Pets help reduce stress levels and give unconditional love to everyone in the family. Yet for the three out of ten Americans that suffer from cat and dog allergies, these pets cause problems as well. With over 60% of households reporting they have a fur-bearing pet in the home, there’s a large overlap between allergy sufferers and much-loved companion animals.
Understanding what triggers your allergies can help you control your symptoms without getting rid of your dog or cat. Pet allergy sufferers can find ways to finally own cats and dogs without falling for the hype of non-existent hypoallergenic breeds. Finally, you might realize you actually have a pet dander allergy even if you’ve previously assumed you weren’t sensitive to it.
What is Pet Dander?
Contrary to popular belief, pet allergies are not triggered by an animal's hair. It’s actually skin flakes, and particularly the saliva residues on them, that trigger an allergic reaction in humans. The combination of skin flakes and saliva residue is commonly called pet dander.
Since pet hair isn't the primary cause of an allergy attack, whether your pet is hairless or has a luxurious coat, they could still be the cause of your allergies. Even breeds labeled hypoallergenic can still trigger your allergy attacks, although since they shed very little, your symptoms may be reduced. That's because the allergy-causing dander that sticks to their fur doesn't get released into the air or onto the floor as much as with a shedding dog. Proteins found in the urine also contribute to allergies, making litter box cleaning essential for good home quality.
Signs You Have Dog or Cat Allergies
Millions of people suffer with dog allergies or reactions to other pets without specifically realizing the cause of their symptoms. Since most reactions are usually not life-threatening, it’s possible to live for many years without an official allergy test from a doctor. Some of the most common symptoms of pet allergies include:
- Asthma attacks triggered or worsened by expose to the pet dander
- Wheezing and difficulty breathing
- Itchy and clogged sinuses, with or without mucus production
- Redness, hives, or rash where a pet has licked the skin directly
- Watery and itchy eyes, which often turn red from irritation
- Sneezing and coughing, either occasionally or in fits.
When you only have a mild allergy, you may not experience symptoms until a few days after petting a cat or dog. This means that you’ll constantly experience a low level of sinus and eye irritation when living in the same house with your favorite cats and dogs. Only testing from a doctor can determine if you have cat allergies or if your reactions are due to other common household irritants. You need thorough allergen testing before trying to decide how to treat dog allergies.
How to Treat Dog and Cat Allergies
As with many other home allergens, reducing your cat and dog allergies requires a multi-pronged approach. You can’t rely on any single technique and expect good results. Mix and match as many of the following allergen control techniques to permanently control pet dander levels.
- Replace or clean reusable air filters every month at the most. While some homes may go a few months at a time between changes, homes with pets require monthly attention instead.
- Switch to higher quality HEPA filters that trap 99% or more of pet dander and particles of similar size. Make sure the filter fits your current heating and air conditioning system since a thicker or larger filter could impede air flow and damage your equipment.
- Hire a duct cleaning service to remove pet dander that has traveled into the ducts and settled there. This dander stirs up and spreads through the home every time your heating or cooling switches on with a rush of air. You’ll need to repeat the duct cleaning every year if you continue to have pets in the home.
- Commit to a thorough weekly cleaning schedule that involves vacuuming and sweeping daily and dusting two to three times a week. Routine cleaning traps as much pet dander as possible before you can inhale it and develop an allergic reaction. Vacuums featuring HEPA filters and canisters offer the most control of dander and stir the particles up less than sweeping.
- Encourage the pet to spend time in one area and increase the cleaning of that space. Wash pet bed covers and furniture slip covers as often as possible. Consider building a secure outdoor enclosure or even a separate building for your pet to use to limit the amount of dander they shed in the home.
- Keep pets out of your bedroom since shedding dander on your bedding creates a direct path for inhalation through your mouth and nose as you sleep. Even if you love sleeping with your pets, this habit could be causing your daily sinus congestion or itchy eyes.
If you’re still not sure what to do about your pet allergies, discuss your problems with an air quality specialist. We can help you tailor solutions from Amana to improve your indoor air quality with or without pets.