Achoo! Tactics to Fend Off Pet Allergies

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Posted by Arden Moore on 9/20/2007 in Lifestyle

Sneezing. Runny nose. Itchy, swollen eyes. Rash.

When most of us touch and pet the coats of our dogs or cats, it’s a pleasurable experience. But some unfortunates — approximately 1 in 5 people — suffer from allergies that are set off when they touch an animal or even when they’re simply in the same room with them.

“It’s probably more common to be allergic to cats, and cats also are more clinically significant because they tend to spend more time indoors and find their way onto the bedding more often,” says Oren P. Schaefer, an allergist and associate professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.

Although most people blame a pet’s fur for triggering their allergies, the real cause is the proteins found in hair, saliva, urine and dander (dead skin flakes). The body views these proteins as foreign and manufactures antibodies against them. Those antibodies produce itchy eyes or runny noses – hallmarks of an allergy.

People who love pets but suffer from allergies are constantly on the prowl for a pet that won’t set off their symptoms. A number of dog and cat breeds are believed to be hypoallergenic. Among them are poodles, bichons frise, greyhounds, soft-coated wheaten terriers and Siberian cats.

The disappointing truth, however, is that there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog or cat. All animals produce dander, even hairless ones, and of course, they all produce saliva and urine.

Scientists don’t know why some people seem to be allergic to some dogs and cats, but not to others.

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“Some people say, ‘Well, I’m not allergic to my cat or dog’ or ‘I’m allergic to German Shepherds, but not spaniels’ and what I tell them is ‘dogs are dogs,’ ” Dr. Schaefer says. “They all have the basic antigen – it’s identical. That said, some make more antigen than others, and some houses are cleaner than others from an allergic point of view, so there are a lot of reasons people might have trouble at the neighbor’s house and not their house and vice versa.”

One reason people might react less to a particular breed is the amount of grooming it receives. Frequent bathing and grooming can temporarily reduce the amount of dander produced.

Another reason is related to physiological changes that affect hair growth. Dogs with longer hair-growth cycles, such as poodles, may shed dead surface cells more uniformly than short-coated breeds, which shed frequently.

Size is another factor to consider. Big dogs simply produce more dander than small dogs.

In the case of Siberian cats, they appear to produce less Fel d 1—the protein that causes cat allergies — than other cats. But not everyone is able to tolerate them.

“I do not guarantee that the person will not be allergic,” says Siberian breeder Karon Hansberger of Reigning Cats cattery in Clarksburg, Maryland. “I have had quite a few people who had mild allergies be able to have the Siberians, and I have had several tell me they are still having reactions. It’s hard to say why some can tolerate the Siberian and some cannot.”

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The good news is that people with pet allergies can take steps to live with their affliction — without giving up their pets. Here are eight tactics to try:

* Minimize allergic reactions by brushing and bathing your pet frequently — a task best done by someone who’s not allergic.

* Keep your pet’s coat healthy with a good diet, regular grooming and parasite control. Anything that irritates the skin surface, such as biting, licking, scratching, external parasites, bacterial or fungal infections and hormonal diseases such as hypothyroidism, can result in more dander.

* Use sprays or wipes — available at pet supply stores — that can help reduce the amount of dander on the pet’s body. Baby wipes may also work.

* Restrict your pet’s access to furniture and certain areas of the house, primarily your bedroom.

* Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter.

* Install a HEPA air filter or air purifier if you have a cat.

* Keep over-the-counter antihistamines such as liquid or chewable Benadryl on hand to help control reactions, and ask your allergist about prescription antihistamines and decongestants that may help.

* Learn to love a contemporary décor: metal, leather and wood are better choices than fabric upholstery and carpet.

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