How to Relieve Pet Allergies


As cute as they might be, cats are a major source of allergies.
As cute as they might be, cats are a major source of allergies.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Our love affair with the furry and feathered has produced a nation of pet owners, many of whom need tissues and pet allergy medicines to cope. Can pets be a part of an allergy sufferer's world? In this article, we will tell you the truth about pets and allergies and even give you helpful advice if you have to make the tough decision to get rid of your pet to save your health. Let's get started with some basic information about pet allergies.

Like all allergic reactions, pet allergies are the result of an immune system reaction to a harmless substance; in this case, the reaction is to the proteins in pets' dander (dead skin flakes) and possibly saliva and urine (it depends on the breed). Unlike other airborne allergens that come from unwanted creatures, pet allergens come from a cute and cuddly animal, a four-legged or feathered friend whom we adore and who adores us.

Pity pet allergy sufferers, for they endure endless bouts of misery because of their love of or the popularity of pets. After critter contact, many look like they've lost a boxing match: They have puffy faces; watery, swollen eyes; a runny nose; and red, irritated skin. Such reactions aren't always immediate, especially when sensitivity is minor or allergen levels are low. You might spend all day petting a sister's cat and only suffer a tiny itch.

But come 2 A.M., the immune system wakes up and soon you're wide awake rubbing your eyes, blowing your nose, and cursing the cat. Highly sensitive people usually don't have to wait 'til 2 A.M. (or later) for reactions to start. It seems they just look at the cat and experience skin irritations, nasal congestion, and breathing difficulties. For people with asthma, contact with a cat can trigger a severe asthma attack.

Ideally, all allergy sufferers would be able to keep their pets, but what happens when a family member's allergies make it necessary to get rid of a furry friend? Keep reading for advice on how to handle this touchy situation.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Tips for Reducing Pet Allergies

One of the worst discoveries pet owners can make is that they are (or a family member is) allergic to a pet, especially after strong emotional bonds have formed. If someone in the household has developed allergies to a beloved pet, you must make the heart-wrenching decision about whether or not to keep the animal.

Before jumping to any decisions, though, first have the allergy confirmed by testing. If the test comes back positive, most allergists will recommend that the pet causing the allergies be removed from the home to avoid the possible progression of symptoms and to decrease the amount of medication the allergic person requires. Once you've received the results and heard the recommendation, you'll have to decide what to do.

While allergists are generally correct when they recommend removing a pet, doing so is like losing a family member. Some people, understandably so, are unwilling to give up their pet. Instead, they choose to live with the pet by modifying behaviors and keeping the house as dander-free as possible. If this is the route you decide to take, consider the following suggestions:

  • Wash and brush dogs and cats once a week. Have a nonallergic family member brush the pet outside daily.
  • Make the allergic family member's bedroom and bed strictly off-limits to those with four paws. But be aware that, even though the pet's territory is contained, allergens won't be. Allergens spread far and wide with help from the heating and air-conditioning system, and they get a ride on people's clothing. High efficiency air filters should be used in the bedroom's heating and air-conditioning systems, if the residence has a forced-air system, and they should be maintained every two to three months to help reduce dander distribution.
  • Make it a petty crime for pets to jump on furniture, but do provide them with a nice bed to call their own. If the pet's bed is washable, wash it weekly using hot water. Remember: Dust mites don't discriminate when it comes to dander.
  • Consider keeping pets outside. This may be a good option for the allergy sufferer; however, in most cases this is a poor option for your pet, who will probably be happier and healthier in another family's home. Use your best judgment when deciding a pet's fate. Does it like to be outside? Does it have adequate room to run and play? Is the environment too cold in the winter or too hot in the summer? Does it have protection from the elements? Is it accustomed to constant attention from the family? Does it annoy the neighbors by barking?
  • Do not let allergic family members hug, kiss, or cuddle pets. If the momentary lapse of love happens, make sure hands get washed after contact.
  • If possible, use a central air cleaner for at least four hours a day. These air cleaners can help to remove significant amounts of pet allergens from the home.
  • Vacuum carpets daily. Damp dust furniture twice weekly. Maintain all your regular allergy-proofing tasks.
  • Place the litter box in an isolated area, where it won't be affected by the home's circulation system. You don't want to circulate the allergens and odor from the litter all over the house. Allergic persons should not clean the litter box. If they must, make sure they wear a mask and gloves.

Getting Rid of a Pet

If you decide to take this prescribed route, don't expect instant relief from allergy and asthma symptoms. It takes an average of 20 weeks, plus daily heavy-duty vacuuming, dusting, and washing, as well as carpet cleaning, to reduce the levels of allergens to those found in pet-free homes. While people with mild to moderate pet allergies may sometimes be able to keep their pets by following the above recommendations, those with severe pet allergies and/or asthma or who suffer life-threatening reactions may need to give them up. Saying good-bye to a beloved pet is never easy, especially for children. But there are ways to make the ordeal a little easier. Try these suggestions for easing the emotional trauma of giving away a pet:

Think it out together:

Start with a family brainstorming session in which each family member presents their own ideas and options for giving away the pet. When children help find a good home for their companion, they are better able to deal with the loss.

Hear ye, hear ye:

Spread the word to family, friends, and coworkers about the need to relocate your pet. Just be sure they are aware of the medical reason so that potential adopters will not think you are trying to pass off a carpet-chewing, ill-tempered problem pet. If you're not successful with personal contacts, advertise your pet in the newspaper's pet section. Again, be sure to mention in the ad that you're giving the pet away for medical reasons, and screen people as best you can to find a good home. The grocery store community bulletin board is another good place to advertise. Put up signs with pictures of your pet and descriptions of its personality.

Creative advertising:

If newspaper and grocery store advertising fails to produce a satisfactory home, it is time to get creative. Try taking your dog to a popular park, carrying a sign describing your plight. Or go door to door with a picture of your cat -- or approach a pet-store owner about selling your bird.

Give them shelter:

Sending a pet to a shelter is a last-ditch option, when all else has failed and your family's health is threatened. Shelter living is very traumatic for a pet accustomed to a household, and older pets probably will not get adopted. There are some very good no-kill animal shelters that are an alternative to city animal shelters, but their resources are limited financially and your pet will do much better in a family environment.

Handling the Demand for a Pet

Even when there's an allergic person in the household, there will be family members (especially children) who believe the world will end if they don't have a pet. Persistent begging can be such a source of irritation to parents that they relent. If a pet is necessary to prevent parental insanity (or for other reasons), remember that pet allergens are the proteins found in dander, as well as the saliva and urine of cats and dogs. Find a pet without fur or one that doesn't produce allergy-causing excretions. Let it be known that the cute and cuddly don't fit into this category.

Tropical fish make the ideal pet for allergy sufferers, as long as the aquarium does not add to the humidity in a room and mold doesn't grow around the rim. Picking out beautiful tropical fish can be a fun family activity and one that may help kids get over not having a four-legged fluff ball. For adults, a koi pond may be a good investment because everyone loves watching these brilliantly colored fish. Some koi are tame enough to be petted, too. Hermit crabs make for an unusual pet, and they are generally low maintenance. Snakes, turtles, salamanders, and lizards are also possibilities, but some of these pets require a lot of maintenance. Many need humid environments, which can set off mold and dust-mite allergies. And some may not be appropriate due to other health or nonhealth concerns. Thoroughly investigate these choices before selecting a pet, and make sure the allergic person does not have any reactions.

Dealing with pet allergies can be a strain on the family. First you need to know the extent of the family member's allergy. Then it may be time to make a hard decision. Whatever you decide, you can follow these suggestions for minimizing the disruption to your life.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

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