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What happens when you are suddenly allergic to your beloved pet?

Two Beauties Pose
Two Beauties Pose
Photo by John Eastman

A horror story: you suddenly develop an allergy to the pet you’ve had for years

It’s like being allergic to one of your kids. We could laugh when thinking of the few beleaguered parents who would enjoy just that ailment for a brief period of time, however, let’s talk about the real thing. Most of us would agree that we love our pets so dearly that we consider them part of the family and would never think of letting them go.

Unfortunately, all too often, a beloved pet is discovered to be the cause of allergies so severe that a choice between the pet and one’s health has to be made.

So what happens and why?

The most common animals that reside in our homes, sleep on our sofas and snuggle down in our beds are dogs and cats. The allergic reaction comes from pet dander (dead skin that is exfoliated), saliva and urine. Most people think hair is the primary issue when in fact it is not actually the allergen but does carry the dander in it causing the same reaction. As pet dander can be transported on clothing by anyone who comes into contact or close proximity to a cat or dog, it can exist in homes where a cat or dog is not even present.

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology allergies to cats or dogs occur in about 15% of the population. Symptoms consist of swollen, itchy and watering eyes, sneezing, rashes, and other skins irritations. More serious reactions such as severe headaches, shortness of breath and serious asthma attacks have also been documented.

But I have never been allergic before

We aren’t born with allergies but develop them through exposure; therefore, people can develop allergies later in life when they have never had them previously. It is an interesting side note that a child under two years who is exposed to pet dander rarely develops an allergy later in life. Although some dog breeds are less risky for allergies (Bichon Frise, Poodle, or Maltese) most cats seem much more likely to cause a problem. Some people swear that a Persian cat is much less of a risk in a home with allergy ridden adults.

The American Kennel Club is a great resource in your dog breed selection. They continuously update their material to inform potential pet owners of the most capable breeds or as close to hypo-allergenic as is feasible. It is often discussed that perhaps the smaller breeds have less dander because they are bathed and brushed regularly. As most do not shed, the occurrence of dander on furniture and in the air would be limited. But all in all there is really no such thing as true hypo-allergenic in the animal kingdom.

Keep your beloved pet and live with your allergy

There are ways to limit the pet dander in your home, and therefore, limit your allergic reaction. Even though some of items listed may be considered a drastic measure for pet owners, they are solutions that will allow a beloved child with fur to remain in its home.

  • Do not allow the pet to sleep in your bedroom or bed.
  • Keep the animal in one section of the home
  • Always wash your hands after petting or playing with the animal
  • Do not allow the pet on the furniture. Make him his own special bed.
  • Bathe and brush your pet regularly.
  • Keep the pet out of family car. When trips to the vet or groomer are required, put your pet in a kennel or cover your car seats.
  • Install a high-efficiency air cleaner with a HEPA filter designed to capture at least 99.97 percent of particles as small as 0.3 microns in diameter. These are available in various prices and styles and even HEPA Vacuum Cleaners are available.
  • Clean and vacuum your floors and furniture on a regular basis.
  • Change furnace filters often and purchase ones that are electrostatic, thus preventing dust, dander and fur from circulating through the house.
  • Consider removing carpet as animal allergens stick to the surface while hardwood or vinyl floors are much easier to keep dander free.

Most importantly, don’t give up your beloved pet without a fight. After all, if the chips were down, they’d stick by you to the very end.

Watch for next week’s article on how to handle your pet’s end of life. What is expected and requested of the responsible pet owner.

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