The Truth About Cats and Dogs (and Their Dander)!
What Am I Allergic To?
Despite what you may have heard, you are not allergic to your animal's hair. Rather, pet allergies are reactions to a protein found in the saliva, dander (dead skin flakes) or urine of an animal. Urine is the main source of allergens from rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs. In cats, the main source of allergens is a protein called Fel d1 secreted by the cat's salivary glands and sebaceous glands in the skin. Dog allergen also comes most commonly from dander and saliva. Dander particles are similar to, only much smaller than dandruff on the human scalp, and they are constantly shed into the environment. Cat allergen is so sticky that it adheres to walls, furniture, clothing and shoes. People who do not even own a cat can have allergy symptoms due to allergen being tracked into their homes. Any of these allergenic proteins from any animal can easily become airborne and land on the lining of the eyes or nose, or be inhaled directly into the lungs.
Symptoms vary, but they usually occur quickly, sometimes within minutes after exposure to the animal. When I'm around cats, I will experience almost immediate eye irritation, which only gets worse if I touch my eyes after touching furniture or carpet in the home. However, it usually takes an hour or so for me to experience a runny nose and congestion. For some people, symptoms may build and become most severe eight to 12 hours after they have had contact with an animal.
Remember also that animals can be carriers of other allergens that you may be reacting to. During pollen season, pet fur can retain that sticky allergen and drag it into your home. Pet beds and even their fur can be a safe haven for dust mites, too.
If I Don't Have Pets, Am I Still At Risk?
Perhaps you are not a cat person, or your apartment is just too small for a dog, or your allergies are severe enough that you've decided to avoid pets altogether. Are you safe from pet allergen? The answer is no. Pet dander is not exclusive to the homes of pet owners. I have been invited to the homes of friends who do not own pets, yet I have reacted as if there were cats roaming around. I soon learned that the previous owners had cats. Research has found traces of cat dander in homes where cats have not been present for years. While dog dander can also linger a long time, cat dander has more serious staying power, particularly in carpets, furniture and bedding.
Studies have confirmed that another risk factor to pet allergic individuals is clothing and what it can transfer. If your home is an allergen-safe sanctuary, it can still be disrupted by having a group of pet-owning friends over for dinner. Their coats, jeans, sweaters and socks can all retain dander that will then settle in your sofa! You can still host dinner parties without having to vacuum your friends before they enter, but just be sure to treat your furniture regularly if you are highly allergic and a frequent entertainer.
And it just gets worse! Another recent study suggests that "all allergenic individuals have signs of asthmatic responses if exposed to cat allergen, even if blood tests show they are not allergic to cats" (The Guardian, UK). So you don't even have to be officially allergic to cats to have an allergic reaction to the little darlings.
Are There Allergy-Free Pets?
Suppose you are allergic to dog dander, but the kids are begging you for a family pet. Are there any ways for families to experience the joy of a pet without the allergic consequences? There are certain breeds of animals that are less prone to producing allergens. I grew up with a standard poodle as our family pet for this very reason. Portuguese Water Dogs and certain terrier breeds are also less allergenic.
A European company has claimed to have genetically engineered an allergen-free cat. They are currently hard to come by and quite expensive. Remember that any "allergen-free" or "low-allergen" pet that has fur is still liable to track in outdoor allergens and make your home more prone to dust mite allergen.
What Can I Do In My Home To Reduce Dander?
If you've been told to reduce your exposure to pet allergen but just can't stand the thought of giving away Fido or Fluffy, you can take action to limit your exposure to their allergens. The most important recommendation for pet-allergic pet owners is to keep your cat or dog out of the bedroom. As I have often emphasized, the bedroom is the key battleground for making your home more allergy tolerable. Here are some other suggestions in the fight against pet allergens:
|WASH your clothing and bedding to get rid of dander that can linger long after you've snuggled with your pet. Specially formulated laundry detergents like Allersearch Allergen Wash will wash out pet dander allergen (and other allergens, too) and freshen your clothes without harsh chemicals.|
|ENCASE your mattress, box spring and pillows to protect yourself from pet dander that may be deep inside, especially if your pet used to sleep on your bed.|
|FILTER the air in your home with room air cleaners and special allergy furnace filters. An air purifier placed in the bedroom and living areas will go a long way toward eliminating airborne pet allergen. Using a high-efficiency furnace filter and replacing it at recommended intervals will also help take pet dander out of the air in your home.|
|APPLY allergen treatments to furniture, carpeting and pet beds to neutralize protein-based allergens like dander that stick to and stay on those surfaces. That means the only sniffles you'll have on movie-night will be from the storyline, not the carpet allergens!|
|VACUUM with a HEPA vacuum to capture over 99% of allergens so they're not spewed back into the air you breathe. Special attachments that come with some vacuums, such as the Dyson DC17 Animal, increase effectiveness in getting rid of pet dander. For easy reach in tight places and quick cleanups, the DirtTamer Supreme handheld, cordless vacuum packs a lot of power. As a pet owner myself, one of the most doctor-recommended steps I can take toward reducing allergens, is to clean house with a HEPA vacuum. Regular vacuuming reduces allergens in the carpet, and it removes all the other dirt, leaves and pollen that our fluffy pooch drags in from the yard!|
Are There Allergen Treatments For Pets?
There are some specific treatments and products you can use for your pet to reduce the allergens they shed. Here are a few that I recommend:
|Bathing your pet with Allersearch Pet+ Shampoo or Anti-Allergen Solution Pet Shampoo will neutralize allergens while giving your pet a clean, shiny coat and moisturized skin.|
|Allerpet Solution is a skin moisturizer for dogs and cats that reduces dander, plus pets love the extra love they get when you apply it!|
|QuickBath Wipes are easy-to-use wipes that remove surface dander and saliva. Use them when you don't have time to give Fluffy or Fido a bath and every time your pet comes in from outdoors.|
|Pet odors can be a challenge, but De-Odor-Rods and Odor Neutralizer can help in a big way. Place a long-lasting, renewable De-Odor-Rod near the source to naturally take the smell away. Or spray Odor Neutralizer in the problem area to eliminate smells, not just cover them up. These products take care of messes, stinky litter boxes, and crate and bed odors without endangering your pet.|
Pets can be wonderful members of our family; I know that my husband and I are so thankful for our dog. However, they can be allergy risks for the highly sensitive. I hope this article has given you hope and some strategies for controlling pet dander in your home. For even more information on this topic, I highly recommend Allergic To Pets? by Shirlee Kalstone as an easy-to-read, informative guide for pet owners or potential pet owners.