Coping With Pet Allergies

Your pet is part of the family - but you've found that you're allergic. Learn how to cope if you just can't part with your pet.

By Louis Neipris, MD, Staff Writer

Sniffling and sneezing? Could your pet be the cause?

Pet allergies are common and can be serious, especially if you have asthma. The only way to avoid pet allergies is to avoid these animals altogether. Many people don't want to give pets away, though. If you can't bear to find a new home for your animal friend, you can learn to try and manage the situation.

Know your allergy and its causes. People have different sensitivities and reactions, from mild to severe. Most pet allergies come from cats and dogs, but birds and rodents can also trigger allergic reactions. Your doctor can identify your allergens with skin or blood tests.

There are no such things as allergy-free cats and dogs. Some people think certain breeds are "less allergic" than others or that shorthaired pets cause fewer allergies than longhaired animals. It's not a hair issue. Glands in a pet's skin produce proteins called allergens that stick to fur or feathers. Allergens dry as tiny particles. They then float through the air. This is known as pet dander. Allergens are also found in a pet's saliva or urine.

Allergens circulate in the air and stay on carpets and furniture for weeks or months. When a person with allergies comes in contact with a specific allergen - by breathing it in or skin contact - it can trigger an allergic reaction or an asthma attack.

How can you reduce pet allergens in your environment? The best choice is to not have a pet unless you know you are not allergic. If you already have a pet, find it a new home. If you don't want to give it away, there are steps that may help reduce pet allergens in your home. Bear in mind, though, that there is no strong evidence that these measures really work to reduce allergic reactions or asthma attacks. Ask your doctor if any of these steps might help:

Talk to your doctor about allergies
You may be allergic to other irritants, such as smoke or pollen. Your doctor can test for these and may suggest allergy shots. The shots may improve your symptoms but can't eliminate them completely. They work by gradually desensitizing your immune system to allergens. Steroidal and antihistamine nose sprays and antihistamine pills may help control symptoms.

A mixture of approaches - good housecleaning methods and medical treatments - gives you the best chance of controlling your allergy while still living with your pet.