Suffer from Allergies to Your Dog?
Submitted by Lisa A. Yackel, CVPM, PHR
Hospital Administrator at Case Veterinary Hospital
I have been married for 34 years to an allergy sufferer. Cats are definitely out as a pet for us and dogs can cause flare ups as well if we donâ€™t take precautions to minimize the dander. Since not having a pet is not really an option for me as a huge animal lover, I go out of my way to ensure that the love of my life is as comfortable with the compromise as possible. I know that I am not alone with the balancing act. About 10% of Americans are allergic to animals.
Of the above 10%, most people have mild allergies that cause sneezing, runny nose, congestion, and itching. Some have a more severe reaction that can be life-threatening and actually cause one to go into anaphylactic shock. Although he has never had this severe a reaction, cats tend to cause my husbandâ€™s throat to close up and he has a hard time breathing.
Sometimes what is perceived as an allergy is actually a reaction to something else. A dog can carry in from the outside on its coat pollens, etc and parasites like fleas and ticks can cause reactions. But itâ€™s mostly the dander thatâ€™s the culprit, and the amount of dander coming off a dog each day makes the amount of shed hair seem insignificant. Basically, there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog and even a breed that doesnâ€™t shed hair still sheds dander. Contrary to popular belief, dog hair is not an allergen; itâ€™s the skin flakes of dander, plus saliva, and other fluids (urine, etc) that are the culprit.
The only way to tell for sure if you are allergic to dogs is to have an allergy test involving a series of injected allergens. Skin reactions to particular allergens indicate an allergic response. Once you have the correct knowledge of what you are reacting to, you can begin to minimize your symptoms with medical treatment. Years ago, my husband could not even visit me at the veterinary hospital without having an allergic reaction. He began a series of allergy shots specific to what his testing indicated he reacted to. Although he still canâ€™t pet a cat, he can be in a home or the hospital that has cats present without having as severe a reaction.
The following information from the Humane Society of the United States website (http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/resources/tips/allergies_pets.html) has some excellent suggestions if you are allergic to pets and your allergies are not life threatening.
1. Create an "allergy free" zone in your homeâ€”preferably the allergic person's bedroomâ€”and strictly prohibit the pet's access to it. Use a high-efficiency HEPA air cleaner, and consider using impermeable covers for the mattress and pillows.
2. Use HEPA air cleaners throughout the rest of the home, and avoid dust-and-dander-catching furnishings such as cloth curtains and blinds and carpeted floors. Clean frequently and thoroughly to remove dust and dander, washing articles such as couch covers and pillows, curtains, and pet beds.
3. Bathing your pet on a weekly basis can reduce the level of allergy-causing dander (shed old skin cells). Cats can get used to being bathed, but it's critical to only use products labeled for them. Check with your veterinarian's staff for directions about safe bathing. It's a good idea to use a shampoo recommended by your veterinarian.
4. Don't be quick to blame the family pet for allergies. Ask your allergist to specifically test for allergies to pet dander. Many allergy sufferers are sensitive to more than one allergen. Reduce the overall allergen level in your environment by concentrating on all of the causes, not just the pet allergy.
5. Try treatments. Additional treatments for allergies to pets are include immunotherapy (allergy shots), steroidal and antihistamine nose sprays and antihistamine pills. It is important to find an allergist who understands your commitment to living with your pet. A combination of approachesâ€”medical control of symptoms, good housecleaning methods, and immunotherapyâ€”is most likely to succeed in allowing an allergic person to live with pets.
I know from personal experience that the above processes work. After all, I have been able to keep my fantastic husband for 34 years and have a pet in our home at the same time!