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Pets 101

Itching for Relief

Reducing and managing pet allergies

By Renee Krejci

I stared in dismay as the bumps on my forearm marked “cat” and “dog” grew bigger and bigger. I was at my allergist getting a skin test to confirm what my teary eyes, sneezing, and wheezing already had—I have pet allergies. And I’m not alone. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, an estimated 10 percent of the population is allergic to animals. As a pet lover, this was not the news I wanted to hear. There was no way I was going to remove animals from my life. Thankfully, pet allergies and pet guardianship don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Whether you are a pet parent yourself or frequently visit family and friends with furry companions, there are many ways to help reduce allergy symptoms.

The nonallergenic myth

When I told friends I wanted to eventually adopt a dog despite my allergies, everyone recommended I get a Poodle, Maltese, or other “hypoallergenic” breed. But contrary to popular belief, there are no nonallergenic pets. According to Dr. John E. Duplantier of Central Indiana Allergy, animals produce several types of proteins that cause allergies. The most prevalent is pet dander, but salivary proteins can also be known to cause problems. Shedding may trigger allergy symptoms more often, which is why dogs who need grooming might help you cut back your sneezing. But these dogs are still not allergen-free.

Household solutions

So what’s a sneezy, wheezy pet lover like me to do? Naturally, the first place to start is at home. After all, home is where the heart—and your pet—is. And that means lots of allergens. Begin by designating an allergen-free zone where pets are not allowed, such as the bedroom. Bedding becomes a big trap for dander and saliva.

The next step is to keep things clean, both for you and your guests. “If friends and relatives with pets clean their homes appropriately prior to visits by their allergic friends, that will help,” Duplantier advises. He suggests vacuuming often with a HEPA-filtered vacuum. High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) vacuum bags help reduce the amount of dander stirred up by cleaning. A HEPA air purifier is another good thing to have, especially in the bedroom, as it helps reduce airborne allergens. A more permanent solution is to keep hardwood, linoleum, or tile floors rather than carpet, which can serve as a reservoir of allergens.

Although it may not please Fluffy, bathing your pet weekly can help remove allergens (dander, dust, and more) on the fur. There are a variety of anti-allergen shampoos and topical products you can use to neutralize allergens and remove dander.

Pills, gels, and shots, oh my!

For his patients, Duplantier often uses a combination of allergen reduction and avoidance measures like those listed above, as well as medications and allergy shots. He develops a specific plan for each patient. “Allergy medications can be prescribed to treat symptoms or to be used prophylactically when visiting homes with pets,” he says. “The types of medications should be tailored to the symptoms experienced: for example, oral antihistamines, antihistamine eye drops, nasal sprays (corticosteroid or antihistamine), and asthma inhalers.”

There are a variety of allergy medications available over the counter. Just to be on the safe side, I always carry a few allergy pills in my purse; you never know when a friend is going to want to introduce you to her new cat.

Many allergic pet guardians rely on allergy shots in order to continue cohabitating with their allergen-ridden furry friend. Allergy shots, also known as immunotherapy, help build up your body’s tolerance to allergens. At first, the shots are given once or twice a week with increased dosage. Eventually, if the shots are effective, frequency is reduced to every two to four weeks.

Eliminating allergies entirely?

When all else fails, there’s a somewhat controversial practice known as Nambudripad’s Allergy Elimination Techniques (NAET). Lisa Madigan, an NAET practitioner in Phoenix, touts the benefits of this method, explaining that it can eliminate allergies using a blend of allopathy, acupuncture, kinesiology, and nutrition. Madigan says that she has treated a couple dozen pet-allergy sufferers and only one of them still has problems, likely because the patient did not follow through with her treatment, she believes.

Duplantier says he has not seen any validated scientific studies proving the benefits of acupuncture or chiropractic methods for allergy treatment. Be sure to do your research before beginning an allergy-treating regime. For more information or to find a practitioner in your area, visit NAET.com.

Don’t guess—test

Although taking allergen-reduction and avoidance measures can be beneficial to everyone, talk to your allergist before trying to diagnose yourself. Getting an allergy skin test like I did is an easy way to determine what you are and aren’t allergic to. “I saw a woman recently who was concerned about a dog allergy, but she was allergic to dust mites and not dogs,” Duplantier says. “Having pets running around the house may aggravate dust allergies. All allergies need to be diagnosed and treated to obtain the best response.”


Allergy Picks

Pledge Furniture Polish
(Pledge.com)
Make your furniture shine while removing up to 84 percent of allergens in dust (which includes animal dander).

Oreck Halo Vacuum
(Oreck.com)
This vacuum has a HEPA filter, as well as a UV-C light to kill germs.

Paralda HEPA Air Purifier
(AlenCorp.com)
Remove airborne allergens the stylish and eco-friendly way.

Chloraseptic Allergen Block
(AllergenBlock.com)
This drug-free topical gel helps prevent nasal allergy symptoms.

DERMagic
(DERMagic.com)
These all-natural skin care products will help ease your pet’s itchiness and redness caused by allergies.


When Sassy is the one sneezing

Just because your four-legged companion doesn’t curl up on the couch with a box of tissues doesn’t mean he doesn’t have allergies too. Approximately 20 percent of dogs and 15 percent of cats in the U.S. suffer from allergies. Unfortunately, pet allergies often go undetected because guardians don’t know the signs. There are four types of allergies for both dogs and cats: contact, flea, food, and inhalant. Dogs can also have bacterial allergies. A common way to spot if your pet is suffering from allergies is if he or she is itching and licking a lot, often until the skin is broken or red. Some other symptoms are coughing, sneezing, wheezing, and mucus discharge. If you suspect your pet has allergies, take him to the vet. Your veterinarian may be able to perform an allergy test or recommend a veterinary dermatologist, who can determine the cause of your pet’s itching and prescribe medication to control it.

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