Allergies and pets
You've dreamed of owning a pet for as long as you can remember. The good news is you've decided on the perfect name. The bad news — your new best friend triggers allergy symptoms — itchy, watery eyes and a stuffy nose. Your doctor tells you that your furry friend is the likely culprit.
The most effective way to alleviate the signs and symptoms that come with a pet allergy is to find a new home for your pet, but separating from this loyal companion can be heart breaking.
If your allergy is serious enough that it threatens your health and well-being — for instance, you require emergency medications for asthma attacks — you may have no choice but to part with your pet. But if your allergy is mild, you might have other options. Only you and your doctor can determine the best solution for you and your pet. But learning more about your allergy can help you know what you can do about it.
How pets cause allergies
Any animal with fur or feathers can contribute to your allergies. If you're in close contact with such an animal and you're sensitive to the allergens it gives off, that animal can give you allergy symptoms.
You might be among the thousands of people allergic to cats. But it might surprise you that symptoms don't come from exposure to cat hair. Rather, cat dander — flaky skin cells and dried saliva — is what triggers an allergic reaction. Dogs also have dander that can trigger allergies, though this is not as common a problem as it is with cats. Dried pet saliva can stick to carpets, bedding, furniture and clothing.
The tiny dander particles on your pet are very sticky. They'll stick to you, your clothes and the carpets and furnishings in your home. Dander can be carried through the air and into your eyes and nose. There it becomes an irritant and causes your allergy signs and symptoms, such as a runny nose and watery eyes.
No dog or cat is hypoallergenic or without dander, though it's possible to be more sensitive to some breeds than to others. In cats, males tend to have more dander than do females — but not enough to make a difference in your allergy symptoms. It's safe to assume that once you've been diagnosed with a cat or dog allergy, you're allergic to all cats or dogs.
Eliminating pet dander
Unfortunately, making your house dander-free usually means parting with your pet. And your doctor may recommend that your house be pet-free.
Giving up your cat or dog is the only way to permanently reduce the amount of dander in your home. And, as if the separation isn't hard enough, you'll next face a monumental cleaning task. Removing your pet from your house won't make your allergies go away instantly. It can take several weeks to several months for the dander in your house to dwindle to the point that it no longer causes your symptoms. Thorough cleaning — from scrubbing your walls to replacing your furniture — will remove dander much more quickly. Carpet cleaning only temporarily removes the dander. If your pet is still in the house, you'll get dander in your carpets once again.
Other ways to help you control the allergens in your home include:
* Creating a pet-free zone. Section off a portion of your home to be pet-free. For many people, this might be a bedroom. Don't let your pet in — no matter how many times she mews at the door. Though you can't stop the dander from sticking to you and finding its way into your bedroom, keeping your cat or dog out will reduce the levels of allergen in that one room.
* Using special bedding. Allergen-resistant bedding makes it easier to keep pet dander from settling on your bed.
* Washing your pet frequently. Bathing your pet on a weekly basis can reduce the amount of dander in your pet's fur. Even cats eventually get used to baths. Ask your veterinarian about the best way to bathe your pet without causing you or your pet too much stress.
* Removing dander-attracting furnishings. Replace carpets with linoleum or hardwood floors. Exchange your fabric furniture for vinyl or leather. Take down your cloth drapes and put up plastic blinds instead. These new furnishings won't attract and hold pet dander.
* Using HEPA air and vacuum filters. High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters for your air ducts can trap allergens in the air. HEPA vacuum bags will reduce the amount of dander rustled up by your cleaning.
There's no guarantee these other options will work. Be realistic about how much annoyance from your allergy symptoms you're willing to accept. If you find your allergies aren't getting better — or if they're getting worse — you might have to face the fact that things won't get better if you keep your pet.
Putting your pet outside
You might consider putting your pet outdoors as a way to reduce the allergens in your home. But if you still plan to pat and play with your pet while it's outside, that sticky dander can easily stick to your clothes and be carried back into your home.
If you have severe allergies, even limited exposure to your pet can cause problems. But if your allergies are mild, putting your pet outside might reduce the dander in your home to a level that doesn't cause your symptoms to flare up.
Remember that leaving your pet outside in extreme heat or cold can be dangerous for your pet. Depending on where you live, putting your dog or cat outside might not be the best option.
It may be impossible to completely eliminate animal allergen from your home even if you put your pet outside. Animal allergen remains present even when there are no pets in the home. It's most likely brought into your house on your clothing.
If you can't part with your pet
Many people with allergies choose to keep their pets, despite what their doctors recommend. You might want to keep your cat or dog around at all costs — no matter how itchy your eyes get. But if your allergy is severe, keeping your pet could lead to other health problems, such as asthma. And keeping your pet could make your reactions more severe. Talk to your doctor about the severity of your allergy.
Also tell your doctor about your decision not to part with your pet. Your doctor can discuss the risks of such a decision. He or she might offer other options to help you reduce the amount of pet dander in your house.
It may be helpful to have a skin test to determine if your pet is really causing your allergy. You might instead be allergic to other allergens in your home, such as dust and mold. Reducing the levels of dust and mold in your house might be all you need to do to control your allergies.
Ask your doctor about medications. Antihistamines and other medications can control your pet- allergy symptoms. Some medications you take every day, and others you take only when you have signs and symptoms of allergies.
Don't get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.