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Living with Pets when You are Allergic to Them - Steps You Can Take that Improve Your Quality of Life

separator According to the Humane Society of the United States, studies show that 15 percent of the U.S. population is allergic to dogs or cats. And those people are not always willing to stay away from pets, because of the more than 150 million pet owners in this country, 1 in 10 is allergic to their animal(s). Sometimes, they take on pets knowing already about the allergy. Other times, the allergy develops after the pet is already a part of the family.

Some people, including your allergist, may say "Well, if you are allergic, just get rid of your pet." But love for a pet is strong, often stronger than the desire to be free of allergy symptoms. There are some people who will 'get rid' of a pet (let us hope to a safe, secure, loving home), but many others simply can not. It can be nearly impossible to look at the face of your animal and think of turning it over to someone else. It can break your heart, not to mention your pet's.


Are there dogs that do not cause allergies?


The simple answer is no, there are not any dogs that are guaranteed not to cause allergies. But there are some breeds that tend to cause fewer allergic reactions than others. According to the American Kennel Club, these breeds include:

  • Bedlington terrier
  • Bichon frise
  • Chinese crested
  • Irish water spaniel
  • Kerry blue terrier
  • Maltese
  • Poodle
  • Portuguese water dog
  • Schnauzer
  • Soft coated wheaten terrier 

Remember, the dogs listed above are only less likely to cause allergies. If you do not already have a dog, but you want one, and you know you have had allergic reactions to some, spend time with some of these less allergenic breeds to see whether you develop symptoms.


Are there other animals that do not cause allergies?

Yes, but you may not think of them as pets. They include:

  • Fish
  • Frogs
  • Toads
  • Turtles
  • Lizards
  • Snakes
  • Insects

What causes animal allergies?

Any animal that has hair, fur or feathers can cause allergic reactions in people. Substances from animals that can cause allergic reactions include:

  • Proteins in saliva
  • Urine
  • Secretions from glands
  • Dander (very small particles of dead skin, which animals are constantly shedding)

There are treatments you can get from your doctor, and they have varying degrees of success. But there are a lot of things you can do in your home to minimize the effects of allergens.


Control your pet's whereabouts


Allergenic secretions and particles are highly mobile because they are lightweight, tiny and constantly replenishing themselves as the animal sheds. They easily find their way into and onto rugs, clothing, beds, curtains, walls, window blinds, ceiling fans, any surface you can imagine.


The more of these guidelines you follow, the better the chances that you will keep your allergy symptoms under control.


 Keep your pet out of the bedroom. This might be the hardest thing of all if your pet is already used to sleeping with you. Some pets accept this kind of change, while others may whine and give you grief. If it turns out to be a difficult transition, it is not a bad idea to consult a trainer for suggestions. This step is important, because spending all of those uninterrupted hours of sleep breathing in allergenic particles is one of the worst things you can do if you are sensitive to them.


► Keep your pet confined to certain areas of the house. These areas should have no carpeting, only rugs that you can throw in the wash. And ideally, these areas will be free of upholstered furniture - unless the furniture belongs to the pet.


 Keep your pet off the furniture. This is another habit that can be hard to break, but hang in there and be consistent, because it will help you a lot in the long run.


 Keep your pet contained in the car. This can be a crate or a seat made especially for dogs. This is always a good idea in terms of safety anyway.


Cleaning: another key to allergy control


It is a good idea for your pet to have a bath once a week, if possible. And the person who gives the bath should not be the allergic one. Even birds can be bathed with a mist sprayer. This can control the powder that cockatiels, cockatoos, African greys and pigeons produce.


Clean the pet's quarters frequently too. Wash bedding in hot water and put it in the dryer. Empty cat litter boxes every day, and change the litter once a week.


Wash yourself after handling your pet. If your pet is a lap sitter, keep a towel on your lap, and wear only washable clothing when the pet is on your lap.


Keep your home as clean as possible, vacuuming and dusting frequently. Wear a mask over your mouth and nose when you do this. Wipe down walls frequently. Clean the blades of ceiling fans.


Filtering out the allergens


A third step to allergy control is trapping the allergenic particles. Use a vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA filter. Install a HEPA air purifier in your bedroom and the rooms where your pet stays. Air vents need filters too. Otherwise, they spread allergens throughout your house.


It's also a good idea to rid your environment, especially your bedroom, of other types of allergens, not just those from pets. Use hypoallergenic pillows (they do not contain feathers) and comforters. Change your sheets once a week and wash them in hot water. Dust thoroughly all around and under the bed.


All of this is a lot of work, but it is better than having to find a new home for your pet.

American Kennel Club; Humane Society of the United States; S. Kalstone, Allergic to Pets? The Breakthrough Guide to Living with the Animals You Love, Bantam, 2006. The New York Times, ·Learning to Live With Your Pet (and Breathe, Too),· 16 May 2006
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