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Vet’s View: 8 Tips for Managing Allergies to Pets

By Dr. Patty Khuly

Woman Who is Allergic to Her Dog

As many of you know from living with allergies to pets, or with family members with allergies to pets, it is possible to enjoy a wonderful life with animals in spite of allergic disease. Not that it’s necessarily entirely comfortable, mind you, but it is doable.

I should know. As a veterinarian who suffers from allergies to her patients (moderately to cats and severely to guinea pigs), life with allergies can be managed, even with constant contact (though I do avoid the guinea pigs as much as possible).

But here’s the thing: Concessions must be made. Strategies devised. Tactics deployed. Here are my suggestions for those who suffer:

1. Bathe

No, not yourself (though I’ve more than once resorted to this approach when faced with a full-on bodily assault of histamine release). In this case, I mean that you should bathe the animals that you tend to react most to. Nothing tamps down the allergens that live in their fur and on their 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.

2. Brush

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.

3. Groom

Keeping the fur at a manageable length can help. Cats with long hair, or those who can no longer groom themselves adequately, are especially in need of clipping. The so-called “lion cut” is a style favored by cat groomers and can make a big difference to allergic household members.

4. Treat Your Pets

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.

5. Filters

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.

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. Reduce Other Allergens

If you know you have moderate-level allergies to cats, for example, recognize that any other mild allergies, such as to pollens, can be additive. That’s why certain times of the year your cat might seem like she’s an allergen factory. Reducing your total allergen exposure is essential to living with your cats so don’t test the waters by enjoying a picnic on high pollen count days, for example.

8. See Your Doctor

I’ve learned that nothing works for me like certain antihistamines. Some don’t work a darn 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 at work (usually a couple of times a week). Prescription medications and allergy vaccines may also be in order.

Remember, allergies can get worse with age so just because you never experienced them before doesn’t mean you can continue to live comfortably without treatment just because you once did without. Be kind to yourself and others around you by seeking professional help if your household needs it.

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