Living with pet allergies can be tough. As a pet owner, you love your furry friends, but your nasal passages don’t deal so well with their fur or their dander! Many people – especially those without pets of their own – will insist that you would feel better if you’d just get rid of your animals, but this extreme tactic should only ever be considered as a last resort. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to cope with pet allergies.
Try these 11 useful tips to reduce your symptoms and live in harmony with your pet.
1. Keep pets out of the bedroom
By keeping pets away from your bed, you can ensure that you get a good night’s sleep without being kept awake by allergy symptoms.
Remember that once pet dander has gotten onto your sheets, and especially your pillow, it will be almost impossible to get rid of it – even with laundering – so it’s best to be proactive.
You may also be allergic to dust mites as well (and mites love to feast on pet dander), so consider investing in a dust-mite cover for your pillows and mattress for added protection.
By blocking off the bedroom, you will also have a place to retreat to during the day if you find that your allergy is flaring up and you need a break from your pet. Be strict about keeping pets out by making sure the bedroom door is kept closed.
If your dog or cat makes a fuss about being shut out of your room, try spraying a repellant onto the door or carpet that will make your pet want to steer clear. You can also try setting up an “animal sanctuary” in another room and shut your furry friend in that spot overnight so that you and your pet both sleep better.
2. Use HEPA filters
These devices trap the microscopic dander particles responsible for your allergies by forcing air through the filter.
In order to be classified as a HEPA filter, the Department of Energy requires that these products meet extremely strict standards (they can only allow up to 0.03 percent of fibers larger than 0.3 micrometers in size to penetrate through the filter).
Keeping the air clean can significantly reduce allergy symptoms in people who are affected. You can also fit HEPA filters to vacuum cleaners and HVAC air ducts to trap pet allergens. With these attachments, your vacuum’s efficacy at reducing dander will increase exponentially.
Since allergens cause symptoms when you breathe them into your lungs, you need to work on cleaning them from the air as much as possible. Change HEPA filters regularly to keep your air cleaning systems working at their best.
You should also make sure to run the filter more often during times of the year when your allergies are worse. For instance, allergy sufferers will often notice an uptick in their symptoms during the spring when pets begin to shed their winter coats and there is more hair scattered around the house.
3. Clean carpets regularly
It’s also important to remember that it’s your pet’s dander in particular that causes allergies rather than the fur, so you might be allergic even if you don’t see hair on the floor.
Vacuuming the carpet at least once a week can help to prevent the buildup of allergens, so that you can breathe easier. However, the process of vacuuming can stir up dust and dander, so you should wear a dust mask while you clean – or get someone else to do it if you can get them to agree to that arrangement!
Every once in a while, you should also consider splurging for a company to come out and shampoo your floors. The equipment these professionals use is able to penetrate the individual fibers of the carpet more deeply and will help keep you from sneezing.
If you want long-lasting relief, then you should consider replacing the carpets with hardwood floors, tiles or linoleum. These floors are easier to keep clean and free from allergy-causing dander. Even if the investment feels like a major commitment up front, think about how much strife you will be saving yourself in the long run, and you may decide that the extra cost is worth it.
4. Don’t share furniture with pets
As your pet rubs up against your couch cushions or throw pillows, he is going to leave dander behind that could irritate your respiratory system the next time you go to enjoy your favorite spot.
Put in place firm rules to keep your pets off chairs and couches, and make sure that you don’t waver from your commitment. If your furry friend feels like you’ve left any wiggle room in your rules, he is especially likely to get up on the furniture when you are gone during the day.
Of course, this policy doesn’t mean that your pets have to be denied a comfortable place to sit. You can get some comfy pet beds, baskets and blankets for your four-legged friends to lounge around on.
If your pet is used to being allowed to jump up beside you, then retraining could be difficult, but the results should be worth it. Depending on your animal, you may need to use negative reinforcement, such as spraying your dog with a squirt bottle when he insists on jumping up onto a forbidden chair, or positive reinforcement by rewarding your pet when he uses his own bed instead of your furniture.
Be patient and persistent, and your efforts will soon pay off.
5. Bathe pets regularly
Your pet might not like being bathed at first, but most will get used to it over time. Make sure that you use products that are designed to be used for the type of pet you have. Human shampoos and skincare products can irritate a pet’s skin, particularly with regular use.
Luckily, there are plenty of cat and dog shampoos available at your local pet store, and you may even be able to find a formula that is specifically intended for your furry friend’s breed. While you may be wary of bathing a cat (or even a skittish dog), it’s easy to get your pet used to the prospect of going into the tub as long as you take some precautions.
Make sure the water is a comfortable temperature, talk to Fluffy in a soothing voice, and wear gloves to protect your hands and arms until you know that your pet isn’t going to scratch you.
The only problem with regularly cleaning your pet is that you will come into contact with allergens while you are bathing and brushing it, so it is best to have another member of the household or a professional groomer carry out this task.
6. Be careful with hypoallergenic pets
The basis behind the hypoallergenic label is the fact that these sorts of pets don’t shed as much of their fur. Instead, their hair grows long on its own and actually needs to be cut because it won’t fall out.
With fur that doesn’t shed, your pet’s dander is going to have fewer ways of spreading around your home. Choosing a hypoallergenic breed might lead to a lower level of symptoms, but you should still follow the other tips given here to protect yourself.
It is not only pet hair that causes allergy symptoms, but also dead skin cells that slough off dogs and cats, as well as saliva and other bodily fluids. However, there are some types of pets that are truly hypoallergenic – those with scaly skin. If you can’t cope with dogs, cats or bunny rabbits, then a fish or reptile is likely to be your best option.
Even though you might not think a lizard, turtle, or snake is as cute as a furry pet, many of these animals can actually be trained to do tricks. Most reptiles and fish will also start to form a bond with you once they know that you are the source of their food.
7. Keep the car allergy-free
Too much hair (and the dander that accompanies it) can lead to an extended period of allergy triggering every time your pet rides in the car.
To help keep your car an allergy-free zone, you need to put your pet in a carrier while transporting him or her to the vet or wherever else the pet needs to go.
You should also limit or eliminate joyrides in your vehicle. If your dog (or, less likely, your cat) absolutely loves going for rides, see if you can ask a friend without allergies to take your pet in the car occasionally.
Of course, you will sometimes find that you need to transport Fido at the drop of a hat, and the biggest pets will not fit neatly into a little carry box. In this situation, the best thing that you can do is to lay a blanket across the back seat for your pet to sit or lie on.
You can then remove and wash the blanket once the journey is over. Just like your home, you should try to vacuum your car often to remove any excess pet hair – especially since you’re likely to bring some into the vehicle yourself when it clings to your clothes.
8. Try medication
Pets quickly begin to feel like members of the family, and you don’t need to give yours up without a fight just because your four-legged friend doesn’t agree with your nasal passages.
If cleaning the house and bathing your pet don’t help you get relief from your symptoms, then you might need to consider taking an over-the-counter allergy relief medication.
The most popular allergy medicines are antihistamines, which suppress mucus production so that you can breathe a little more easily. Allergies actually cause your body to attack itself (much like autoimmune diseases), and these medications work to stop the attacks.
Consult your pharmacist to find out which product will be most suitable for your situation. The type of medication you need will depend on the severity of your allergy symptoms and the length of time that you need to use the medication. Luckily, today’s antihistamines are much more advanced even than the ones that were available a decade ago.
Most modern products are non-drowsy, so you won’t need to worry about driving or doing other tasks after taking them. Many medications also last 24 hours, so taking them each day can give you continuous relief from your symptoms.
9. Understand your allergy
It is possible to be sensitive to cats but not to dogs, and vice versa. Most people are more sensitive to cats than to other types of furry pets, but there are exceptions to this general trend.
You may even find that some specific breeds are worse for your allergies than others. Some people are more allergic to short-haired cats than long-haired cats, for example, because short-haired cats tend to have more dander.
You might find the same general idea to be true when choosing a short-, long-, or wire-haired dog. Larger animals are also more likely to impact your allergies because they have more hair and dander to shed, so you might be totally fine with a very small dog or cat. Try spending time with other people’s pets to see which species and breeds trigger your symptoms before you decide to adopt a new pet yourself.
You should also spend several hours in contact with a prospective new pet at the shelter before moving forward with the adoption. Try to make your allergies flare by breathing in a dog’s scent or rubbing your eyes after petting a cat. By doing your due diligence before bringing a new pal home, you can improve your chances of getting a pet that is less likely to trigger allergies for you.
10. See an allergy specialist
If you have tried everything but cannot get any relief, then consulting an expert in allergies could be your next step.
Try making an appointment with your family doctor first, and then ask whether it might be a good idea to see an allergist. You might be offered injections to control your allergy, stronger antihistamines than those you can buy at the pharmacy, or a steroidal nose spray to keep your symptoms under control.
Allergists can also do skin-prick tests to let you know how allergic you are to certain animals. If, for instance, you have always lived with a cat, a dog, and a rabbit, then you may not know which of these animals is actually causing you the most strife. The way you react to allergy testing will let you know for sure which animal is making you feel bad.
Make sure that the allergy specialist that you see understands how important your pet is to you and your commitment to keeping it as a member of your household. Some doctors will insist that the only way to get rid of your symptoms is by getting rid of your pet, but others will be willing to work with you.
As long as you are clear about your wishes up front and are prepared to try several different doctors if the first one isn’t helpful, then you should be able to find the right option for you.
11. Are you sure your pet is the problem?
To make matters more confusing, your pet might actually be carrying other allergens on her coat, and you may be reacting to your dog rolling in the grass or your cat getting dusty from hiding under the bed.
The good news is that many of the tips listed above will also improve the symptoms of a pollen allergy or a dust allergy. Keep your house clean, filter the air, and consider switching carpets for hardwood flooring.
Keep a diary of your symptoms to see whether your symptoms worsen on days with high pollen count, or days spent in close proximity to your pet. You can check your local newspaper or any weather website to find out what allergens are supposed to be particularly high in your area on any given day.
Your allergy specialist will also likely test your sensitivity to the full range of indoor and outdoor allergens, so you might find out you’re allergic to something you never considered before. Remember, it is entirely possible to be allergic to both pets and pollen, so keeping your home allergen free could help your symptoms in more ways than one.