Allergies to Pet Dander

You’re allergic to your pet? Now that’s a tough one. Hearing your doctor telling you to give up your pet must have been heartbreaking. Finding it a new home would be emotionally difficult, but it has to be done, especially if your allergies are found to be detrimental to your health and may require emergency medications. But for mild allergy symptoms, there are other ways to go about it.

What causes a pet allergy?

Contrary to popular belief, the main cause of an allergic reaction to dogs and cats is not their hair or fur, but what is under it: dander or old loose skin scales (similar to dandruff on the human scalp) that contains secretions from sebaceous glands on the skin of dogs and cats, and other furry or feathery pets. Pet dander consists of several proteins that trigger an immune system reaction in some individuals.

Pets constantly shed dander that become airborne and float around the house that the pet lives in, and therefore, may be inhaled by people. You will never notice these allergens because they are just tiny microscopic dust particles or powder that floats in the air, and they are so sticky that they cling to furniture, curtains, wall coverings, and carpets.

Also, in both dogs and cats, the saliva and urine that dries on their fur can flake off releasing the same kind of microscopic particles that become indoor airborne allergens.

How does pet dander affect those with allergies?

Since pet dander particles are airborne, they can easily get into the body through the lungs when we inhale. If the allergen levels are low or if the person’s sensitivity is minor, symptoms may not manifest immediately, and may occur only after several days of contact with the pet.

When allergic reactions are moderate, swelling and itching, stuffy nose and inflamed eyes results when pet dander lands on the exposed membranes. Asthma attacks can also be triggered.

There are some individuals who react immediately when they step into a room where there is pet dander in the air, even if they did not handle or play with the animal. If the pet has been living in a home for a long time already, there will be enough pet dander floating in the air to cause an allergic reaction.

Here are webmd’s list of pet allergy symptoms:

• coughing and wheezing
• hives or a rash on the chest and face
• red, itchy eyes
• redness of the skin where a cat has scratched, bitten, or licked you
• runny, itchy, stuffy nose
• sneezing

What are the best ways to control pet dander in the house?

Given that your allergies are manageable; your doctor will recommend that you change a few general house rules pertaining to your pets.

Bathe them with pet shampoo weekly to minimize the dander accumulated on their hair. Better also if you can train them to sleep outside the house, but make sure that their shelter is cozy and comfortable whatever the weather may be.

For your home, have a source of fresh air so that animal dander won’t be contained indoors. Remove all forms of carpeting or fabric covered furniture, and instead opt for leather or vinyl covers that can be cleaned easily. If there is no way to get rid of carpeting, use a vacuum cleaner with a High Efficiency Air Filter (HEPA) system to trap the tiny particles of pet dander.

But if your allergies are not alleviated despite your efforts, then the only resort would be to find your pet a new home. Weigh the pros and cons and discus your concerns with your doctor.

Hypoallergenic dogs and cats myths or realities

Let us run through some common notions regarding human allergies to dogs and cats and discuss which of them are proven false, and which of them are true.

1) Hypoallergenic dogs and cats are guaranteed allergy-free
False. Any animal that has fur can trigger an allergic reaction. If you own dogs or cats, you have a greater risk of developing pet allergies. In reality, all breeds of dogs and cats are allergenic because all shed dander, have sebaceous glands, and lick themselves clean with their saliva. However, there are some proofs that less allergenic pets do exist.

2) Short-haired dogs and cats cause fewer allergies.
False. All breeds of dogs and cats, whether they have short, long, curly, or no hair, are expected to be allergenic. As mentioned earlier, all animals with fur can cause allergies. However, the allergies are not caused by the fur, but by the dander (the tiny scales of dead skin) and by sebaceous and salivary gland secretions that collects on the animal’s fur and skin.

3) Dogs and cats that shed hair the least are not as allergenic.
False. Whether they shed a significant amount of hair or not does not make a difference. Dog breeds such as Poodles, Bichon Frises, Bedlington Terriers and Kerry Blue Terriers, and cat breeds such as Cornish Rex, Devon Rex and Sphynx are sold to buyers as hypoallergenic breeds because they shed little or no hair at all.

4) Puppies and kittens do not cause allergies.
True. Puppies and kittens have no dander to shed because they have no old skin. But eventually, they will produce allergens after a few months as they mature. When people buy young dogs and cats, they will not notice any allergic reactions, until after a few months. This explains why allergic symptoms start to appear only once their pets get older, when they start shedding dander.

5) Pets that live outside the house trigger fewer allergy problems.
True. Keeping your pet outside can help reduce the allergens in your home. However, the moment you go outside to play with your pet, holding it or letting it sit on your lap, can set off the allergies. But if you do resort to having your pet stay outside the house, make sure that you give them a cozy shelter to stay in so that they are comfortable whatever the weather may be.

6) The seasons of spring and fall bring more prominent pet allergies.
True. Cases of seasonal or perennial allergic rhinitis shoot up during the spring and fall because these are pollinating seasons. People who are allergic to both their pets and pollens from trees, grasses, and weeds can expect worse symptoms due to both seasonal (pollen) and perennial (dander) allergens.

7) Black cats are more allergenic than cats of other colors.
True. A January 2000 report, researchers studied 60 cat owners in a hospital in Brooklyn, New York, who all had symptoms of allergies. Those with moderate symptoms were most likely to own dark-colored cats and those with only mild symptoms owned cats that were of a different color, and the odds were 6 times higher with a dark cat.

Tips for controlling a pet allergy:

• Don’t touch, hug, or kiss pets. It should be obvious, but some people think a little cat contact is OK. It isn’t.
• Beware of visitors who own pets. Even if your house guests leave their pets at home, they can bring the dander with them on their clothing and luggage. This indirect exposure can cause serious allergy symptoms in some people.
• Plan. If you have to stay in a house with pets, ask that the pet be kept out of the room in which you will sleep for a few weeks before you arrive. Also, start taking your medicine a few weeks beforehand. Once an allergic reaction gets started, it can be tough to control. But taking medicine can prevent it from happening in the first place.
• Be ready with your antihistamines or decongestants if you know you have a pet allergy and will be around pets.• As with dust mites or other environmental allergies, the cleaner you keep your house, the better. Clean on a regular basis and empty your vacuum cleaner bag each time (HEPA vacuums are best). It’s best to have the person without the allergies do this. Make sure you get everywhere; where dust goes, dander goes.
• Choose hard wood, tile or laminate floors over carpet if possible. An immense amount of pet dander collects in carpet, and even with vacuuming, it’s hard to remove it all.
• Choose furniture that isn’t upholstered, like leather or wood as opposed to fabric covered. Having fewer pillows provides fewer places for dander to collect.
• Change your air filters regularly and have your ducts cleaned as well.
• Don’t let pets into the bedrooms of those with allergies. It’s not enough to keep them off the beds; their dander can get anywhere in a room. Having it in the bed is one of the worst places it can be. Just keep the doors shut so the rooms stay off-limits.
• Use cat litter that emits as little dust as possible. Deodorized cat litter can also cause allergies.
• Have your pet groomed regularly and feed them a healthy diet. It’s best to have them groomed somewhere off site, but outdoors is OK if somewhere else is not an option. Like vacuuming, it’s best to have someone not allergic do the grooming. Keep their hair brushed to prevent shedding. Short haired animals shed just as much as longer haired ones do, so be aware of that (I think our lab shed lots more than our golden does).
• Don’t forget about ways to rid yourself of allergies, including allergy shots, acupuncture, NAET. Many options exist with OTC and prescription meds as well.
• Make sure it’s the animal you’re allergic to and not something else. There may be other things that exacerbate your allergies, try to control those as well.

Exposure to animals in the first years of life has actually been shown to help out with other allergies later in life. Plus, they have many other great benefits! So before closing your doors to any animals with hair and sticking to the snakes and turtles, do a little research if it’s a dog or cat you’re wanting. It may be possible after all!

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