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The thought of having a good time and developing a strong bond with your pet appeals to you.
That’s why you browse the internet looking for ‘how-to’ tips and tricks that will help improve your pet’s quality of life and also make your job of looking after them easier.
However, if you are (or someone in the family is) allergic to pets, living with one is a fantasy you can only dream of – maybe that explains why you double-tap or pin photos of cute-looking pets on Instagram and Pinterest.
What if I told you it doesn’t have to be that way?
Imagine if you could spend quality time with your pet without your or anyone’s immune system getting all defensive and making the eyes, nose, lungs, and skin overreact.
I know you can already feel those butterflies fluttering, so pay attention as I show you how you can live with a pet even if you’re allergic to one.
Here are some allergy issue you may encounter with pets
Allergy issues that might come up with pets
Here are some common allergy scenarios that might pop up in your quest to add a new pet to your family.
You know that you are allergic to pets.
In this case, you have prior knowledge of your allergic reaction to pets, maybe from interacting with other people’s pets or from the result of an allergy test.
Someone in the family is allergic to pets.
You brought a pet home only to discover that someone in the family is allergic to them, and you think you have no other choice but to return the pet.
You developed allergy symptoms after owning a pet for some time.
You’ve been living with a pet for some time, however, your body has been reacting differently to them lately and you wonder why this is happening to you.
Did you know that some veterinarians are allergic to pets? True! It came as a surprise to me as well.
But why would someone that is allergic to pets choose to become a veterinarian?
I was discussing with a vet a while back – you know those conversations that have no pre-planned direction.
He discovered the problem after he’d gone far in the field. Some other vets knew before going into the field that they were allergic to certain animals, but still forged on anyway – I mean, how many of us would stop mid-track on our journey to something that we really love, something that excites us?
So, if a veterinarian who is expected to interact with animals for most of his/her life can develop allergy symptoms around animals but continue nonetheless, then that’s all the light in the tunnel that you need. Irrespective of the situation you find yourself in, you can learn to live a happy, healthy life with your pets, even if you’re allergic to them.
I will share with you what I learned on that visit and some other tips I picked up from personal research.
What are allergies?
Allergies are more common than ever and now ranked sixth on the leading cause of chronic illness in the US. If your allergies prevent you from getting a pet or are interfering with your daily life, you can’t help thinking or looking for ways to get rid of them.
However, before we get to that we need to understand what exactly allergies are, what triggers them, then we can talk about ways to get rid of them or, at least, mitigate their effects.
So, what are allergies?
Allergies happen when a person’s immune system reacts abnormally to a harmless protein as if it is a foreign invader.
Imagine you are at your workplace, focusing on a project and suddenly the alarm system starts blaring. Security personnel start running towards the entrance only to discover that what they thought was a threat, is just an empty bag. By now you can’t concentrate 100% on the project anymore because everyone is scared and alert to possible danger.
When your immune system recognizes a foreign substance in your body, its first reaction is to flood your bloodstream with antibodies. These antibodies produce chemicals such as histamine, which makes it easier to defeat the intruder.
However, histamine causes symptoms such as congestion, runny nose, tightness in the chest, itching, and redness of the eyes. Your allergic reaction will be mild or severe depending on how much histamine is released in the body. Some common allergens include:
- Dust mite
- Dander or saliva from pets, especially cats and dogs.
- Certain chemicals in foods
Although the likelihood of getting rid of food allergy is low, many children do outgrow them. However, it is possible to get rid of environmental allergies or manage the effects of pet allergies while living with a pet.
Okay, now you know what allergies are and some of the common allergens, how does this help you live with a pet if you have allergic reactions when you are around one?
You’ll need to get an allergy test to tell which of the allergens trigger your system. This is the first step that will help you to determine if you can comfortably spend time around pets.
What is an allergy test?
Self-diagnoses and Dr. Google make it seem obvious that a certain object or animal is the cause of your allergic reaction, however, your symptom may not be related to what you suspect.
When you go for an allergy test, an allergy specialist will discuss your symptoms with you and go over your medical history to find other possible triggers. You will be exposed to a small quantity of different allergens to tell which of them triggers your immune system.
Over 70% of people with pet dander allergies also show an allergic response to other things. And here’s the interesting part, the immune system’s response to those allergens can add up.
If your immune system gets triggered by pollen or dust and you also have a pet allergy, controlling your exposure to pollen or dust can help keep your pet allergy at bay and also prevent your immune system from being overwhelmed.
Does this matter when you already know that you’re allergic to pets?
Well, yes! It can help you decide whether to return a pet or manage the allergy symptoms that come with living with that pet.
Here’s what I mean.
Allergy testing has improved from what they used to be. Before now an allergy test only helped a clinician diagnose allergies to common causes such as pollen and pet, however, with the new information they can now derive from a blood test, clinicians can get very specific on the exact protein causing your body to react.
For instance, many people are allergic to Can f 5 protein produced only by male dogs. From this group of people, about 30% or more will have little issues with a female dog or a neutered male dog.
Armed with this information, you are not blindly choosing any short-haired, hypoallergenic dog. You can decide to get either a cat or a ferret knowing that you’re allergic to a certain dog protein and not the fur on a pet or how often it sheds.
How can you live with a pet that you’re allergic to?
Living with allergies can seriously affect the quality of your life. Though cat and dog allergies are the most common, any pet that’s free to roam the house can cause allergies.
However, it is worth noting that not all pet allergies are caused by pet protein. Dust and outdoor allergens such as a tree or grass pollen, can build up on your pet’s fur while it is playing outside.
If your pet allergy symptoms are only making you miserable but aren’t life-threatening, there are steps you can take to prevent the symptoms from interfering with your daily life.
Here’s the first step.
Reduce the amount of allergen in your house
Use home HEPA filters
High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters are a type of air filters and purifiers that remove allergens floating in the air inside your home. These filters can be installed in your ventilation, heating, or air-conditioning system, where they’ll trap particles from the air passing through them.
They are great at removing large or fine particles from the air, such as molds, pet dander, pollen, and dust mites. If you use them properly, HEPA filters can remove many other particles above a certain size.
However, if you’ve been using your unit for 3 years or more, consider hiring a professional to clear allergens from your duct the next time you want to switch your unit’s HEPA filter.
What if you don’t have a forced-air system or live in a small space?
You can purchase a portable HEPA filter machine. These machines draw in dirty air, filter out tiny particles, and release clean air. However, they are made for small spaces and there’s a limit to how much air they can filter.
With these, it is best to place them in your bedroom, office, or living room where you spend most of your time.
Molds thrive best in moist and warm environments. After taking a shower, run a powerful dehumidifier in your bathroom to suck out moisture from the air.
Eradicate dust mites.
Keep your home clean, uncluttered, and free of dust mites by removing wall-to-wall carpeting and putting protective covers on furniture cushions.
Remove some houseplants.
Some houseplants are very efficient at removing carbon and keeping the air clean, however, most provide a great home for mold spores and dust mites. This doesn’t mean you should throw them all out. Instead, reduce the number of house plants in your home and also get rid of dried flowers.
Vacuum your house more often than you currently do. Use a vacuum that contains a HEPA filter to help remove allergens that are airborne as well as pick up any fleas that might be causing your pets to excessively groom and scratch its coat.
Seeing as we’re already wearing face masks to prevent the spread of CoVid19, you won’t look out of place if you wear a mask while cleaning the house. This will prevent allergens that settled on the carpet from finding their way into your nose.
Create an allergy-free zone.
Create an allergy-free zone in your home where the pet has no access. Since many people spend roughly one-third of the day lying in bed, you can make your bedroom – or the allergic person’s bedroom – allergy-free by using high-efficiency HEPA air filters in the room.
Use hypoallergenic bedding materials.
Your pillows, sheets, and comforters are cozy places for the buildup of dust mites, pet dander, and mold. Using impermeable hypoallergenic covers on these can help you feel better throughout the day.
Hypoallergenic bedding materials provide an effective barrier that prevents allergens from building up inside comforters and pillows. They’re free of chemicals and easy to clean, unlike down bedding. Alternatively, you can get an allergen-resistant mattress pad which, according to the AAFA, reduces allergy symptoms better than an air cleaner does.
Keep animal allergens out
Animal allergens are sticky, which means you have to make sure you’re not carrying pet dander or saliva around on your clothes and skin after interacting with your pet animal. Make sure the clothing you wear around the animal does not get into your bedroom or allergen-free area. And wash your hands as often as you can.
Make your pet hypoallergenic.
You read the right! The default thing most pet parents do when they discover that they’re allergic to their pet is to return it to the shelter and begin searching for a hypoallergenic pet that doesn’t exist.
Some people are allergic to all dogs, some are allergic to certain breeds, or gender of dogs, but there is no truly “hypoallergenic” cat or dog.
“if you say there’s no hypoallergenic dog or cat, how can I make mine hypoallergenic?”
Lol, bear with me.
If you’re allergic to your cat, dog, or ferret, then it means that you are reacting to the proteins in their saliva, dead skin matter, and urine, NOT how much fur they have or their size.
You can make your immune system less likely to react when you’re around your pet by
Groom your pet regularly
If your pet doesn’t like grooming, you don’t enjoy the grooming process, you don’t have enough time, or any other reasons you have for not grooming your pet regularly, you have to understand that failure to groom your pet as often as required contributes to the buildup of allergy-causing contaminants on its coat.
The best way I know on how to reduce pet dander is by bathing your dog or cat at least twice a week. This alone can drastically cut down the number of allergens on your pet’s body.
I recommend using JP’s Oatmeal Shampoo because of its antibiotic properties and fresh smell. However, you don’t necessarily have to use shampoo all the time. You can simply scrub your pet with plain water and use shampoo when your pet stops smelling fresh.
If grooming your pet is a grueling task you rather not do very often, you can hire a groomer to take care of your pet once in a while.
Treat skin problems so they don’t scratch very often.
Pets can’t talk, so what do they do when they have a problem? They complain in pet language or try to handle it themselves.
In the case of a skin problem, such as allergic dermatitis caused by flea infestation, a pet will try to handle the itching by scratching or biting its coat. So, if you notice abnormal or frequent scratching lately, then you need to investigate and treat possible skin problems.
Remember, the more they scratch, the more pet dander is released into the air and onto surfaces. And trust me, a pet with an untreated skin problem paints a bad picture of you the owner.
Use dander spray.
JP’s Oatmeal Shampoo helps keep dander under control, especially in a pet you don’t have the time to bathe as often as required.
It contains natural enzymes that neutralize the allergy-causing proteins found in pet dander and non-toxic pet fragrance that help reduce pet odors.
This spray is very handy, especially if you’re living with (or expecting) people that are allergic to pets.
However, I must warn you.
Dander spray is not an alternative to proper pet grooming. Don’t use it to mask untreated skin problems.
Take allergy shots
Allergen immunotherapy (allergy shots) are a treatment option for those with mild to severe or life-threatening allergy symptoms. The shots help decrease allergic reactions to airborne triggers such as grass, pollen, dust, mold, and pet dander.
The way allergy shots work is by carefully introducing small amounts of allergens into your blood. If you react to pollen and dogs, your shots will contain tiny bits of both.
Over time and with little increments in the amount of allergen contained in the shots, your immune system will become desensitized to the allergen and won’t react harshly anymore.
Initially, the shots are given twice per week in the first few months of treatment. After the initial stage, you’ll then need to take the shots every few weeks, then months. The complete treatment spans roughly three to five years. It can take months for a noticeable decrease in the symptoms and, for some people, the results are usually permanent.
Manage your allergy symptoms with medications
It isn’t always possible to completely prevent allergic reactions. However, there are medications you can take to treat symptoms as they arise. Some over-the-counter and prescription options available are:
Antihistamines are medications that help relieve runny nose, congestion, itching, and sneezing. Some brand names include Allegra, Claritin, Benadryl, and Clarinex.
Decongestants are medications for the nasal passage that helps shrink swollen tissues. They are available in oral form, however, the nasal spray works faster, especially if used before symptoms worsen.
Leukotriene modifiers will only be recommended if your body cannot tolerate corticosteroids or antihistamines and there aren’t suitable alternative prescription medications.
I know it seems like extra work.
However, many of the tips, lifestyle changes, and medications in the article will help you live with a pet that you are allergic to.
One key takeaway from that discussion with a vet is to be proactive and take preventive measures. Reduce the number of other allergens in your home and wash your hands after touching a pet. Consider taking medications when symptoms start.
That’s why their allergies don’t stop them from caring for the animal they love or slow them down at work.