How to Live With Pet Allergies If You Have No Choice

How to deal with the sneezing and wheezing if you have to
cat sitting on couch cushions

While picking a new pet can be an exciting part of life, sometimes you come into a situation where a pet is already present. Perhaps a change in your living situation or relationship status means you’re now in contact with a pet on a regular basis.

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For a lot of people, that just means more time with furry critters. But for those with pet allergies, it raises a new set of challenges. Allergist Sandra Hong, MD, suggests that the best case scenario is to have non-fur pets, like reptiles or fish. But that can sometimes be out of your control. 

What’s the best way to manage those allergies when your exposure to a dog or cat that triggers them increases? Are you doomed to puffy eyes and sneezing forever or is there hope?

The cause of all those sneezes

First of all, it’s important to understand what causes your allergy flare ups. Dr. Hong says that it’s actually a protein in the saliva, urine and feces of these pets that we’re allergic to. “It gets on their fur and skin,” she adds, explaining how it spreads so easily. 

As for why some pets may bother you more than others, it’s because certain proteins last longer than others. “Cat protein can last up to four months in your home environment,” Dr. Hong explains, “while dog dander can linger for shorter periods of time.”

That doesn’t mean a dog won’t make you sneeze and wheeze. One of the reasons is that all of these proteins can linger in your home. “They get attached to couches, any sort of cloth surfaces like rugs and carpets and other upholstery and they stain and linger there,” she says. 

Dr. Hong says one other thing to be aware of is that there’s no such thing as a truly hypoallergenic dog or cat. “Even hairless cats aren’t 100% hypoallergenic. Even if they don’t shed fur and spread dander everywhere, they’re still shedding the protein we’re allergic to.”

The importance of boundaries

So what can you do to help yourself if you’re stuck with pets you’re allergic to? One way is to maintain certain physical boundaries, preventing those pets from entering certain parts of your home and keeping as much of their allergenic proteins away from you.

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“Ideally, you don’t allow them into your bedroom and, especially, on to your bed,” Dr. Hong says. This is, after all, where you sleep and allergic reactions would certainly play havoc with your ability to get good rest. Additionally, dogs and outdoor cats can bring in pollen from outdoors on their fur. 

You should also keep them confined to areas of your home where the floors are hard surfaces, like linoleum or hardwood, so that it’s easier to clean up after them. The same goes for furniture, Dr. Hong adds, saying, “It’s better to have them in areas with furniture that you can wipe down as opposed to upholstery.”

Clean, clean, clean

Limiting your pets to areas with hard floors and furniture will make it easier for you to clean, which Dr. Hong says you should do often. She also suggests using a damp cloth or using damp floor wipers (life a Swiffer) to make sure those surfaces are as clean as possible. And for those areas where you have a carpet or rug, vacuum frequently.

Air filters can also be helpful to limit the spread and exposure to those proteins. Dr. Hong notes that she has several patients that abide the “no pets in the bedroom” policy and still place air filters there to help keep the air as clean and clear as possible.

But the extra cleaning should also extend to your pets, says Dr. Hong. If you can, bathe your pets regularly to help keep the protein-impacted dander to a minimum. That also goes for brushing your pets fur to keep excess fur to a minimum. Just remember to brush them outside so none of the fur or dander lingers in your house. 

And if your pet, particularly dogs, go outside a lot, it’s best to wipe them down when they come in. “If you have pollen allergies, your pet can get covered in it when they go outside,” says Dr. Hong. “When they come inside, they’ll be bringing all that pollen with them. So if you wipe them down before they come in, you can at least keep them from bringing too much into your home.”

Managing medications

Over-the-counter drugs are also one way to help you deal with your pet allergies and they can be pretty effective. “Nasal steroids are typically the number one treatment for allergies and those help with nasal congestion, dripping and draining,” Dr. Hong says.

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Other options include antihistamines, like Benadryl, which are good for alleviating itching and sneezing. And allergy shots are another helpful option but Dr. Hong notes that they’re not effective for everyone. Those shots mostly help those allergic to cats and dogs but you may see less success with dogs.

Depending on the pet and the person, more serious allergies could develop, leading to increasing sinus infections. It can also cause asthma to flare up for some and even cause more upper respiratory infections. 

While medications can help with many of these symptoms, Dr. Hong says, the downside to relying on those medications should be top-of-mind, especially since some can result in drowsiness. “For kids, those medications can keep them from being able to focus on schoolwork. The same goes for adults, who may be at work but also not able to focus.”

And Dr. Hong also advises us to remember that while drugs may help us feel better around animals we’re allergic to, those medications aren’t cures. Rather, she says, they simply mask our symptoms. 

The preference, she says, remains to remove the pet from the home environment. But if that’s not an option, stay on top of as many as these tips as possible and keep a close high on your health. 

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