If you have pets but are also plowing through a jumbo multi-pack of Kleenex on a daily basis, you’re not alone. Over ten million Americans (many of whom are also pet owners) suffer from pet allergies. This means that there are a lot of people out there sneezing, itching, breaking out in hives, and coughing every time they go near a dog or cat. Though many conventional doctors will say: if you know you are allergic to _x_ (whether it be cats, dogs, peanuts, pollen, or feathers), then avoid __x__! For many allergic animal lovers, this form of “treatment” is out of the question. As one of these people myself, who has been horribly allergic to cats my whole life, but then adopted one lovable furball, and then another (for good measure), I paid as much attention to my doctor’s suggestion to “get rid of the allergen-producing stimulus [AKA: my cats]” as I would have if she would have said to give up my own children.
So, what did I do? Research. And then I took action. And I’m happy to say that I’ve lived over 10 years, nearly allergy-free, with my two cats, and have subsequently acquired two very furry, fluffy, dander-producing dogs within the last year.
I’m happy to share the fruits of my research labors and the steps I took to help my allergies with you, in the hopes that I may help prevent an unnecessary pet surrender to an animal shelter following the discovery that someone in the family is “allergic” to him.
The first thing to arm yourself with is knowledge. Most people think that pet allergies are caused by animal hair, thinking that the shorter haired dogs or cats may be better choices for those prone to allergies, but this is not actually the case (and the cause of many animal surrenders, following an ill- or non-informed adoption). Pet allergies are actually the result of an inappropriate immune response to molecules that are secreted by oil glands, found in the saliva, and shed with dander (dead skin cells). Cat allergies are particularly intense because cats have a certain protein (known as Fel-D-1) in their saliva, which is the substance that most people who are allergic to pets react to. The cat hair is a carrier for the dander and saliva (since cats clean themselves frequently by licking) because this particular allergen in cat saliva dries on the fur and then becomes airborne, ready to irritate nasal passages and your eyes!
Now what to do about preventing those allergens from getting to you…
1) HEPA Filters! Though somewhat pricey at first, these HEPA filter products in air purifiers and vacuums absolutely work. Vacuums with HEPA filters trap up to 99.9% of allergy-causing dander and dust mites. But remember to clean the filters and replace regularly! Other kinds of vacuums simply suck up the debris, and then spew it all out the back, in finer particles. Take a look at what happens the next time you vacuum with a non-HEPA vacuum, seriously. It’s gross.
2) Keep your bedroom pet-free. Ok, this one is hard, and I admit to ruling with this “no cats in the bed” iron fist for the first year I had my first cat, but then succumbed. When the second one came along, there was nowhere else to put her in my two-room apartment during the sensitive and slow “introduction period” between the two cats: They both needed their own space, after all! Once our second cat was “raised” from kittenhood in the bedroom, she never left. And of course, the other cat couldn’t then be excluded… how fair would that be?!
So if you can’t (or don’t want to) totally ban your pets from your bed, at least see #1 and buy an air purifier for your bedroom, and change the filter regularly. You can also encase your mattress and pillows in protective covers designed to prevent dust mites, dander, and other allergens from penetrating these porous materials. Ensure you wash your bedding at least once a week in hot water (or your washer’s “sanitize” setting, if you have a fancy new washing machine) to kill dust mites and eliminate allergens. Even if you don’t think that you have a dust mite allergy, they, or more specifically, their waste droppings (I know, TMI, but some necessary “I”!) are the cause of many problems including sinus infections, watery eyes and noses, rashes, eczema, and other respiratory ailments. Dust mites live off of dead skin cells (i.e. dander) shed from humans and pets, and they make their homes in mattresses, couches, and other cushy, warm places like pillows and carpets. Because a typical used mattress may have up to ten million dust mites living in it, and a pillow that is only two years old can be composed of up to ten percent dust mite feces and carcasses (ewwwww!!), it’s also a good idea to get new bedding and pillows frequently.
3) Bathe your pets regularly and use wipes daily between baths! Grooming your dog or cat frequently, including brushing, using waterless grooming foams, and earthbath wipes washes off the dander on its fur. Bathing your pet also has another benefit: the primary reason for vet visits is due to skin problems from environmental allergies, which can be helped and even prevented by frequent baths with a mild, non-soap based cleanser, like the formulations found in the entire line of earthbath’s shampoos! We know that cats, in particular, don’t love bathtime, so here is where our wipes especially come in handy! They usually don’t mind a wipe-down, and generally, love to be brushed, both of which significantly reduce allergy-causing dander. Best, though, if someone with lesser or no allergies does the brushing.
4) Clean your house! Perhaps this one is a bit obvious, but dander, dust, and dust mites that are allowed to gather on furniture, in cracks and crevices, around the knick knacks and books are all going to contribute to the generally poor and allergy-producing condition of your interior environment. And no matter how much you vacuum, carpets are the worst at trapping large amounts of allergens, so to the degree you can replace the majority of your floor surfaces with mop-able hardwood floors, tiles, or even linoleum, the better off you’ll be. Other cleaning tips include
- Vacuum carpets and furniture on a daily basis.
- Vacuum curtains on a regular basis.
- Dust with a microfiber cloth that picks up the dust and doesn’t just move it around.
- Wipe down all surfaces on a weekly basis.
Long ago, my doctor actually told me to vacuum daily and mop as often as I could (daily if possible), and to be sure to mop the walls. Vacuum and mop DAILY? Mop the WALLS?! My solution: I hired a cleaning person. Works for me, and my four animals! No more allergies and a side benefit – my house is spotless!