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9 Tricks for Living with Dogs When You are Allergic to Them

By Roxanne Hawn

woman sneezing because she is allergic to pug

It is possible to enjoy a wonderful life with dogs if you suffer from allergies to them, or if you have family members who are allergic to dogs. Not that it’s necessarily entirely comfortable, mind you, but it is doable. I should know.

Minus a few years in college, I’ve lived with dogs since I was born despite being allergic to them. 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. 

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 is a list of tips we use to manage living with dogs, from one allergy sufferer to another.

1. Consult with an 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.

I’ve learned that nothing works for me like certain antihistamines. Some don’t work for me while others do the trick quite nicely. I use a daily over-the-counter antihistamine nasal spray which I layer with another OTC antihistamine on especially troublesome days (usually a couple of times a week). Prescription medications and allergy vaccines may also be in order.

2. Create a Regular Dog Grooming Schedule

Bathing

Nothing tamps down the allergens that live in pet fur and skin better than a good cleansing. It strips them off the surface and washes them down the drain.

Just in case you’re thinking that bathing will make you break out in allergic spasms, my experience is that once I wet the fur, the allergens tend to settle right down. But there’s no way of knowing without trying. Bathing at least weekly is recommended. If your pet has sensitive skin, be sure to ask your veterinarian to recommend a specific shampoo for this purpose.

Brushing 

Unlike the bath, this approach is not recommended for the allergic to undertake. Wearing a mask might just make the process bearable but I recommend that someone else brush the animals out of doors while the allergic person remains at a safe distance. After brushing, smoothing down the skin with a moistened towel to keep any stray bits of dander from flying about is strongly recommended.

Brushes that specifically remove the undercoat (which can trap the allergens) will help lift and remove the offending molecules. The Furminator® is a good choice. A twice-weekly brushing in between bathing is a reasonable schedule.

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.

Treat Any Skin Conditions Your Dog Has

Interestingly enough, pets with skin disease are more likely to wreak allergic havoc on allergic household members. Keeping these diseases under control, with the help of a veterinarian, can be transformative for those with allergies.

3. Keep the Dogs Off the Bed

If you let your dogs on your bed, you’re increasing your exposure to more than just the pet dander. Common allergens, like pollen and dust, can stick to a dog’s fur. If you let your dogs on your bed, those allergens can and will transfer to your bedding.

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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. Clean (Roomba, Swiffer, Allergy Sprays)

For those who can afford it, hiring a cleaning crew to do the heavy lifting can help a whole lot. This is especially true of the semi-annual kind of cleaning where a lot of reaching behind furniture and rearranging of items is required. All that hair and skin builds up!

For the routine kind of cleaning everyone does on their own, investing in a robotic vacuum cleaner to accomplish this task while you’re out of the home can be a godsend. The only problem is that a non-allergic person needs to empty the filter. Also note that using a Swiffer®-style cloth on the floor or employing any wet-style cleaning approach is always a safer alternative to traditional sweeping.

7. Change Your Air Filters Regularly

Changing the air conditioning filters in your home more often (every two weeks or so) can be expensive, but it can also lower the amount of dander in the house to manageable levels.

8. 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.”

9. Choose a Dog Breed That Sheds Less Than Other Breeds

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.’” However, there are certain dog breeds that might be better for allergy sufferers. All dogs produce some dander. However, these breeds don’t shed as much as other dogs and will produce less dander. 

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