Managing Pet Allergies at Home

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You wouldn’t let a child with a peanut allergy keep a jar in his room because it was “sooooooo cute.” You wouldn’t let a child with a dairy allergy eat from a carton of ice cream just because it followed her home from school with big, adoring eyes. But many families are introducing pets into their home … even when a loved one is allergic to it.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) reports that about up to 30 percent of people with allergies have reactions to cats and dogs. Symptoms usually include a runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing, or even wheezing or trouble breathing.

But here’s something that might surprise you: it’s not all about the fur, like we often think. Pet allergies are caused when a person reacts to the proteins in an animal’s skin cells, saliva, or urine. Animal hair itself isn’t a major allergen — it’s the dust, pollen, and even mold (ick) that can build up in that fur.

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So what do you do if someone in your house is allergic to your pet? Some experts believe it’s possible for people with animal allergies to live in the same house as a pet — it’ll just be more work.

If your pet is like a member of the family and you’re determined to make it work, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Studies have shown that giving a dog a bath reduces their allergen levels by about 85 percent, but the effects only last for about three days. So hose that pooch off regularly! Don’t forget the suds.
  • Do whatever you can to remove any traces of the pet. Invest in a good air purifier, washing bedding often, shampoo the carpets — or, better yet, replace carpets with hardwood and mop often.
  • Teach your pets to stay off the furniture, or designate certain areas of the home as pet-free zones — like bedrooms, or home offices.
  • Stress the importance of frequent hand-washing and not touching your mouth or nose while you’re playing with a pet. Fresh air is your friend, too — playing catch out in the yard is a safer option than cuddling together on the couch.
  • Explore medication options. Allergy meds can help to relieve symptoms, but some people need some trial and error to find one that jives well with their system — and doesn’t make you sleepy — while others have to change brands every few months to manage their symptoms. Allergen immunotherapy — allergy shots — can also work as a long-term treatment.

People with minor pet allergies can often be around these animals, and the worst that might happen is a sneezing fit or a runny nose. But there are people with severe pet allergies that cannot be around Fido or Fluffy — no, not even if they’re freshly bathed, or if they promise to stay off the couch.

Many families believe they’ll skirt the issue by just adopting a “hypoallergic” dog or cat, but there is no such thing as a completely hypo-allergenic dog or cat.

Certain dogs shed less or produce fewer allergens than the rest — like Portuguese Water Dogs, and Standard Poodles. A Bichon Frise’s curled coat makes it harder for their dander to escape, and they shed less.

Cats are often worse than dogs for people with pet allergies, because their dander is lighter and more likely to travel around the house. The Devon Rex cat has less fur — and it’s short and downy — which means it licks its fur less often. Since it’s their saliva that contains the proteins that act as allergens, many people with cat allergies can own this variety of kitty.

Fish and reptiles usually make good allergy-friendly pets, unless your child is allergic to dust and mold. A tank that isn’t cleaned regularly will produce mold, and an aquarium may make a house too humid and cause a build-up of dust mites.

With mice and gerbils, everything is confined to their cage. Of course, you’ll still be exposed to dander — not to mention those allergen-packed pee puddles they can leave on your hand — so it’s critical to wash your hands after a play session.

In the end, it’s up to each family (and their allergist) to decide if having pets is the right option for them. We tend to believe, though, that the best way to control any allergy is to avoid the allergen — no matter how adorable it may be.

H/T to Huffington Post

Heather Laura Clarke, a contributing writer at Scratch or Sniff, lives in Nova Scotia, Canada, with her high-school sweetheart husband, seven-year-old son, and five-year-old daughter. She writes for newspapers and magazines across Canada and the U.S., and blogs about her family life at Heather's Handmade Life. Follow her adventures on Twitter or Instagram.

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