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Pets: Dealing with pet allergies

Updated: 2011-10-20 09:49

Our kids really want to get a pet, but my husband may be allergic to fur. What can we do?

The benefits of having a pet usually outweigh the drawbacks of pet allergies for many people. Here are some quick facts:

<STRONG>Pets:</STRONG> Dealing with pet allergies

• Roughly 10 percent of the population may be allergic to animals

• 20 to 30 percent of people with asthma have pet allergies

• In the United States, despite orders from physicians, 80 percent of people with allergies refused to give up their pets

Any and all cats and dogs can cause problems for people with allergies, whether that is through their dander (skin flakes), saliva or urine. Animal hair is not considered a very significant allergen, although hair or fur can collect pollen, dust, mold and other allergens. Cats tend to cause more reactions than dogs. However, dogs have been reported to cause acute symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis, or inflammation of the eye, and hay fever after running through fields and then coming into contact with their owners. Contrary to popular belief, there are no “non-allergenic” breeds of dogs or cats; even hairless breeds can cause symptoms. Another frequent misconception is that short-haired pet cause fewer problems, but it’s the dander that causes most allergic reactions, not hair.

If someone in your household has been diagnosed with a pet allergy, consider whether you can live with the symptoms before you bring a pet home. Except in the case of children, who sometimes outgrow allergies, few people with allergies become accustomed to pets they are allergic to. However, here are a few tips on how to reduce the symptoms:

Create an allergy-free zone — preferably the allergic person’s bedroom — and strictly prohibit the pet's access. Consider using impermeable covers for the mattress and pillows. Allergic individuals should not pet, hug or kiss their pets because of the allergens on the animal's fur or saliva. Litter boxes should be placed in an area unconnected to the air supply for the rest of the home, and should be avoided by the allergic patient. In general, indoor pets should be restricted to as few rooms as possible. Isolating the pet to one room, however, will not limit the allergens to that room. Air currents from air-conditioning will spread the allergens, so it is necessary to get a central air cleaner to remove significant amounts of allergens from the home.

Clean frequently to remove dust and dander, washing articles such as couch covers and pillows, curtains, and pet beds. Because animal allergens are sticky, you must remove the animal's favorite furniture, remove wall-to-wall carpet and scrub the walls and woodwork. Keep surfaces throughout the home clean and uncluttered; bare floors and walls are best. If you must have carpet, select ones with a low pile and steam clean them frequently. Better yet, use throw rugs that can be washed in hot water. Wear a dust mask to vacuum and cover bedroom vents with dense filtering material like cheesecloth.

Bath your pet weekly to reduce allergy-causing dander by as much as 84 percent. Cats can get used to being bathed, but it's critical to only use products labeled for them. Kittens may need a special shampoo. Check with your veterinarian for guidance.

Don't be quick to blame the family pet for allergies. Ask your allergist to specifically test for allergies to 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.

Try treatments. Your allergist can provide information on medications for your allergy, such as antihistamines, nasal sprays, decongestants or appropriate asthma medications. It is important to find an allergist who understands your commitment to living with your pet. Allergy shots (immunotherapy) may be indicated for cat or dog allergies, particularly when the animal cannot be avoided. They are typically given for at least three years and decrease symptoms of asthma and allergy.

Need advice from METRO's pet expert? E-mail your questions to or our Sina Weibo @chinadailymetro. Answers supplied by the International Center for Veterinary Services on (+8610) 8456-1939.