Pet Allergies - Myths, Facts, and Avoidance
Animal dander allergies - how big is the problem?
According to studies published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, scientific journal of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAA&I) up to 10% of the general population and 40% of allergic individuals react to cats and dogs. Allergy to cats is twice as common as allergy to dogs. In most areas of the country approximately 50% of homes will have a dog or cat living indoors. Many of the homes where there is no pet living inside still contain enough dander to cause an allergic reaction.
Am I allergic to the animal's fur or is it something else?
The following information is courtesy of Larry and Shirlee Kalstone who make Allerpet. Shirlee is also the author of Allergic To Pets? The Breakthrough Guide To Living With The Animals You Love.
"One of the major causes of allergic reactions to dogs and cats is not the hair or fur, but what's under it: dander or old skin scales (similar to, only much smaller than dandruff on the human scalp) which are constantly shed into the environment. These allergens are extremely tiny, like microns of dust or powder, that allergy sufferers seldom, if ever, know are circulating in the air, clinging to furniture, draperies and wall coverings. If a dog or cat has been in the family for a long time, its dander will have permeated the entire house.
Dander occurs naturally as the epidermis, or the outer layer of skin, renews itself. The epidermis of dogs and cats is quite thin; it is made up of many layers of cells which are constantly pushing upward to replace the cells above. As this process takes place about every 21 days, the outer cells die and flake off into the environment as dander. It has been found, incidentally, that the epidermal turnover is more rapid in breeds that are groomed frequently and especially in breeds that are prone to various forms of dry and oily seborrhea (Cocker and Springer Spaniels, West Highland White Terriers, Irish Setters to name a few). Instead of the normal 21 days cycle, the epidermal turnover of seborrheic dogs is 3 to 4 days.
In dogs, saliva and urine are also potential sources of allergens. They are deposited on the fur through licking and urination. When the hair dries, the microscopic particles flake off, become airborne and trigger the symptoms that characterize allergies to pets. Cats produce another major allergen, Fel d 1, in the sebaceous glands of the skin and in their saliva. Fel d 1 is deposited on the fur from sebaceous gland secretions and through saliva when cats lick themselves clean."
Why do I react so quickly when I am near an animal?
People who are allergic to animals can tell you their personal experiences, just like they have told them to us, about reacting very quickly when they walk into a room where there is animal dander in the air. Symptoms like itchy, watery eyes, sneezing and other sinus problems occur immediately. The truth is that it does not take a lot of animal dander to cause an allergic reaction, and it is so small and light that it remains airborne for long periods of time. Consequently, it is often readily available to be breathed in and begin causing a problem. Unfortunately, handling the animal is not a necessary prerequisite to having an allergic reaction. If an animal has been in a home for even a few weeks, there will be enough dander in the air to cause an allergic reaction.
Are there certain "non-allergenic" breeds of cats and dogs?
Unfortunately there are no known breeds of either cats or dogs that do not produce allergenic pet dander. Recently, however, it has been observed that male cats produce more allergen (Fel d1) than female cats. There are also some breeds of dogs that produce Can f1, dog allergen, faster than others. Any breed of dog that often suffers from skin problems, like West Highland White Terriers, is likely to produce more allergenic protein. If you are allergic to dogs or cats and have neither, it is not advisable to own one, even if it is one of the breeds that produces less allergen.
I don't have a cat, so why do I react to my home as if I have one?
Even if you live in a home where furry pets have never lived, animal dander can be present. Since pet dander is very small and light, it can attach itself to your clothes when you are away and ride back into your home undetected. It can also come in on the clothes of your children or guests. Animal dander has been found in many public places, like school classrooms, in quantities high enough to cause an allergic reaction. Many homes without pets have been tested, and similar results have been found. If you have moved into a home where a pet has lived, it will take a year or more for all of the pet dander there to lose its potency.
Things that can be done to avoid an allergic reaction to animals
What doctors recommend.
When an allergy specialist tests a patient and finds an allergic reaction to animal dander and the patient owns a pet, the doctor has the difficult task of making it clear that the patient will have allergic reactions as long as the pet remains in the home. Most doctors know that family pets often win out and remain in the home, so the doctor can only suggest the best ways to live with the pet. Often their suggestions are the most practical advice and should be heeded. That advice varies, but there are some common themes: Don't allow the pet into your bedroom; run a HEPA vacuum cleaner and a high efficiency furnace filter.
More about ridding your home of animal dander.
Because pet dander, especially cat dander, is small and sticky it adheres to everything - floors and carpets, walls, furniture, lamp shades, even ceilings. In order to remove it, every part of your home should be vacuumed with a true HEPA vacuum cleaner. If you have hard surface floors, they should be mopped weekly. If you install a high efficiency furnace filter, like 3M's Ultra Allergen, you should leave your furnace fan running by setting the fan to "on" rather than "auto". Regular use of Quick Bath Pet Wipes to remove pet dander and soften your pet's skin will help keep pet dander from getting airborne. Finally, run a true HEPA air cleaner in your bedroom to remove airborne dander.
Be reasonable and practical.
Some animal allergic people insist on sleeping with their pet because they have always done that. Be practical; sleeping with your pet means your system is taking in allergens all night long. Find another place for your pet to sleep. In fact, doctors suggest that you not let your pet into your bedroom at all, and that's good advice. If your dog or cat can stay outside most of the time, that is the best approach. If you or your child is allergic to animal dander and your child wants a pet, ask your doctor for suggestions before shopping for one.