More than 70% of U.S. households have a dog or cat. Pets provide companionship, security and a sense of comfort. However, people with allergies should be cautious in deciding what type of pet they can safely bring into their home.
For an estimated 10% of the entire population that can be allergic to animals, it is important to know what exactly causes their allergies, where these 'triggers' can be encountered, and what to do to minimize exposure.
What are the most common causes for pet allergies?
Cat and dog dander, or skin flakes, as well as their saliva and urine, can cause an allergic reaction – sneezing, wheezing, and running eyes and nose. Both feathers and the droppings from birds, another common kind of pets, can increase the allergen exposure. Bird droppings can also be a source of bacteria, dust, fungi and mold. This also applies to the droppings of other caged pets, such as gerbils, hamsters and mice.
The animal hair is not considered to be a very significant allergen, however, the hair or fur can collect pollen, dust, mold, and other allergens. Although individual pets may produce more or less allergen, there is no relationship between the pet's hair length and allergen production. There is also no such thing as a non-allergenic breed.
Animal allergens are found mostly in homes where pets are present. What is surprising, however, is that these allergens are also found (in lesser amounts) in places where pets have never been present, such as schools, workplaces, and other public spaces. Since dander allergens are sticky, they can be brought to these places on the clothing of pet owners. Also, while dander on a smooth surface (such as a wall) can be easily wiped off, in soft materials, such as carpets, mattresses, upholstered furniture, and clothing, it can persist for long periods of time. That is why, unless special steps are taken, pet dander can remain in a home for up to six months after the pet has been removed.
An estimated 6 million Americans are allergic to cats and approximately one third of them have cats in their homes. Allergic reactions to cats can range from inflammation of the nose and eyes to asthma attacks. Although the most effective treatment is removal of the pet, recent scientific studies have shown that steps can be taken in homes with cats to significantly decrease one's exposure to cat allergen.
Cat allergen is not actually cat hair, but a protein present in the dander and saliva of cats. The allergens become airborne as microscopic particles which, when inhaled into the nose or lungs, can produce allergic symptoms. Cat allergen is particularly sticky and is carried on clothing.
In a household with a cat, it is almost impossible not to be exposed to some level of cat allergen, which may or may not be enough to trigger allergy symptoms. Of course, the levels of exposure will be much higher where cats are present, and these levels are more likely to cause an allergy attack.
Dog allergy is less common than cat allergy. And, contrary to popular belief, dog hair is not what makes you feel miserable - just like with cats, it is their dander that gets to you. For some allergy sufferers, a dog's lick may also set off an allergic response.
Because dogs tend to scratch themselves more than cats, dog allergen can be more easily introduced into the air. The reason for excessive scratching may be that the dog itself is allergic to something in your home. There are hundreds of possible causes of this, the most common is mold. It is worth mentioning that the same source may be worsening your own allergy symptoms, so taking care of it would make life easier for both you and your pet.
With rabbits, rats, mice, hamsters and guinea pigs the most important sources of allergens are the saliva and urine. Once dry, these secretions become airborne and can be a source of allergic reactions for children and laboratory animal workers. Horse and cow skin scales can be allergenic to those exposed to them. Birds carry allergy-provoking mites, molds and pollen on their feathers. Budgie droppings can release proteins into the air which induce insidious lung problems and asthma.
Tropical fish may be problematic, in that individuals can develop allergies to the ant's eggs upon with the fish feed, and mold that may grow in the fish tank. Even cockroaches, although not considered pets, are also a source of domestic allergens.
Controlling pet dander allergies
Before making your pet the scapegoat for a family member's allergy, make sure that it is truly so. The best way to tell if the allergy is indeed present is to remove the allergic person from the pet's environment for a week or two, and see if their allergies improve. You may also wish to consult your allergist.
If a pet allergy has been confirmed, the best method of controlling it is avoidance. Sometimes, the best solution may be to find the pet another home. However, you must remember that pet allergen may remain in your home for up to six months.
If the family is unwilling to remove the pet, you can follow these hints to reduce pet allergen exposure:
- The pet should at least be kept out of the patient's bedroom and, if possible, outdoors. Indoor pets should be restricted to as few rooms in the home as possible.
- Allergic individuals should not pet, hug or kiss their pets because of the allergens on the animal's fur or saliva.
- Keep pets off furniture, especially upholstered furniture where animal dander can be transferred.
- Litter boxes should be placed in an area unconnected to the air supply for the rest of the home, and should be avoided by allergic individuals.
- Always wear a protective mask and gloves when grooming your pet.
- Remove clothing worn after grooming or playing with pets. Keep the clothing, now full of animal dander, out of the bedroom. Wash clothing with Allergen Wash.
- Always wash your face, hands and arms after grooming or playing with pets to remove animal dander.
- Try Allerpet Solutions on your pet to notice a difference in your pet dander allergy.
- Nothing beats a bath for your pet, especially if using Allersearch Pet Shampoo. Cats that are bathed from a young age tend not to mind being washed.
- Another great product is Allersearch Anti-Allergen Dust Spray. This non-toxic formula helps reduce many of the common allergens found in the home.
- Air currents from forced-air heating and air-conditioning will spread the allergens throughout the house. Homes with forced-air heating and/or air-conditioning may be fitted with a central air cleaner, or a room air purifier can be used at least four hours per day.
- Use HEPA vacuum cleaners or high efficiency vacuum cleaner bags. These dramatically reduced the amount of dust, allergen and pollens pumped back into the air by the vacuum cleaner.
- On a similar note, those allergic to birds should not use feather pillows or down comforters. If a feather pillow is used, it should be encased in a protective cover, so none of the feathers can escape.
Page last modified: 01/16/07
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