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Coping with pet allergies

Michele Borboa, MS is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, food, lifestyle, and pets. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and pet-lover based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also...

Yes, you can keep your pet

Do Fido and Whiskers have you sniffling, wheezing and sneezing from morning to night? As devoted as you are to your faithful furry friends, allergies can put a serious damper on your relationship with them. But that doesn’t mean you need to give your pets away or relegate them to outdoor-only status. It simply means it's time to adopt some pet-friendly ways to manage your allergies.

Sneezing child

We spoke with Betsy Saul, co-founder of Petfinder.com, the largest online database of adoptable pets, about the best ways for pet lovers to keep their pets while coping with those pesky allergy symptoms.

Pets are family, too

Would you give your kids away if they frequently triggered your allergies? Of course not! And you probably aren't willing to give up your beloved pup or feline, either. In a spring 2010 poll of its Facebook fans and friends, Petfinder.com posed the question: "Would you ever consider giving up a pet because of allergies?" More than 350 devoted pet parents responded saying, "No way. My pet is here to stay."

The answer doesn't shock Saul. "Honestly, I would have been surprised if people had said they would give away their animals because of allergy issues," she says. "A key part of our mission here at Petfinder.com is to elevate the status of pets to that of family members -- and we continue to see pets becoming a more integral part of families' lives every day." Even when pets present challenges, true pet lovers prevail and find ways to accommodate for the wellbeing of everyone in the family, pets included.

There's no such thing as an allergy-free pet

Though some furry friends are likely to cause severe allergic reactions, some breeds are more tolerable, like these hypoallergenic dog breeds. Saul advises, "It might be best for a family with allergies to look for a hairless or single-coated dog breed, such as the poodle or the schnauzer. Interested? Petfinder.com currently has more than 3,000 poodles and 1,500 schnauzers available for adoption."

For families who haven't yet brought a pet into the home, Saul recommends that they visit the pet before adoption to determine if it will trigger an allergic reaction. "There is no such thing as a 100 percent allergy-free pet," she explains. "However, there is still so much to gain from becoming a pet parent. A pet will give you unconditional love and become a lifetime companion to you and your family."

Causes of pet allergies

Understanding allergy causes is important in learning to effectively manage their symptoms. According to Saul,  glands in the animal's skin secrete tiny allergy-triggering proteins, called allergens, that linger in the animal's fur. "When the protein attaches itself to dried skin, called dander, it can flake off and float through the air," says the pet expert. "Allergens are also present in the animal's saliva and urine, and may become airborne when saliva dries on the fur." Because every person is different, allergic reactions vary widely.

Tips for managing pet allergies

Saul is quick to put pet allergies into perspective. "Taking steps to manage allergy symptoms is a small price to pay to protect such an important relationship," she says. She offers the following ideas for families with pet allergies:

  1. Use an air cleaner. Saul recommends high-efficiency HEPA air cleaners throughout the house, which can remove up to 99.9 percent of airborne particles.
  2. Avoid cloth and carpet. Cloth curtains and carpeted floors are dust catchers and dander magnets. Saul adds, "If you do have these furnishings in your home, be sure to wash them frequently."
  3. Bathe your pet. Give your pet a bath every week; it can reduce the level of allergens on fur by as much as 84 percent.
  4. Try allergy medications. "If your allergies are severe, consider using antihistamine nose sprays and antihistamine pills. Many pet parents swear by them," says Saul. "Immunotherapy (allergy shots) can also help improve symptoms."
  5. Create an allergy-free zone. Designate a room, preferably the allergy-sufferer's bedroom, as an allergy-free zone, and prohibit pet access. Make sure the room has a HEPA air cleaner, and use impermeable covers for the mattress and pillows to prevent accumulation of allergen particles brought into the room by clothing.

Managing pet allergies has an added bonus: it will can keep your home cleaner and improve its air quality.

Helping your kids manage pet allergies

If your kids have pet allergies, they may outgrow them. Even if your children's allergy symptoms are minor, talk to their pediatrician about the pros and cons of adopting a pet and whether medication can help, if needed. "Another option is to consider more allergy-friendly pets such as fish, snakes, iguanas, lizards and turtles," says Saul. "These animals can also be found and adopted through Petfinder.com."

More on pet allergies

How to fight cat allergies
Expert tips to take control of your allergy symptoms
Ways to cope with pet allergies

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