Pets and People

Pet Allergies: Keeping Your Pet

posted: 05/15/12

If you've recently become a new pet parent only to discover that -- surprise! -- you or someone in your household has pet allergies, you're not the first to find yourself in this "sneezy situation." According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), about 9 to 12 million people in the U.S. alone have dog or cat allergies, which can develop at any point in life, regardless of whether you showed symptoms of having them as a kid. For those who fall into this category, many experts advise giving up on pet ownership entirely and finding your four-legged friend a new home.

It's a practical approach, but for animal lovers, it's often one that's easier said than done. In 2006, the New York Times reported that at least 1 in every 10 pet owners is allergic to his furry friends, which suggests that it's possible to overcome pet allergies to some extent -- if your symptoms are mild enough, and you take the right steps. Here are just a few best practices you can follow to help you and your pet happily coexist.

Take Back the House

One of the first steps toward breathing easier is designating certain areas to be officially off-limits to your pet. This strategy will give you something of a refuge from pet dander -- those tiny allergens animals shed, which are the root cause of pet allergies. At the very least, try to keep all pets out of your bedroom, so you can get a good night's sleep that's sneeze-free. Also, if you have an enclosed outdoor space, use it to your advantage as often as possible by making it your pet's main domain -- provided the weather is cooperating, of course.

Keeping all areas of the house tidy on a daily basis is also a must if you're trying to keep pet dander under control. Pet dander can stick to just about anything, from drapes to carpets and furniture -- even your clothes -- so you should vacuum, dust, mop and do laundry as often as you can, and be thorough while you're at it. Remember than it's better to dust with a damp cloth rather than a dry one, since dry dusting can kick dander back up into the air, and consider getting a vacuum that's equipped with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter. Many people have found these filters to be effective in catching dander particles (and hanging onto them) as they clean. There are also more comprehensive HEPA filters that you can add to your home's heating and cooling system to help clean the air; these may require more of an investment, but they could help you breathe a little easier, too.

Go Right to the Source

Allergens that trigger pet allergy symptoms originate in pets' saliva or other secretions and usually end up on their skin and hair or fur, so regularly grooming animals should help minimize the amount of dander that's shed and dispersed throughout your home. There are several tools on the market that can help you do this job well -- including dander-fighting shampoos and combs designed for deshedding. If you can, however, assign the brushing and bathing duties to someone in the household who's not allergic; or, if you must take on the task yourself, consider wearing a surgical mask while doing so for extra protection.

To attack pet allergy symptoms head on, there are a number of treatment options currently available, including prescription and over-the-counter oral medications -- such as antihistamines and decongestant pills -- immunotherapy shots, or corticosteroids administered via nasal sprays. Set up an appointment with your primary care doctor or an allergist to get a recommendation about the best course of action for your particular level of allergy.

While there's no magic potion that can make pet allergies disappear completely, for those who are managing symptoms on the milder end of the spectrum, taking some of the steps covered here can go a long way to make pet ownership a more enjoyable -- and less stuffy -- experience.

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