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home : columns : columns May 24, 2016

5/13/2014 12:57:00 PM
Could you be allergic to your pet?
Echo the cat making your eyes itch? photo by Jodi Schneider McNamee
+ click to enlarge
Echo the cat making your eyes itch? photo by Jodi Schneider McNamee

Tyson the dog making you sneeze?photo by Jodi Schneider McNamee
+ click to enlarge
Tyson the dog making you sneeze?photo by Jodi Schneider McNamee

By Jodi Schneider McNamee

You've recently bonded with your rescue dog after working for weeks on training and socializing him. You've noticed that your allergies seem much worse and it's not even spring. Could it be your furry friend?

One of the worst discoveries pet parents can make is that they are (or a family member is) allergic to a four-legged family member.

Some people develop an immune reaction to a certain protein produced in the sebaceous glands of a dog or cat's skin. This allergen is found in the animal's dander; the tiny scales of dead skin that pets are constantly shedding. Allergens are also present in a dog or cat's saliva and urine. Your pet secrets fluids and sheds the dander that contains the allergens. They collect on fur and other surfaces and can get onto everything.

If you suspect you're allergic to your four-legged friend, it is important to see an allergist and be tested.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, studies show that approximately 15 percent of the population is allergic to dogs or cats. In a study of 341 adults who were allergic to cats or dogs and had been advised by their doctors to give up their pets, only one in five did. It's clear the benefits of pet companionship outweigh the drawbacks of pet allergies for many owners.

However, some people believe that once they are diagnosed with a pet allergy, they have no choice but to remove their furry friend from their home.

Thankfully, there are many solutions that can be explored that would allow an allergy sufferer to keep their four-legged family member while successfully managing their allergies - as long as the allergies are just a nuisance, but are non-life-threatening. They can choose to live with Fido or Kitty by modifying behaviors and keeping the house as dander-free as possible.

Keeping a clean house helps combat allergies. Clean your home frequently and thoroughly to remove dust and dander (wear a mask if you're the one allergic). Use a vacuum with high-efficiency particulate air, or HEPA filtration. HEPA purifiers can theoretically remove at least 99.97 percent of dust, pollen, mold, dander, and other airborne particles.

Clean pet beds, rugs, and blankets as often as possible. Use cleaning products that pick up and hold dust and dirt, such as microfiber cloths. Sticky rollers work great for picking up pet hair off couches, chairs and beds, but having washable covers works even better.

Use HEPA room air purifiers throughout your home to keep dander under control. Avoid dust- and dander-catching furnishings such as cloth curtains and carpeted floors. If you are able, remove carpets and use tile or other non-carpeted flooring.

High-efficiency air filters should be used in your home's heating and air-conditioning systems.

Create an "allergy-free" zone in your home by making the allergic family member's bedroom strictly off-limits to those with four paws, and place a HEPA air purifier in the room.

Make it a petty crime when Fido jumps up on the furniture - but please provide him with a nice bed to call his own. If Fido's bed is washable, wash it weekly using hot water.

Brushing and bathing your furry friend on a weekly basis can reduce the level of allergy-causing dander. Even cats can become accustomed to being bathed.

Immunology (allergy shots) can improve symptoms but cannot eliminate them entirely. They work by gradually desensitizing a person's immune system to the pet allergens. Immunology has been used successfully for more than 100 years, and can help people with serious allergies that might otherwise have to give up their furry friends.

Additional treatments for allergies to pets are symptomatic, including steroidal and antihistamine nose sprays and antihistamine pills. There are multiple over-the-counter medications out there. Check with your doctor first to find the one that fits your needs best.

There are combinations of solutions that can control your pet allergies and hopefully work for you. There are a large number of animal-lovers who manage their allergies and live happily and healthily with their four-legged family members.

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