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Allergies to animals.

If you are like many people, you may find out too late that you have animal allergies, learning only after you bring a pet into your home that you are allergic to it.

Cat or dog allergy occurs in approximately 15% of the population. For those with asthma, the percentage jumps to 20-30%. In general, cats produce more severe allergic reactions than dogs.

Allergy is an immune reaction to a protein (an allergen) found in saliva, dander (dead skin flakes) or urine. People are never allergic to the hair of an animal. The allergen gets carried in the air on very small particles which you cannot see. It then lands on the lining of your eyes (conjunctiva) and nose. It also is inhaled directly into your lungs and causes allergic symptoms. Contact with your skin also may cause itching and hives.

Usually symptoms will occur quickly (within minutes) after being exposed to an animal. For some people the symptoms may build up over several hours and be most severe 12 hours after they have discontinued contact with the animal.

So, what do you do when you find your furry friend causes you to sneeze, wheeze and itch?

The best treatment of cat and dog allergy is to remove the animal from the home and avoid other kinds of contact when possible. Keeping the animals outdoors is only a partial solution, since studies have shown that homes with pets kept in the yard have higher concentrations of animal allergen than homes without pets.

What are the best pets for a person who is allergic to animals? Turtles, hermit crabs, fish, snakes, or any animal that does not have hair are the pets of choice for the animal-allergic patient.

Although most allergists would strongly discourage you from keeping a furry pet, there are ways to minimize your exposure to its allergens.


1. Keep the offending pet out of the bedroom. Because so many hours each day are spent in the bedroom sleeping, just keeping the pet out of this room will reduce your exposure dramatically. Remember that any visit by your furry friend leaves allergens behind, so the pet must stay out of your bedroom completely. Also try to keep the pet out of any other rooms that you spend a great deal of time in.

2. Allow the pet to live outside the home, if possible. This is especially good if your pet is a dog or a rabbit since a dog house or rabbit hutch will allow your pet to spend time outdoors comfortably and safely.

3. There is new evidence that washing the animal weekly will reduce the amount of allergen that is given off into the environment. There are no special sprays or treatment of the hair which will inactivate the allergen. You should consult with your veterinarian for advice regarding care of your animal's skin to prevent excessive dryness if you are washing your pet regularly.

4. Have a non-allergic family member brush your pet outside. This will help remove loose hair and allergens from your pet and will keep down the amount that is shed indoors.

5. Have a non-allergic family member clean out the animal's litter box or cage. While it is thought that dander and saliva are the source of cat allergens, urine is the source of allergens in other pets, such as rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs.

6. A cat or dog produces a certain amount of allergen per week. This amount varies greatly from animal to animal. There is no particular cat or dog breed that is better than any other, so you may react differently to different breeds.

The allergen accumulates in areas such as carpeting, mattresses, cushions, and even on vertical and other horizontal surfaces of a room. Since the allergen particles can go through fabrics, it is suggested that mattresses and cushions be encased in plastic with a zipper to prevent the release of allergens when squeezed.

Vacuuming does not help with this allergy problem because it does not get to the lower levels of the rug and it stirs up small allergen particles. Some of these particles can move right through the vacuum but a vacuum filter may help prevent this release. Periodic steam cleaning of wall to wall carpeting may be of some benefit.

The best solution is to have a hardwood floor with scatter rugs that can be taken up and cleaned.

7. Replace bedding and carpeting that has animal dander in it. This is because it can take weeks or months for fabrics to come clean of allergens. In some homes, animal allergen may persist for a year or more after the animal has been removed. For example, keep the cat out of the bedroom and use new bedding and rugs.

8. Immunotherapy.

Studies have shown that this form of therapy will improve, but not totally prevent symptoms. Cat and dog immunotherapy works better in cases where the patient has only occasional, unavoidable exposure, rather than in cases where the animal stays in the home all of the time.

Immunotherapy also has side effects which can be severe. This treatment is not usually considered until environmental control measures and medications have been used. Ask your allergist about immunotherapy for animal allergies.

9. Is your home super-insulated? If it is, it may not be helping your allergies. Studies show that energy-saving homes (those built with triple-glazed windows and all cracks carefully sealed) keep allergens as well as the heat in. One study found an allergen level 200% higher in a super-insulated home than in an ordinary home.

10. Home air cleaners, which are designed to reduce airborne allergens in the indoor environment, may help to eliminate some of the pet dander and other allergens in your home. Ask your allergist about using an air cleaner.

11. Medications.

Your allergist can help you choose a medication that will be appropriate to control your allergy. Medications can be taken to prevent symptoms if you are only exposed occasionally. These may include anti-histamines, decongestants and asthma medications (for the allergic asthmatic).

Your allergist can provide you with further information on animal allergies.
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Publication:Pamphlet by: American Academy of Allergy and Immunology
Article Type:Pamphlet
Date:Feb 1, 1993
Previous Article:Allergic rhinitis and nonallergic rhinitis.
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