Approximately 50% of households have pets based on statistics from animal food suppliers. The dander from the pet is the major culprit that causes allergic symptoms. Dander is composed of microscopic skin cells shed by cats, dogs, rodents and birds. The American Lung Association describes pet allergens as light in weight and jagged in shape. These characteristics allow dander to stick to bedding, furniture and fabrics. They also allow the pet dander to remain airborne for longer periods of time than dust mite particles do.
The American Academy of Allery, Asthma and Immunology reports that animal proteins are also found in the pet’s saliva, urine and feces. The proteins can trigger allergy or asthma symptoms in people allergic to specific pets. Even the dried saliva or urine on an animal’s fur can flake off become airborne and then inhaled. The length of the hair or fur and amount of shedding does not affect the presence of the animal’s dander. Animal fur can also be a repository for pollen, mold and other allergens. A non-allergenic breed of dog or cat does not exist!
Avoiding pet exposure is still the most effective remedy for pet allergy. However, recommendations given by Mayo Clinic and the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America for reducing exposure to pet dander, so as to “create” that hypoallergenic pet, are these:
- Keep bedroom clean and keep pets out
- Have a HEPA air cleaner in the bedroom
- Remove wall-to-wall carpeting, upholstered furniture, curtains and horizontal blinds
- Steam clean the carpeting, or use throw rugs and frequently wash in hot water
- Keep all surfaces–including floors and walls–clean and uncluttered
- Use an HEPA filter in a vacuum and wear a dust mask while cleaning.
- Change clothes after exposure to animals
- Cover vents in the bedroom with dense filtering material, like cheesecloth
- Use a HEPA filter on the central heating/air conditioning unit.
- Use the HEPA air cleaner at least 4 hours per day
- Bathe the dog or cat at least weekly; it could be helpful for several days afterward.
- Have someone without pet allergy brush the pet outdoors
All of these changes in the home might either prevent symptoms or lead to occasional use of medication. If asthma symptoms are not occurring, these changes can be tried first. However, denial of symptoms cannot go on for very long. Seeing an allergist or another health care professional is not desirable, but it is necessary when all of the above changes are just not enough.
Yvette, RN, BSN