Coping With Pet Allergies
Your pet is part of the family - but you've found that you're allergic. Learn how to cope if you just can't part with your pet.

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picture of woman holding kitten Coping With Pet Allergies

Sniffling and sneezing? Could your pet be the cause?

Pet allergies are common and can be serious, especially if you have asthma. The only way to avoid pet allergies is to avoid these animals altogether. Many people don't want to give pets away, though. If you can't bear to find a new home for your animal friend, you can learn to try and manage the situation.

Know your allergy and its causes. People have different sensitivities and reactions, from mild to severe. Most pet allergies come from cats and dogs, but birds and rodents can also trigger allergic reactions. Your doctor can identify your allergens with skin or blood tests.

There are no such things as allergy-free cats and dogs. Some people think certain breeds are "less allergic" than others or that shorthaired pets cause fewer allergies than longhaired animals. It's not a hair issue. Glands in a pet's skin produce proteins called allergens that stick to fur or feathers. Allergens dry as tiny particles. They then float through the air. This is known as pet dander. Allergens are also found in a pet's saliva or urine.

Allergens circulate in the air and stay on carpets and furniture for weeks or months. When a person with allergies comes in contact with a specific allergen - by breathing it in or skin contact - it can trigger an allergic reaction or an asthma attack.

How can you reduce pet allergens in your environment? The best choice is to not have a pet unless you know you are not allergic. If you already have a pet, find it a new home. If you don't want to give it away, there are steps that may help reduce pet allergens in your home. Bear in mind, though, that there is no strong evidence that these measures really work to reduce allergic reactions or asthma attacks. Ask your doctor if any of these steps might help:

  • Wash your pet weekly. This may help reduce allergens, but it is not known if it will help reduce your allergy symptoms. Certain products claim to reduce allergens when sprayed on fur, but some studies show they're less effective than a weekly bath. Cats can get used to baths, too. Ask your veterinarian about how to bathe a cat properly. Use a shampoo the vet recommends.
  • Keep pets out of the bedroom. This means all the time. Use a high-efficiency air filter, such as HEPA or electrostatic cleaners, in bedrooms. Even after your pet is banned, its dander can get into your bedroom on clothes and other objects and stay on furniture, carpets, and bedding. Use special bedding covers that don't let allergen particles get into mattresses and pillows.
  • Limit dander-catchers in all rooms. Replace drapes and slatted blinds with flat, easy-to-wipe-down shades. Choose wood, tile, or linoleum floors instead of carpets. Keep pets off upholstered furniture.
  • Dust often with damp cloths. Use microfilter vacuum bags to trap allergens. Depending on your specific allergies, wear a dust mask and gloves when near pet rodents, or avoid contact with soiled litter cages.
  • Wash your hands and clothes to remove allergens after playing with your pet.

Talk to your doctor about allergies
You may be allergic to other irritants, such as smoke or pollen. Your doctor can test for these and may suggest allergy shots. The shots may improve your symptoms but can't eliminate them completely. They work by gradually desensitizing your immune system to allergens. Steroidal and antihistamine nose sprays and antihistamine pills may help control symptoms.

A mixture of approaches - good housecleaning methods and medical treatments - gives you the best chance of controlling your allergy while still living with your pet.

By Louis Neipris, MD, Staff Writer
Created on 05/03/2007
Updated on 01/24/2011
  • Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Pet allergies.
  • National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Allergens and irritants: pets and animals.
  • Kilburn S, Lasserson TJ, McKean M. Pet allergen control measures for allergic asthma in children and adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2008, Issue 4. Art. No.: CD002989. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD002989.
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