How To Live Happily With Your Pets When You Have Pet Allergies
If you suspect or discover you’re allergic to your pet, you may feel like you have to give up a member of the family for the sake of your health. However, pet allergies are common; anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of the global population is allergic to dogs and cats. Considering that 70 percent of U.S. households have a pet, many people are likely able to live with their pets despite their allergies.
As long as your symptoms aren’t too severe, you can also learn how to coexist with your allergies and your pet. You may have to make changes in your life and home, but these adjustments will allow you to live happily with your pet and without sacrificing your health and wellbeing.
Understanding Pet Allergies
Before taking any steps to reduce allergens, you first need to understand pet allergies and how they work. In cats and dogs, allergens come from saliva, blood, dander, urine, and oil from the sebaceous glands. If you have a pet, their allergens are already present in your home. Some allergens and can linger in the air or on surfaces for months.
Fur is not an allergen, but it can collect and transmit allergens from an animal to other places. This means there are no completely hypoallergenic cats or dogs. Certain breeds may be more likely to trigger an allergic reaction than others, depending on what allergens you’re most sensitive to.
Identifying, Diagnosing, and Treating Pet Allergies
The symptoms of pet allergies look similar to symptoms associated with other allergies and illnesses. They may include:
- Itchy, watery, and red eyes;
- Runny nose;
- Hives, a rash, or skin discoloration;
- Itchy or scratchy throat;
- Wheezing, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing.
Pay close attention to any symptoms you experience and when you experience them. They may be unrelated to your pet and caused by something else entirely, such as a cold or poor air quality. Persistent and consistent symptoms may indicate a pet allergy, while passing or temporary ones are likely unrelated.
If you suspect that you’re allergic to your pet, you should talk to your doctor. They can conduct a skin or blood test to see if you’re allergic to your pet, and if so, to what extent. The test may also reveal other things you’re allergic to, such as plants, foods, dust, pollen, mold, or spores.
Your doctor can then recommend treatment based on the type and severity of your allergies. Common treatments include:
- Over-the-counter antihistamines;
- Allergy shots, also known as immunotherapy;
- Natural remedies, such as a nasal lavage.
Generally, the best treatment is prevention. This means you’d have to avoid being exposed to the animals that trigger your allergies. If your allergies are incredibly severe or even life-threatening, your doctor may even suggest finding a new home for your pet. Be sure to work with your doctor to determine a course of treatment that works for your needs and your household.
Making Lifestyle Changes
If your allergies are mild, you may be able to manage them without parting ways with your pet. You can take steps to minimize exposure to your pet’s allergens and reduce the intensity of any symptoms you experience.
Try incorporating the following changes into your life and home:
- Increase personal hygiene: Be even more vigilant about your hygiene. Wash your hands frequently, especially after touching your pet. If you hug or cuddle your pet, you may even want to wash your face.
- Clean the house: Additionally, clean your house more thoroughly and more often. Be extra diligent about cleaning your pet’s area, such as near their food bowl. You may not be able to keep your home free of pet hair, but deeper and regular cleaning can lessen your exposure to allergens.
- Change your clothes: Change your clothes after spending a significant amount of time with or around your pet. Doing so may lower the chance that you experience a reaction because of allergens sticking to your clothing.
- Wear a mask: Wear a face mask when you clean, dust, or vacuum your home. It may sound counter-intuitive, but cleaning can disturb settled allergens and launch them into the air. A mask will serve as a filter and protect you from breathing them in.
- Avoid other animals: Do your best to steer clear of other pets that you encounter. Don’t touch them or let them touch you. Other people may not clean their pets as thoroughly or frequently as you do, and getting too close to those pets could trigger a reaction.
- Be careful of other pet owners: Similarly, be mindful about spending time with other pet owners, particularly if they do not have pet allergies. They could easily collect and transmit their animal’s allergens. Instead of going into their homes or inviting them over to yours, consider hanging out outside or meeting at another location.
Though these lifestyle changes are all fairly minor, they can make a surprisingly significant difference in your allergy exposure and symptoms.
Caring for Your Pet
In addition, you may need to make changes in how you care for your pet. Have someone without allergies take over caring for your animal, including feeding, exercising, and cleaning up after them. It may not be easy or fun to keep your distance, but it may ultimately be better for your health. When you do have to care for your pet, be sure to wear a mask.
Consider changing up the products that you purchase for your pet. For instance, if you have a cat, switch to a low- or no-dust cat litter. Changing the litter may not impact the allergens your cat produces, but dust is an allergen in and of itself. With fewer allergens in your home, you may be less likely to experience symptoms.
Stay on top of your pet’s medical care, as certain underlying health issues could contribute to the allergens your pet produces. For example, if your dog has an untreated condition that causes them to shed more, there will be more allergen-spreading fur in your home. Not only would treating that condition make your dog feel better, but it would also reduce the amount of fur they shed.
Brushing and Bathing Your Pet
Additionally, it’s crucial to keep your pet clean. Both brushing and washing your pet can go a long way in reducing your symptoms.
When washing your dog, use a shampoo that works for their fur and skin. Depending on how often you bathe them, you may not need to use shampoo each time. Simply rinsing them off will still remove excess dander and fur. If you’re able to wash your cat, try using a damp washcloth. Wiping them down will help clean them off without the potential chaos of trying to give them a traditional bath.
When brushing your pet, use a high-quality brush that grabs loose fur. If possible, brush them outside to keep dislodged allergens out of the home.
Talk to your veterinarian about an appropriate grooming schedule for your pet. From how dirty they get during playtime to the texture of their fur, many factors affect how often your pet needs to be washed and brushed. Further, some cats and dogs have sensitive skin that frequent bathing or brushing could irritate. It’s important to do what you can to lessen allergens, but not at the expense of your pet’s health.
Making Adjustments at Home
On top of lifestyle and pet care changes, you can also adjust your home to lessen your exposure to allergens and your symptoms.
Further, your environment can impact your mental health. Being constantly worried about your allergies or feeling unwell in your own home can take an emotional toll. By improving your home environment to minimize exposure and symptoms, you can protect both your physical and mental health, while living more comfortably with your pet.
Airflow and Filtration
Make an effort to improve airflow and filtration throughout your home.
- When the weather allows, open your windows to let fresh air in. Use fans to circulate air throughout your house.
- Get an air purifier for commonly used areas (such as your kitchen or living room), as that can remove dander and other microscopic particles from the air. If you live in a humid climate or otherwise need help managing moisture in your home, a dehumidifier is another great option for cleaning indoor air.
- Swap out the air filters in your home — such as those in your air conditioner, heater, and even your vacuum — for high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters. HEPA filters trap allergens and prevent them from recirculating in your home. Check your filters regularly and replace them when they’re full of buildup so they continue to keep your air clean.
Your bedroom should be a pet-free zone. If your pet isn’t allowed in your bedroom, then you can significantly reduce your exposure to allergens when you sleep at night. Allergens may still come into your room simply by circulating through the air or sticking to you and your clothing, but they likely won’t be as strong as they are in other rooms of your home.
If you do allow your pet in your bedroom, keep them off of your bed. This will help keep allergens off of your pillow and sheets, so you don’t breathe them all night long. If your pet is allowed on the bed or accidentally, be sure to wash your bedding thoroughly.
Further, consider purchasing a new mattress, and a hypoallergenic mattress in particular. Hypoallergenic mattresses help prevent allergens from entering the mattress and multiplying to irritating levels. Hypoallergenic mattress covers, pillows, and bedding can be similarly useful for keeping allergens out of your bed.
Restrict your pet’s access to any carpeted areas in your home. Allergens can easily get stuck in the carpet and remain there for extended periods. This is made worse because of how difficult carpet can be to clean. All varieties of hard floors are easier to clean, making them a better alternative for allergy sufferers.
It may be worth replacing any carpet in your home with some kind of hard flooring. If you (or your pet!) need something cozy on the ground, you can always get a rug to warm up your space. Like carpets, rugs can catch and retain allergens, but they are much easier to clean.
If replacing your floors isn’t feasible, vacuum and steam clean your carpet as frequently as time and resources allow. Even with hard floors, you’ll still need to regularly vacuum and wipe them down to minimize allergens.
Certain pieces of furniture present similar challenges, in that they trap allergens from your pet but are difficult to keep clean. Don’t let your pets get up on the furniture. If they do hop onto the furniture, try to clean it as soon as you can.
Depending on the pieces you already have and the severity of your allergies, you may need to upgrade your furniture, particularly your living room furniture, to something more pet-friendly. Look for easy-to-clean pieces that will still work in your space and suit your design preferences.
If you can’t or don’t want to replace your furniture, take care to maintain the pieces you already have. Cover your furniture with slipcovers or sheets when it’s not in use. You can then easily wash the sheet when it gets dirty.
Depending on what kind of animal you have and what your home is like, devote an entire room to your pet. Though allergens will be all over this room, they may not be quite as strong in the rest of your home. As long as someone else is in charge of pet care, you can avoid going into that room.
This room can serve as their bedroom, as well as a space for your pet to play, exercise, and even eat. If you have a cat, it would be a great place to set up their litter box. Whatever you do, make sure the room is pet-friendly so your animal can be in there safely and comfortably.
Additional Resources for Coping With Pet Allergies
Consult the following resources for more information on pet allergies and how you can manage them better:
- Allergies Health Center: The Allergies Health Center from WebMD provides many articles about different kinds of allergies and related conditions.
- Allergy-proof your home: This list from the Mayo Clinic describes, step by step, how to deep clean your home to minimize your allergies.
- Allergy shots: Also from the Mayo Clinic, this article explains allergy shots and how the immunotherapy process works. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA): This nonprofit organization uses advocacy and education to support patients with asthma and allergies.
- Can You Use OTC Medications Like Allegra, Claritin, and Benadryl to Help Manage Allergies From Pets?: This article details different over-the-counter antihistamine medications and how they can be used to cope with pet allergies.
- Exotic pet allergy: This study discusses different exotic pet allergies, including a variety of reptiles and rodents.
- Healthy Pets, Healthy People: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains a hub of resources related to people, pets, and their health.
- Indoor Air Quality (IAQ): The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers a wealth of information about indoor air quality and how to improve it.
- What is a HEPA filter?: In this article, the EPA provides an overview of how HEPA filters work.