Our nation’s First Dog-a Portuguese water dog named Bo-was chosen in part because the president’s daughter Malia is allergic. Portuguese water dogs are hypoallergenic, which means they have a decreased tendency to cause allergies. Luckily, the Obama family knew Malia had allergies and so they shopped accordingly.
However, many families have to give up their pets once they discover someone in the home is allergic. Any animal can cause a reaction, though cats tend to be the culprits most of the time. According to the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, “allergies” is the number two reason cats are turned in to shelters nationwide, falling just behind “too many” (which usually means their cat had a litter). According to the Humane Society of the United States, about one third of Americans (2 million people) live with a cat in their household even though they are allergic. Obviously, the benefits of pet ownership outweigh the negatives of pet allergies for many.
When you experience itchy, watery eyes and nose; sneezing; coughing; scratchy throat; itchy skin and difficulty breathing, I can understand the urge to get rid of the possible cause - the family pet. But there are other options. If you are experiencing allergies, the first thing you should do is talk to your physician to get allergy tested. Allergic reactions are cumulative and most people who suffer from allergies are most likely allergic to many things besides pets, such as pollen, mold, cigarette smoke, dust mites, and other substances that can be found in the home. Once you know what’s causing your allergies, you can reduce the allergen level in your environment by focusing on all the causes. If it is determined that you suffer from pet allergies, you should treat yourself, your home, and your pet. Here are some ways to do just that.
• Talk to your doctor about allergy shots. Allergy shots can improve your symptoms, although not eliminate them entirely. Gradually, your immune system will be desensitized to the pet allergens. You’ll most likely have to get a shot every week for a few weeks and then move to one injection per month.
• Wash your hands frequently after touching your pet and never touch your face afterward.
• If at all possible, have a nonallergic person in the home provide the necessary services to your pet such as brushing, bathing, trimming nails, etc.
Treating Your Home
• Experts recommend creating an “allergy-free” zone somewhere in your house, preferably the bedroom. This will ensure that you will have at least six to eight hours of allergy relief every night.
• Install an air purifier that has a HEPA (high efficiency particulate arresting) filter. Also make sure to open windows daily to allow fresh air to circulate.
• Regularly steam clean and vacuum any fabrics where pet allergens can accumulate. Pet allergens are proteins found in an animal’s saliva, urine, and dander (scales of old skin that are constantly shed by an animal). Therefore, items such as rugs, curtains, and upholstery need to be cleaned frequently. If possible, use electrostatic vacuum bags since they prevent allergens from blowing back out of the vacuum.
• Dust and clean your house often to reduce the amount of allergens that accumulate in your home.
Treating Your Pet
• Bathe your pet once a week. Studies show that weekly baths reduce the level of allergens on the fur by 85 percent. I can speak from experience that it’s hard to bathe a cat, but they start to get used to it and eventually it becomes easier.
• Brush your pet frequently. If you really want to help eliminate loose fur, try using the furminator - www.furminator.com. Unfortunately, this product causes fur to fly all over the place, so I would recommend brushing your dog outside and keeping your cat to a confined area - like the bathroom - when you try it out.
If you have allergies and you own a pet, please try the options listed above before relinquishing your companion to a shelter. However, if you don’t own a pet and are contemplating getting one, you may want to get allergy tested first. If you have children, here’s one more reason to consider pet ownership: The Journal of the American Medical Association published a report showing that early exposure to dogs and cats actually reduced asthma sensitization in children, rather than increasing it. So, if you have children, exposure to pets early in their life might prevent later problems. Just like the Obama family was able to find a pet to fit their needs, so can you.