Fortunately, I personally have never suffered from pet allergies. If I did, I could only persevere and control the symptoms. I love animals too much to consider a life without them. My friend, however, has three cats. She does have an allergic reaction. She uses a dehumidifier and will take medication when necessary. But she complains that she is always congested when at home, despite her efforts. She will not consider re-homing her cats. The culprits Pet dander is on just about every pet that we bring into our home: cats and dogs, birds, hamsters, ferrets. Dander has the potential to bring those susceptible down with an allergic reaction. But it is not the hair or even the flaky dander itself that creates havoc for allergy sufferers. It is a specific protein in the dander that people react to. Pet allergy-producing proteins, or allergens, are also found in a pet’s urine and saliva. Since these proteins are easily airborne, people can have an allergic reaction by entering a room, even if the pet is not nearby. Common symptoms of pet allergies are a stuffy nose and runny eyes, a mild and itchy throat, nasal congestion, and sneezing. A more severe asthma-like response can include coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Typically, not everyone in a family is allergic to pets. One member might have inherited the family’s genetic predisposition to allergies. There is a higher risk of developing pet allergies if a person has other allergies or asthma. It is unclear why one person might have mild symptoms while another has a more severe and acute, asthma-like response. Best practices Fortunately there are many things that you can do to manage pet allergies. It is recommended that you visit an allergist to get a definite diagnosis that you are in fact allergic to pet dander. Allergists and pet allergy sufferers offer some tips: Controlling the environment — Keeping your bedroom pet-free can significantly decrease the presence of allergens. There is specific bedding available that is designed to be less permeable to allergens. You might consider a HEPA filter, which removes tiny airborne pollutants like dust mites, pollen, and pet dander from the air. Since dander is so airy, it can be filtered out of the air, reducing your exposure. In a specific area, stand-alone filters are typically more effective than an entire house HEPA system. Vacuum the bedroom frequently and change furnace filters to reduce dander in the air. Shampoo rugs frequently. Change your bedding, as well as your pet’s, frequently. Converting to a hard-surface floor and minimizing the amount of upholstered furniture will keep pet dander to a minimum. Personal care — Wash your hands after handling your pets. Washing the pet will decrease the amount of shed allergens, but this is a very short-term solution. It is more effective to wash your own hands and face after contact. And easier on the pet, particularly if it is a cat that does not appreciate frequent bathing! Over-the-counter medications, such as antihistamines, can relieve mild allergy symptoms such as nasal congestion and itchy eyes, but they will not help asthma-type symptoms such as wheezing and chest tightness. Consult with your primary care doctor or allergist if you are considering prescription allergy medication. When around pets long-term, allergy vaccines might be a consideration. These shots help you develop protective antibodies which prevent you from having an allergic reaction when exposed to an allergen. However, allergy shots are not a quick fix. It might be necessary to receive a year of weekly injections before converting to monthly maintenance doses, and then another three to five years of monthly shots before you no longer have allergy symptoms and do not need medication. Be aware of the environment — Even with excessive cleaning, there will be dander present. Pet allergens are sticky, making it easy for people to carry them on their clothes. This is why people with allergies will have symptoms even in a pet-free environment. When there are others in your presence who have pets, they will carry allergens. No amount of cleaning will eliminate all pet dander from an environment. Despite discussion that certain breeds of dogs such as poodles, terriers, and the hairless Chinese Crested are hypoallergenic, virtually anyone who has a pet allergy can be sensitive to any dog or cat. You might want to consider fostering a dog or cat to see how you or other family members react to a pet in your household before you make the lifetime commitment. Children will sometimes outgrow sensitivities, but for most allergy sufferers the condition is permanent and will not improve with time and exposure to a pet. Most people agree that the benefits of pet ownership outweigh the drawbacks of allergies. Research is proving that our excessive cleanliness is underexposing our immune system to common microbes in our environment. I knew this all along! As a child, I would play for hours in our backyard, which was filled with ash. I would perspire and come in black, from head to toe. I remember my mother dragging me upstairs for a bath. She was mortified that the dark-haired little girl she had longed to dress up turned out to be such a little tomboy who preferred to play with bugs rather than dolls! But I am convinced this contributed to building a strong immune system and my lack of allergies. If your pet rides in the car, consider using washable seat covers. You might consider taking a probiotic supplement daily, as healthy gut bacteria is important for proper immune system function. There are no widely agreed-upon allergy-friendly cat breeds. Some non-shedding dog breeds include: Bedlington Terrier, Bichon Frise, Lhasa Apso, Maltese, Poodle, and Yorkshire Terrier, just to name a few. In conclusion, if you or someone in your family has pet allergies, please do your homework before incorporating a pet into your household. When effectively prepared, you can live a healthy and happy life with your beloved pet. Dog bless. Resources: Pet WebMD, Happy Pets/Dr. Karen Becker Judy Endo writes about pets. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.