If you’re like millions of dog and cat owners around the country, you love your pets…but hate the allergies they can trigger. This is a common problem when you consider that 32 percent of U.S. households have dogs and 27 percent have cats.
Pet dander–tiny flecks of skin shed by cats, dogs and other household pets like birds–is often to blame. Another allergy source includes a protein found in saliva, urine and feces. The most common ones are the Fel d I protein from cats, and the Can f I and Can f II proteins from dogs. Researchers say female cats produce more of these allergens, but the cause remains unclear.
It stands to reason that animals with fur carry greater amounts of allergens from outside sources like dust, but fur itself isn’t generally an allergy trigger. And contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a non-allergenic dog or cat.
People who are allergic to pets or have asthma that is triggered by pet allergens can experience upper and lower respiratory tract symptoms including congestion, sneezing, runny nose, chest tightness and wheezing. Other common symptoms are itchy, watery eyes and rashes.
Obviously removing the pet from the home is the most effective way to control allergies. However, most people can coexist with their allergy-causing critters by taking a few basic precautions:
- Don’t allow pets on upholstered furniture since allergens can stick to fabrics for long periods of time.
- Keep pets off of carpets and rugs. When there’s a choice, opt for non-carpeted flooring.
- Never allow pets in the bedrooms of allergy sufferers since allergies can disturb sleep.
- Clean the home often, taking special care to not allow dust accumulation. Vacuuming is important, but can actually stir up the dander as you clean. To avoid this, choose a vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter or use double bags.
- Replace air conditioning and furnace filters with HEPA filters.
- Consider bathing your pet twice a week since allergen levels can return to normal in just three days.
- Always wash your hands following contact with pets.
If these methods don’t help control your pet allergies, have a conversation with your doctor about which medications may be right for you.