Many people are allergic to the family pet and research has shown that people are allergic to cats about twice as frequently as dogs. Getting rid of the beloved family pet is usually not an option. Therefore we have to learn how to live with our allergies by learning how to manage them. Most people think that allergies are caused by cat or dog hair but that is not really the problem. Allergic reactions are caused by proteins called allergens that come from oil glands in the skin and are shed as dander allergens. Allergens are also found in the saliva and urine of cats and dogs. Allergens are very pervasive and cling to clothes, furniture fabric and shoes. Cat allergens have been found in houses many months after the cat has departed and have also been found many houses of people that never owned a cat. Dander allergens are really dead skin cells that can be transferred to your pet’s fur when they clean and lick themselves. A major problem for individuals predisposed to allergies occurs when they inhale airborne pet dander allergens. Allergic reactions result when minute particles of dander fool our immune systems into thinking that the dander is an invading antibody. Our immune system releases histamines to fight the “dander” antibody which results in the familiar sneezing, coughing, runny nose, itching eyes and difficult breathing. The first exposure to an allergen doesn’t usually trigger symptoms and it takes multiple exposures over a period of weeks or months to produce full blown reactions. So how do we cope or manage the situation so that we can live with our cat or dog?
We can first find out if we are really allergic to the family pet, or something else like dust, pollen or mold, by visiting an allergist physician and getting tested for various allergens. If your allergic reactions are severe then the allergist may recommend allergy shots to desensitize your reaction to dander allergens. Next you can try and allergen proof your home by getting rid of your carpets and replacing your curtains with vertical blinds. Easily washed surfaces can eliminate a lot of dander allergens. If you have wall-to-wall carpeting then have it steam cleaned fairly often. If possible install air cleaners and air filters and vacuum often with a vacuum cleaner with a high allergen containment rating. Restrict your pet’s access to your bed and bedroom and try to keep pets off the chairs and sofa that you regularly use. Try to minimize the dander allergens on your pets by washing them weekly with a special moisturizing allergy shampoo. Obviously, it is easier to do with a dog than a cat. Wash your hands frequently when playing with or grooming your pet. Try spraying your pet’s coat with an anti-allergy spray that helps eliminate allergens. Try to groom your pet frequently as the combing and brushing will help stimulate a healthy skin. Try and do the grooming outside your house and if possible get someone else to do the grooming. If it isn’t possible then wear rubber gloves and a mask to reduce your exposure to the dander. Finally, if you are getting a new cat or dog, you may want to try and get a breed that produces less dander. All pets produce some dander – even the so-called hypoallergenic pure-bred and hybrid designer breeds. Smaller pets produce less dander than larger pets. Light-colored and short haired cats seem to produce less dander. In dogs, many of the non-shedding or low-shedding breeds may also produce less dander. See the Dog Allergies section of www.dog-breed-facts.com/dog-allergies.html for a list of dog breeds that should produce less dander.