Indoor pets can make allergies worse - - The News for South Mississippi

Are you allergic to your pets?

Nothing is cuter than a puppy or a kitten unless they make you cough, sneeze and break out in a rash.

About 10 to 15 percent of the U.S. population have pet allergies, and unfortunately, there is no cure.

Most of us aren't willing to give up our four-legged friends, but we often give in to many of the marketing myths which claim to eliminate or reduce pet allergies.

Our pets are friendly, fluffy pals, but for many, the fur on these hairy animals is often thought to be the source for causing allergies.

This is not true according to Donna Warren, a veterinarian at LakeCross Veterinary Hospital in Huntersville, NC.

"Huge myth, hair is actually too big to be allergic," said Warren. 

The big allergy problem is actually a protein found in your pet's dead skin, also known as dander, as well as their saliva and what's left behind in the litter box.

All of which are allergens you can't get away from, but people will spend hundreds of dollars trying to do just that. 

"So far, there hasn't been a saliva-less cat or a dander-less cat," said Dr. Maeve O'Connor with Carolina Asthma and Allergy Center in Charlotte, NC.

While that may be true, for about $1,500 you can purchase a Sphynx which is a rare breed of cat without a coat.  

"There's no hair balls, no flying fuzz," says Jennifer West who breeds Sphynx. 

The Sphinx may be free of fur, but they still produce allergens on their skin and saliva.

Still, these coatless cats can help some allergy sufferers because there is no hair to shed all over your house.

"Unfortunately, there really is not a hypoallergenic cat or dog," said O'Connor.

According to both veterinarians and allergists, that specialty-bred hypoallergenic pet that you paid hundreds of dollars for is a lot of hype because there is no scientific evidence that any one breed of dog is less allergenic than another.

The only helpful difference is that hypoallergenics shed less, thereby spreading less allergen-aggravating dander around.

So, where should allergy suffers turn? Well, you can and should regularly soap up your animal, even the hairless variety, to reduce the amount of dander.

To reduce your exposure to dander, experts recommend keeping your pet outside your bedroom. This could be a little emotionally difficult for some pet owners.

"It would be like finding out you can't sleep with your spouse anymore," Warren says.

Veterinarians say cuddling up with your cat or dog under the covers, is six to eight hours of sniffing in that allergen while you're snoozing.

Your best shot at conquering a pet allergy is with medication called desensitization immunotherapy. These allergy shots last between three to five years, and they essentially re-train your immune system to inhale with ease.

While the treatment is not a cure, doctors say its about 80 to 90 percent effective in lessening allergic responses to animals.

So, there is hope for watery-eyed pet owners and lovers everywhere either with the aid of medication, or with a hairless cat which may be worth it when a pet is part of your family.

If you're constantly vacuuming up pet hair, make sure you are using a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter. These help filter small particles like dander.

Some veterinarians told us people with very bad symptoms will sometimes vacuum their pet, but we don't recommend trying that with cats!

Additional Information: 

  • Pet allergy symptoms include coughing, sneezing, itchy eyes, runny nose and scratchy throat. In severe cases, it can also result in rashes, hives, lower blood pressure, difficulty breathing, asthma attacks, and even death. (Source: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America)
  • There are no cures for allergies, but they can be managed with proper prevention and treatment. (Source: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America)
  • Allergies have a genetic component. If only one parent has allergies of any type, chances are one in three that each child will have an allergy. If both parents have allergies, it is much more likely (seven in 10) that their children will have allergies. (Source: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America)
  • Allergies are the fifth leading chronic disease in the U.S. among all ages, and the third most common chronic disease among children under 18 years old (Source: "Chronic Conditions: A Challenge for the 21st Century," National Academy on an Aging Society, 2000)
  • Six out of 10 people in the U.S. come in contact with cats or dogs. (Source: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America)
  • From 15 percent to 30 percent of people with allergies have allergic reactions to cats and dogs. (Source: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America)
  • Cat allergies are about twice as common as dog allergies. (Source: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America)
  • To test the effect of household pets on your quality of life, remove them from your home for at least two months and clean thoroughly every week. After two months, if you still want pets, bring a pet into the house. (Source: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America)
  • Remove the animal's favorite furniture, remove wall-to-wall carpet and scrub the walls and woodwork. Keep surfaces throughout the home clean and uncluttered. Bare floors and walls are best. (Source: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America)
  • If you must have carpet, select ones with a low pile and steam clean them frequently. Better yet, use throw rugs that can be washed in hot water.
  • Wear a dust mask to vacuum. Vacuum cleaners stir up allergens that have settled on carpet and make allergies worse. Use a vacuum with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter if possible.
  • Forced-air heating and air-conditioning can spread allergens through the house. Cover bedroom vents with dense filtering material like cheesecloth.
  • Adding an air cleaner with a HEPA filter to central heating and air conditioning can help remove pet allergens from the air. The air cleaner should be used at least four hours per day. Another type of air cleaner that has an electrostatic filter will remove particles the size of animal allergens from the air. No air cleaner or filter will remove allergens stuck to surfaces, though. (Source: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America)
  • Washing the pet every week may reduce airborne allergens, but is of questionable value in reducing a person's symptoms.
  • Have someone without a pet allergy brush the pet outside to remove dander as well as clean the litter box or cage.

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