Living with allergies can be a nightmare, and it’s even worse when you find out the reason for your suffering is your very own furry best friend. Dogs, cats, and other animal companions quickly steal our hearts and become members of the family — making it that much more upsetting when our bodies seem to reject them!
We’ve got good news for all the allergy-ridden animal lovers out there: you don’t have to choose between your health and your pets. It takes a bit of extra care and effort, but you can successfully live with your beloved pets, without all the physical irritation.
Start with these tips on how to manage your pet allergies while sharing your home with your favorite animals.
1. Talk to Your Doctor
Before you do anything else about your animal allergies, make an appointment with your doctor. Talk to your physician about your allergy concerns, and have the doctor run some tests to confirm that your allergy is in fact due to your pet’s dander. In some cases, you’ll find that your pets aren’t the culprit at all — instead, you might be allergic to pollen or dust mites. It can be difficult to tell without a proper diagnosis.
If your doctor discovers your cat or dog is causing your allergies, he or she may prescribe something to help you cope with the allergy symptoms — common prescriptions include antihistamine sprays, steroids, or immunotherapy shots. Some over-the-counter medications or natural antioxidants found in food can also have anti-allergy effects.
2. Filter Your Air
Improving your indoor air quality can make a huge difference. Most animal allergies are triggered by the animal’s dander, which is likely floating all over your house. A good air filtration system will filter out most of the pet dander, odors, hair, and other allergens in your home. Look for a filter with true HEPA filtration, which can capture up to 99.99% of airborne pollutants. It can also help to open windows on nice days, to improve air flow.
3. Create a Pet-Free Zone
Create a pet-free zone in the house, where you can escape to if your allergies flare up. A good choice for this is a bedroom, which provides a haven where you can sleep easily without irritation. This will also help keep pet dander out of your sheets, pillow, and mattress, where it can easily gather and worsen your symptoms. You might also want to teach your pets to stay off the furniture, including the bed and sofa, to keep dander from accumulating in the areas where you frequently sit and relax.
4. Replace Your Carpets
Though it’s not an option for everyone, one way to reduce pet allergies is to replace your carpets with wood floors. Carpets accumulate much more pet dander than hardwood flooring does, so swapping it out can make your home easier to clean. If you can’t get rid of your wall-to-wall carpeting, consider steam cleaning it on a regular basis.
5. Clean Frequently
Cleaning your home more often will help reduce the amount of pet dander in the air. That means washing bedding, vacuuming, changing air filters, and shampooing your carpets frequently. Most cleaning tasks should be done weekly to help reduce allergy symptoms. Be sure to find a high-quality vacuum that uses HEPA filters, as this will be the best and most efficient option for removing pet dander. Poor filters will only blow the pet dander around the room, instead of catching it.
If you have a cat, be careful with litter box maintenance. Cat allergens are present in their urine, so allergies may flare when cleaning the litter box. Ask someone else in your home to clean the box whenever possible, and be sure to use litter that’s less dusty to keep allergens from spreading.
6. Groom Your Pet Frequently
Most pets don’t need weekly baths, but if you suffer from allergies, bathing your pet on a weekly basis can reduce dander and ease your symptoms. Talk to your vet for advice on the appropriate shampoo. Some pets may need special shampoos if they get frequent baths. It will also help to brush your pet daily — though you might want to ask another family member to do this, since brushing your pet may trigger your symptoms.
7. Wash Your Hands After Handling Your Pets
In addition to keeping your home and pet clean, it’s important to keep yourself clean. After petting your cat or dog, wash your hands right away to prevent allergic reactions. Otherwise, the dander on your hands can easily spread throughout your home and to sensitive areas on your body.
8. Let Your Pet Outside
Consider training your animals to be both indoor and outdoor pets. A fenced-in yard is not only a great opportunity for your pet to run around, but will also reduce the spread of allergens in your home. Keep in mind other important aspects of having outdoor pets — such as setting up a comfortable and warm dog house, and ensuring your pets wear collars with ID tags in case they escape the yard. Pay attention to your pet’s particular needs; not all cats and dogs can handle being outside for long periods of time. If you’re unsure, ask your vet for guidance on your pet’s ability to spend time outdoors.
9. Choose Your Pet Wisely
If you haven’t yet picked out a furry friend, but you want to welcome a new family member into your home, carefully consider the type and breed of animal you’ll get. There is no such thing as an entirely hypoallergenic pet — even pets that might seem harmless, such as birds, still spread allergens from their skin, saliva, and feces.
However, certain breeds of dogs, cats, and other animals may cause your symptoms to flare more (or less) than others. Many breeds with curly-haired or wire-haired coats are easier on allergy sufferers, because they tend to shed less fur — and therefore, less dander. Keep in mind many of these breeds require professional grooming, because of the nature of their fur type. If you’ve already fallen in love with a short-haired or long-haired furry friend, consider frequent trips to the groomer to keep your pet’s fur short and slow down the spread of allergens.