Tricks for Living with Dogs When You are Allergic to Them

Dog AllergiesCuddling up with your pup can be
a challenge for allergy sufferers.

Around age 13, doctors finally figured out how bad my allergies were. Before that, I think everyone assumed I was just a sickly kid. It turned out that I had ridiculous allergies to nearly everything they tested, including both dogs and cats.

Minus a few years in college, I’ve lived with dogs since I was born. I adore dogs beyond measure and refuse to live without them. I’m lucky that allergy treatments as a child and careful use of medicines now make that possible.

I’m also a fan of using wet microfiber towels to wipe pollen off my dogs – among other everyday items I use in pet care. Sometimes doctors blame pets, when it isn’t as much the pet causing the allergy as it is other allergens sticking to the pet.

Still, I’ve been tested and am indeed allergic to dogs and cats, and I’m not the only one. Cathy Lester, an artist specializing in soulful works of animals, including pet portraits, suffers from both asthma and allergies. Since she also has many dog grooming clients, I asked her how she manages to live with dogs and breathe at the same time. Here are her tips from one allergy sufferer to another.

Talk to your allergist.

When the allergist’s first recommendation was that the dogs had to go, Lester replied, “That's not gonna happen. What else?” Lester sticks to a strict schedule for medications and uses the tips below to minimize her exposure to allergens.

Give dogs weekly baths.

If your dog has outdoor or water adventures, bathe him that day in addition to the weekly bath. Lester says, “When we lived on the farm, Jeffrey had daily baths in the summer. He also had a fabulous life with a creek to swim in, fields to run in, hay to roll in, but then he came in the house. Hence the daily baths. We had a tub in the barn.”

These days, Lester uses a salvaged mobile home bathtub mounted on a platform in her laundry room. It sits at the perfect height for her to bathe dogs frequently without strain. Featuring linoleum floors and a dog door to the outside, she jokes that her dog grooming room is “like the Hilton of dog cleanliness.”

Keep the dogs off the bed.

Lester’s three dogs – two Border Collies and a new Papillon-mix puppy – do sleep in the bedroom, but they are not allowed on the bed.

Being a small dog, the puppy sometimes breaks this rule. Lester explains, however, that he lies on an easily washed blanket, and he does not spend the whole night on the bed.

Plan your yard carefully.

Lester divided her yard into two distinct sections. The first is what she calls the “flowery, gardeny part.” The second section is the dog yard, which features mostly grass with bushes around the edges. She counts herself lucky that so far none of her dogs are “perimeter runners or bush hogs.”

“They don't spend time under the plants,” she says. “It’s easier to keep them clean when they don’t rustle around in greenery.”

Rinse your sinuses daily with saline.

Lester does this religiously every single day and has been able to reduce her symptoms by 99%. “Yes, really,” she adds, for those who are dubious.

I do this too, and it really helps.

Choose hard-surface flooring.

Carpeting plus dogs is an allergy sufferer’s worse nightmare. “It holds all manner of ick,” Lester says. She likes hardwood floors because they are easy to clean and stand up to critters.

My own house features tile on the main level. We do have carpet upstairs, but the dogs are not allowed up there.

Don’t touch other dogs.

At dog classes, when meeting friends dogs, or seeing other dogs in public, Lester does not touch them. Because others don’t bathe their dogs as frequently or as thoroughly as she does, Lester is sure to develop swollen eyes, clogged sinuses, and hives within minutes of touching a dog other than her own. “It makes me look like I hate dogs,” she says, “but you know it’s exactly the opposite.”

Hypoallergenic Pet Myths

The theory is that dogs that shed less, for example, are better for allergy sufferers. However, after analyzing hair and coat samples from various breeds of dogs, then testing samples of dust from their homes for a major canine allergen, researchers concluded the following: “There is no evidence for the classification of certain dog breeds as being ‘hypoallergenic.’”

Fun Fact: Lions and Household Cats : All cats – from your lions and tigers to your household kitty friends – have the same allergens.

Are you allergic to your pets?

Tell us your secrets, tips, and coping strategies.

References

Lockey RF. The myth of hypoallergenic dogs (and cats). J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2012 Oct;130(4):910-1.

Hawn R. Your Partner vs Your Pet, WebMD.

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