You love animals. You really do. But you don’t love the way they clog up your head, make you cough, and send you to the store for boxes and boxes of tissues.
America ranks first among large nations in the number of people who own pets. So clearly they’re hard for us to give up. They offer comfort, friendship and a homey feeling to your house. You love them. They’re part of the family. Think of how many little kids have begged for a pet only to be met with this frustrating answer: “We can’t have a cat because your sister’s allergic.” It’s enough to make them shake their tiny fists at the heavens.
You can’t spend every day of your life on anti-histamines, and nor should you.
So how do you reconcile your adoration for your pet with your pet allergies? If a pet is worth it to you—and they are for many people—there are a few steps you can take to make your life easier.
The key to managing pet allergies is controlling allergens—the things around you that set your allergies off. Identifying your particular allergens and minimizing your exposure to them will allow you to breathe more easily.
The allergens spread by pets are dander, saliva and urine. Your four-legged friend sheds all of these substances, which dry out into tiny particles and make their way into the air. That’s where we breathe them in, and our bodies react angrily.
Without being forced to give up your pet, here’s how you can cut down on the amount of allergens in your home:
Quarantine. Restrict your pet’s access to areas of the home where people with allergies spend a lot of time, like the bedroom or the play area. There’s no need to breathe in that dander for 8 straight hours while you’re sleeping. Don’t let the pet get on the furniture and sheets. However appealing it seems to snuggle up together in bed, it’ll be a lot less appealing when you can’t breathe a half-hour later.
Groom your pet often. Petting your beloved cat or dog is exactly what loosens up all the dander and saliva on their fur, so you want to keep their fur and skin as clean as possible. Brush your pets daily, outside. If you must clean them inside, wipe the space down afterwards. Wash dogs every week. Try wiping your pet down with anti-allergy products from pet stores.
Don’t forget all your pet’s accessories! Make sure that the litter box is not only emptied, but cleaned often, and choose a litter that doesn’t contain dust. Toys can be washed too.
Clean the house frequently. Wash anything fabric: your bedding, your carpets, even your curtains. Dust surfaces. Vacuum both floors and furniture. Your goal is to leave as few particles floating around as possible. It may be a good idea to wear a mask over your mouth and nose when you clean, since cleaning will stir up all those allergens, sending them straight to your lungs. Some vacuums include HEPA filters, a kind of air purifier feature that traps airborne particles, protecting you more thoroughly.
Cut down on other kinds of allergy triggers. Get hayfever every year? Do you suspect you have an allergy to gluten or dairy? These constant stresses make it harder for your body to resist other attacks. Your body reacts more strongly to animals when it’s also being bombarded by other allergy-triggering substances. So get rid of those strongly perfumed shampoos, the mold in the bathroom, or Mom’s peanut butter cookies. Cutting down on all the allergens around you will help you play with Fido more happily.
Get an air purifier. There’s a limit on how many of those tiny particles of dander and saliva can be cleaned up by hand. A quality air purifier will take care of the rest. The advantage of an air purifier is not only that it is more meticulous than you can be. It also cuts down on many allergens at once: dust, mold, chemicals and other common household problems. Some air purifiers will even help stop pet odor. Guides (pdf) can direct you towards purifiers specifically recommended for pets.
Choose your pet wisely. Although no pet is completely hypoallergenic, some animals aggravate pet allergies more than others. Cats tend to cause more allergies than dogs. So if you’re one of those rare people who could be a cat or a dog person, get in touch with your canine side. Even hairless cats wash themselves, leaving behind layers of saliva that will make you sneeze. A quick search will help you find breeds of dogs that are less likely to provoke strong allergic reactions than others.
Remember that other kinds of pets, like birds, hamsters and snakes, also create dander and saliva. But the advantage of these small pets is that it’s easier to contain their impact—unless you make up for their caged lives by letting them crawl all over you regularly.
Have any tips for allergy-free living with pets? Share your experiences in the comments!