conditioning can spread allergens through the house. Use a filter material like cheesecloth to cover bedroom vents.
  5. Brush and/or comb your pets thoroughly to get rid of hair otherwise shed in the house. Have a non-allergic family member take care of this duty. I love the Furminator grooming tool. It pulls off 90 percent or more loose fur, and with a German shepherd, I know from shedding! It works on the cat, too. Different sizes are available at pet products stores.
  1. Remove allergen reservoirs like carpets and fuzzy throws or pet beds, and aim for easily cleaned hardwood surfaces. When you can’t get rid of carpet or hate the thought of getting rid of the pet’s favorite nap spot, keep them clean by vacuuming frequently. Wear a mask so you don’t breath in the dust or dander stirred up by the vacuum.
  2. Do you also have a cat? Or maybe you have a pocket pet? People may react more to the dusty litter or animal bedding than to the cat or gerbil. This is a great excuse to have one of the kids take on pet potty cleaning duties, so the allergy sufferers avoid exposure.
  3. HEPA filter air cleaners added to central heating and air conditioning used at least four hours per day can help remove allergens from the air. Air cleaners with an electrostatic filter also remove particles the size of animal allergens from the air.
  4. Allerpet® can help by cleaning a pet's coat of dander and other allergens such as dried urine and saliva, common irritants that trigger human reactions. After a thorough brushing to extract dead hair, Allerpet is applied to the animal's coat and does not harm the pet or leave a residue on furniture or clothing. The product is a gentle emollient that is non-toxic and safe for use around small children, plants, and animals. Allerpet®/D is designed for dogs and Allerpet®/C is designed for cats, but can also be used on ferrets, rabbits, gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, mice and other furry critters. Both products are available over the counter at pet products stores.
  5. My husband suffers from allergies and had heard raves from colleagues about the benefits of salt lamps. Frankly, it sounded like hoodoo to me, but I figured it couldn’t hurt. And I’m a big proponent of natural, less invasive but effective treatments whenever possible. The light bulb heats the salt so that negative ions are released into the air. The negative ions knock particulate matter like dust and other airborne substances to the floor so only clean air is at nose-level. Potential benefits include positively impacting allergy symptoms and reducing snoring.
  1. Allergy shots from your medical doctor may also help. It’s important to get a medical diagnosis and not just assume it’s the pet. Once you identify the culprits it may be easier to get a handle on how to manage your allergies—while keeping the furry love of your life in your heart and home.