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Dog Allergies

ERIC BITTMAN Blog dog allergies itchy skin condition

We love our pets. They give us companionship and enjoyment often unmatched by human relationships. But many pet owners give up their beloved pets when they find they have a pet allergy. You don’t have to relegate Fido to the doghouse in the back yard or send Fluffy to the farm. There are steps you can take to reduce the allergens in your home and live more comfortably with your cherished pet.

The culprit that causes allergic reactions is not the hair on the pet, as is commonly believed, but proteins (allergens) secreted by glands in the skin. These allergens also appear in the saliva and urine of pets. The allergens are spread through the dander (tiny particles of skin) that are shed. Cats cause more cause more allergies than dogs because of their habit of constantly grooming themselves, which spreads the dander and saliva through their fur. The dander is easily airborne, floats freely, and settles in upholstery, carpeting, draperies, and bed linens. The key to living with pet allergies is to reduce your exposure to these allergens by eliminating them from your environment.

If possible, keep your bedroom off-limits to pets. Having a dander-free environment at night may help you to tolerate allergens during the day. Cover your mattress, pillow, and box springs with allergy proof casings, and wash bedclothes often. Keep clutter, pictures, and decorative items to a bare minimum. Avoid wall-to-wall carpets, upholstery and draperies in the bedroom; cover or replace them with washable surfaces. Vacuum carpeting and upholstery in the home at least once a week, and dust with a damp cloth. Wipe down walls regularly. An air purifier with a HEPA filter will clean the air of most allergens. An air conditioner, in the appropriate season, can be beneficial, if it is cleaned regularly to keep mold from collecting.

Wash your hands after handling your pet, and avoid touching your eyes or nose. Brushing your pet regularly will reduce the amount of dander-containing fur that contaminates your home. Brushing should be done out-of-doors, away from open windows. Wear a filter mask (available at most hardware stores) and wash your hands and clothing afterward. Bathing your pet can help to reduce the dander in its fur, but is not totally effective, since the dander returns in a day or two. Pets should not be bathed more often than once a week, since it can be drying to their skin and increase the amount of dander their skin produces. Even cats can get used to being bathed; check with your vet or ask him to recommend a pet care manual for the proper method. Cats who are bathed as kittens will accept a bath more readily as they grow to adulthood. If possible, get a non-allergic family member to brush and bathe the pet, or take it to a professional groomer.

There are products on the market, such as Allerpet, which claim to reduce the allergens in the fur. Allerpet is a non-toxic solution wiped onto the fur of the pet, to remove proteins and dander, as an alternative to weekly bathing.

Use unscented, dust-free litter in the litter box, and clean it often to keep urine proteins from evaporating into the air. Clumping litter is a good choice. Again, if possible, let a non-allergic family member have cat-box duty, and if you must do it yourself, wear a filter mask and wash your hands and clothing afterward.

Some breeds of cats and dogs are said to be allergenic, but all pets create proteins and dander. Very young puppies and kittens seldom cause an allergic reaction. Some breeds of dogs with soft, continually-growing fur, such as poodles or bichon frise, tend to be groomed more often, so they may carry fewer allergens in their coat. Interestingly, dark-haired cats tend to produce allergic reactions more often than light-colored ones. In one study of 60 cat owners, those with moderate allergy symptoms were six times more likely to own a dark-haired cat than those with mild or no allergy symptoms. (The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Jan. 2000). Dark haired cats may produce more (or stronger) allergens. When choosing a kitten, it may be wise to opt for the light-colored cats to avoid potential reactions. A neutered male cat will also produce fewer proteins. Male pets are more likely to cause allergic reactions than female animals.

If you still have annoying allergy symptoms after following these measures, then consult your physician. He will direct you to an immunotherapist, who can do tests to verify that you do indeed have a pet allergy. People with pet allergies may also have reactions to other allergens in the environment, such as pollution, cigarette smoke, pollen, and dust mites. Many people have given up beloved pets to find that they still suffer allergy symptoms. Treatment is available in the form of injections, and antihistamine tablets, sprays, and inhalers, which will not eliminate the allergy but can lessen the severity of the allergic reaction.

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