Many people suffer from pet allergies. Dogs, cats and birds are the most common sources of allergies, but any type of pet can cause an allergic reaction. More people are allergic to cats than any other type of pet. People may own their pet for a while before they develop an allergic reaction to them. This does not necessarily mean that you must give up your pet. Following is some basic information on pet allergies and how to cope with them.

It is a popular misconception that pet hair causes pet allergies. This is not the case. Most pet allergies are caused by pet dander. Therefore, buying a “hairless” breed of dog or cat will not solve the problem; they still produce dander. There are some breeds of dogs and cats that people may claim are “hypoallergenic”, but don’t take them at their word. If you don’t already own a pet and are thinking of getting a “hypoallergenic” pet, visit with a dog or cat of that breed to see if you have an allergic reaction before bringing one home.

You should visit an allergist to confirm that you are actually allergic to the pet itself. It may not be the pet, but something that they pick up from the outside, their shampoo, the chemicals in their flea/tick control medicine, cat litter, toys, clothing, etc. Most allergists will recommend getting rid of your pet if it is determined that you are allergic. For some, allergy shots or medication (over-the-counter or prescription) may be a simple, but long-term solution. For many people, their pet is like a member of the family and re-homing them is a last resort. There are steps you can take that may allow you to keep your pet.

Wash and brush the pet once a week. A family member who is not allergic or a professional breeder should wash the dog outside of the house with hypoallergenic shampoo.
Never allow the pet to go into the allergic family member’s bedroom. Allergens on the bedding can cause breathing problems at night.

Keep pets off the furniture. If your pet is used to being allowed on the furniture and you have trouble keeping them off, buy washable furniture covers and wash them once a week. The pet should have his or her own bed to lie on instead of the furniture. Buy a bed with a washable cover and wash it at least once a week. Vacuum carpets and furniture daily and, dust with a damp cloth twice a week.
The allergic family member should not hug or cuddle with the pet. It can be hard to refrain from doing so at times, so they should wash their hands immediately afterwards. Some people may need to wash their hands immediately after simply petting their pet.

If possible, have a central air cleaner installed in your home. This will help remove allergens from the air. There are portable room air purifiers on the market that can be used if you are not able to have a whole-house unit installed.

Keep your cat’s litter box in an isolated area. The allergic person should not clean the litter box. If they must, they should wear gloves and a mask.

Consider keeping the pet outside. For some people who are used to having an indoor pet, this is a hard decision, but they may decide it is better than getting rid of the pet. If you decide to keep the pet outside, be sure to provide proper shelter. Have a place indoors, such as a spot in the garage or basement where the pet can stay in case of extreme weather conditions. Be sure you are still spending time with the pet once it is moved outside. If you are unable to do so, it may be better for the pet if they are re-homed.

For people who have severe or even life-threatening allergies, it is necessary to re-home their pet. For people with mild or moderate allergies, it is often possible to co-exist with their pet, as long as the proper precautions are taken. It may require some extra work, but it’s often worth it to be able to keep your pet. For more information, visit the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (http://www.aafa.org/display.cfm?id=8&sub=16&cont=63) or the Partnership for Animal Welfare-PAW (http://www.paw-rescue.org/PAW/PETTIPS/DogTip_Allergies.php).

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