Living well with dog allergies

Studies have shown that almost 15 percent of the people in the United States suffer from pet allergies. While many physicians advise getting rid of a dog when the allergy is discovered, only about one in five people will do so.

Obviously, the emotional benefits of keeping a beloved pet seem to outweigh the physical discomfort it can cause, but most allergy sufferers could benefit from a deeper understanding of their allergies, and of the steps they can take to lead a more comfortable life with their dogs.

Why dogs can make you sneeze

Dogs have glands in their skin which secrete minute proteins that some people will experience as allergens, triggering an allergic response. As the dog moves around, the allergens are released and float into the air. There are also allergens in the dog’s urine and saliva. Saliva allergens are released when the dog’s saliva dries on its fur. All dogs are potentially allergenic, or allergy-causing, to someone who is sensitive to dogs allergens.

While there are no truly non-allergenic breeds, some do seem to be less irritating to certain people. Dogs with soft, constantly growing hair, such as poodles, are sometimes less irritating but that is probably because they tend to be bathed and groomed more often than other dogs.

Some dog breeds seem to cause more distress to an allergy sufferer than others. People have different degrees of susceptibility to allergens, ranging from mild sneezing and sniffling to life-threatening asthma. These reactions can be complicated by other allergies to different substances in the environment.

How to live with your dog if you’re allergic to it

If the allergic person’s reactions are not life threatening, there are steps they can take to reduce their symptoms:

  • Establish an ‘allergy free’ zone in your home, and do not allow your dog into that area; the bedroom is usually the best room for this. Install a High Efficiency Particulate Air Filter (HEPA) in the room. You can find these at almost any department store or home and garden store, or online. Purchase impermeable covers for your mattress and pillows so that allergen particles carried in on clothes and by other means cannot accumulate on them.

  • Install HEPA filters throughout your home, and keep dust-catching furnishings such as curtains and rugs to a minimum. Clean often and thoroughly to remove dust and dander, and wash furniture covers, curtains and other cloth items as often as possible. Buy a HEPA vacuum cleaner with a micro filter bag to catch all of the allergens.

  • Washing your dog every week can reduce the allergens in his fur by as much as 84%. There are products that claim to reduce pet allergens when you spray it on your dog’s fur, but they don’t work as well as a simple weekly bath. Check with your vet for a safe shampoo to use.

  • Rather than just assuming that you are allergic to dog dander, ask your allergist to test you and confirm it. Many allergy sufferers are sensitive to multiple allergens and need to reduce the allergen levels of many substances in their environment rather than concentrating on just their dog allergy.

  • Allergy shots, known as immunotherapy, can reduce symptoms, although they can’t eliminate them. They gradually desensitize the allergic person’s immune system to the pet allergens by injecting known allergy-causing agents under the skin. This triggers the body to produce antibodies (protective proteins). These antibodies block the dog allergen from causing a reaction. Depending on the severity of the allergy, people will receive one dose a week for anywhere from a few weeks to several months. A follow-up dose once a month usually controls the allergic reaction.

  • There are other treatments for dog allergies such as certain types of steroids, and antihistamine nose sprays or antihistamine pills. There are many medications in the form of sprayers and inhalers available for the asthma sufferer, which can be used individually or in conjunction with each other.

  • Probably the most important step for an allergy sufferer to take is to find an allergist who understands and sympathizes with your commitment to living with your dog. If you combine the therapies outlined above; medicine, housecleaning methods and immunotherapy, you should to able to happily and successfully live with your dog.

If you don’t have a dog yet and know that you are sensitive to them, think carefully before bringing a new dog home. Make sure you can live comfortably with your dog, because few allergy sufferers ever become completely accustomed to their dogs. The one possible exception to this is children, who will sometimes outgrow their allergies.

Please consider all the difficulties of living with a dog before acquiring one, to minimize the risk of having to make the heart-breaking decision of giving up your dog and sending him into an uncertain future.

Source: Adapted from the HSUS