While pets are wonderful additions to a household, they can cause allergic reactions in those who are sensitized to animal allergens. The most common animal allergies are to cats and dogs, but any warm-blooded pet, including small rodents, birds, rabbits, cows, and horses can cause problems.
Most animal allergens circulate throughout a house as small microscopic particles, invisible to the human eye. Cat allergen, for example, can come from the saliva, fur, body secretions, or skin and is only about two microns. As a comparison, the cross section of a human hair is 100 microns. Regular resting sites of animals like carpets, couches, and beds generally have a significant allergen build-up.
People are not allergic to an animal’s hair, but to an allergen found in the saliva, dander (dead skin flakes) or urine of an animal with fur. Usually, symptoms occur within minutes.
For some people, symptoms build and become most severe eight to 12 hours after contact with the animal. Others with more severe allergies can even experience reactions in public places if dander has been transported on a pet owners’ clothing.
Are There Less Allergic Animals?
There are no “hypoallergenic” breeds of cats or dogs, or any animal with fur. While it is ideal to remove the pet from the home and avoid contact if you’re highly allergic, we realize this is not an option for some. If allergic and an animal is indoors, keep the pet out of the bedroom and other rooms where you spend a great deal of time. While dander and saliva are the source of cat and dog allergens, urine is the source of allergens from rabbits, hamsters, mice and guinea pigs. Ask a non-allergic family member to clean the animal’s cage. Below are some additional tips for dealing with animal allergens within the home:
- Thoroughly clean the areas where the animal rests. Wear a dust mask when doing this.
- Washing and grooming the animal regularly outside of the house can reduce the allergen load in the house.
- Wash the animal’s bedding weekly in hot water (at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit).
- Follow the general principles for dust control.
- Use multi-pleat extended surface filters in your heating system to eliminate airborne dander. HEPA filters placed in the bedroom can reduce nighttime exposure if the animal is kept out of the room at all times. Remember, however that studies have shown that a cat placed in a room with a HEPA filter produces more allergen than the filter can remove.
- If possible, avoid visiting houses with pets. If you go to a house where there are pets, be sure to take your allergy and asthma medicines before you go. In addition, you should change your clothes after you leave, as soon as possible.