Expert Advice For Pet Owners Allergic to Their Pets

We will do just about anything for our pets. Even if that means sneezing and wheezing our lives away.

According to Dr. Kevin McGrath, a practicing allergist in Wethersfield, Connecticut, and a spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, about one in five Americans have allergies of some kind and the incidence of dog or cat allergies in the United States varies from 10 percent to 30 percent or more. And it’s as high as 20 percent in patients with asthma.

“Most pet owners will not get rid of their pet,” he said. “It is my clinical experience that most pet owners would rather get rid of the family member with allergies or the significant other than get rid of the pet.”

While there’s no perfect cure-all for pet lovers who also have pet allergies, there are some strategies for minimizing the sneeze and wheeze. Here’s what a few allergists had to say:

Grooming Helps

Dr. Neil Kao, an allergist practicing in South Carolina and fellow of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, said it’s a good idea to have a non-allergic member of your household regularly comb your pet outside with a comb wet with distilled water to help remove dander and shedding hair out of the house. And don’t forget to bathe your pet frequently, said Dr. Wan-Yin Chan, an allergist at CHOC Children’s in Orange, California.

Keep Things Clean

Kao said to use a HEPA vacuum cleaner on surfaces and to keep pets outside completely (ouch). However, he said, if your pet is indoors, then minimize his time outdoors because his fur will accumulate pollen that can be brought indoors.

According to McGrath, bedding—especially sheets—should be washed in 130-degree (or more) hot water every week, and washable blankets and quilts should be washed every 2-4 weeks.

“Cat allergen can stay airborne up to 6 hours after vacuuming,” said McGrath. “Dog allergen usually settles out approximately 30 minutes after vacuuming. The worst things patients do prior to allergic patients coming over to visit, [is] remove the cat and vacuum and dust everything just before their arrival. It would be better to do this at least 6 hours prior to their arrival. Cat allergen can stay in a home up to 6-12 months after the cat is removed from the home, if it is not cleaned thoroughly, including carpeting and furniture, after the cat is no longer in the home.”

Avoid Softer Materials

Replacing carpet with hardwood floors can help, according to Chan.

Along the same lines, McGrath said, “Environmental control measures that can be helpful include leather, wood, or plastic furniture as opposed to cloth furniture. Furniture, carpeting, and beds will absorb cat and dog allergen. It is better to have hardwood or tile floors than carpeting. This is especially important in the bedroom. It is best to keep the pets out of the bedroom.”

The Air Matters

Use HEPA filters in the home, especially in the bedroom or common areas of the home, said McGrath. Also, air ducts can often be a source of cat or dog allergens when an allergic person moves into a new home or apartment—so keep that in mind if you’re moving.

Cover Things Up

It’s important to cover mattresses, box springs, and pillows for those who are allergic to cats or dogs because allergens can stick on human and pet bedding for some time, according to McGrath.

Consider Allergy Shots

Besides environmental adjustments and housekeeping, allergic pet lovers can also pay a visit to their allergist. Ask to get skin testing and discuss allergy immunotherapy (allergy injections) and other possible medications, said McGrath.

The Myth of Hypoallergenic Dogs and Cats

According to the allergists, the idea of a hypoallergenic dog or cat is a myth. “Pet allergies are caused by allergens, which are proteins found in the skin, saliva, or urine of animals,” said Chan. “There is no such thing as ‘hypoallergenic’ dogs or cats as no dog or cat is 100 percent free from the allergens that can cause pet allergy. However, anecdotally, some patients claim that animals with shorter hair seems to shed less and cause less symptoms.”

So there is hope for those of us who get sneezy around our furry best buddies. It may take some extra effort, but they’re worth it.

Meet the Author: Jessica Peralta

Jessica Peralta has been a journalist for more than 15 years and an animal lover all her life. She has had dogs, cats, birds, turtles, fish, frogs, and rabbits. Her current children are a German shepherd named Guinness and a black kitten named Riot (and he lives up to that name). It’s because of her love for animals that she focused her journalistic career to the world of holistic animal care and pet nutrition. In between keeping Riot and Guinness out of mischief, she’s constantly learning about all the ways she can make them healthier and happier.

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