Many families have to give up their pets once they discover someone in the home is allergic. Any animal can cause an allergic 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.
Pet allergies can range from mild to severe, and the common culprits when it comes to pets are the dander (the dead skin cells that pets shed), saliva, and urine. When you experience itchy, watery eyes and nose, sneezing, coughing, scratchy throat, itchy skin, and difficulty breathing, it’s understandable that you would want 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 about getting 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 though 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 non-allergic 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 provide fresh air to circulate.
· Regularly steam clean and vacuum any fabrics where pet allergens can accumulate. Since pet allergens are proteins found in an animal’s saliva, urine, and dander, 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 when you try it out.
· 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. Though it’s a good idea to check and see if your child is prone to a severe allergy (one that can leave a child wheezing) before you get a pet. You can ask your pediatrician for advice on testing for allergies, or you could plan an overnight with friends who have the type of pet you’re considering adopting.
If it is determined that you or someone in your family has allergies to pets and you don’t own one yet, don’t fret because there are plenty of breeds that are more hypoallergenic and will keep your sniffles at bay. When it comes to dogs, you should select breeds that produce less dander, such as poodles or poodle mixes (labradoodles and cockapoos) or schnauzers and the Portuguese water dog. Just remember that there’s no such thing as a truly allergy-free breed, according to experts. Even hairless breeds can cause allergies because it’s the dander, saliva, and urine that are to blame, not the actual fur. As for cats, any breed can set off allergies because cat dander is smaller and stickier. Some breeds, such as the rex and the sphynx, are said to be less allergenic, but the evidence on this is more anecdotal.
If you own a pet and suddenly develop allergies, please try the methods mentioned above before you give your pet up to an already overcrowded animal shelter.
The Santa Barbara County Animal Care Foundation will be holding a Benefit Dinner on Sunday, August 7, 4 p.m. at the Santa Maria Elks Lodge. The afternoon will feature dinner, a silent auction, and celebrity guest Shorty Rossi, star of Animal Planet’s Pit Boss. Tickets are $50 per person; table of 10 for $500; advance purchase only, no tickets will be sold at the door. For more information, or to purchase tickets, contact Linda Greco, firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a message at (805) 260-2386.