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MANAGING A PET ALLERGY

by Dr. Rachel Addleman, DVM, DiplABVP, CVA
Veterinarian and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist, Dr. Addleman has advanced training and Board Certification in feline medicine. She practices in Houston, Texas and can be found at AnimalFixer.com

managing a pet allergy  Dr. Rachel Addleman Houston Animal Acupuncture & HerbsI  met Todd on a group hike held at Temescal Canyon in Los Angeles.  It took only a few minutes to establish that I’m a veterinarian and he’s allergic to animals.  At the time I was in my twenties, and with an endless parade of eligible men in the big city “allergic to animals” equaled “deal breaker."  I think his eyes started watering just talking about my cat.  In the end, we became good friends. Todd met my cat and standard poodle many times, but his congestion would start in the hallway before he even walked into my condo.

Todd and I once discussed whether or not you should re-home a pet if your spouse was seriously allergic.  He was very thoughtful, and said he would re-home the pet.  I said I would re-home the spouse.   Children are often allergic to pets, too, and there are things you can do at home to manage a pet allergy so you can keep both the pet and the child.

I met Todd on a group hike held at Temescal Canyon in Los Angeles. It took only a few minutes to establish that I’m a veterinarian and he’s allergic to animals. At the time I was in my twenties, and with an endless parade of eligible men in the big city “allergic to animals” equaled “deal breaker." I think his eyes started watering just talking about my cat. In the end, we became good friends. Todd met my cat and standard poodle many times, but his congestion would start in the hallway before he even walked into my condo.

Todd and I once discussed whether or not you should re-home a pet if your spouse was seriously allergic. He was very thoughtful, and said he would re-home the pet. I said I would re-home the spouse. Children are often allergic to pets, too, and there are things you can do at home to manage a pet allergy so you can keep both the pet and the child.

Contrary to popular belief, people are not allergic to animal fur. Specific proteins in the animal’s saliva and sweat trigger allergies. Hair and skin flakes, called dander, are just the vehicle that delivers the saliva and sweat allergen. "Hairless" animals still have normal sweat glands and grooming behavior which is why "hairless" animals can still cause symptoms. Urine can also be a culprit for allergies. Poodles and a few other breeds don’t shed, and while there are no true "hypoallergenic" breeds, dogs with that type of hair do seem to pose less of a problem then other breeds.

Maintenance bathing to remove the allergens on the skin is a lot easier on a short or hairless breeds, too. Frequent washing helps reduce the deposition of allergen on the skin of cats and dogs. One study suggested that using a distilled water or special allergy shampoo has not been shown to be any more effective than just rinsing the pet with tap water. Subjectively, I find using distilled water as a final rinse to a regular shampoo seems to help more then just plain bathing, but the main idea is to rinse the animal weekly.

If someone is allergic to a pet, I recommend keeping the pet out of the bedroom. More people are allergic to cats, and cat dander tends to hang in the air longer than other allergens. Within thirty minutes of just entering a bedroom, a cat can significantly increase airborne allergens. Following weekly washing of a cat, the allergen load is reduced to less than one quarter. Ventilation and furnishings in the room also influence the allergen load. Carpet accumulates cat allergen at approximately 100 times the level of a polished floor.

There is some debate, but children exposed to animals before their immune systems are fully formed at age two are unlikely to become allergic. Even if there are known allergies in the family, after the first year of a child’s life, there is no strong evidence to recommend avoiding animals to prevent allergy development.

As for my allergic friend Todd, he met Liora, who had no pets. Liora was a vegetarian, not a veterinarian, and his perfect fit. They married at a vegetarian Moshav -- or village -- in Israel. That first year they welcomed their firstborn, “Sebastian," a black standard poodle (Liora's ideal was a golden retriever, but it was a compromise). Todd's allergy symptoms are all but non-existent with a poodle, and there is no way they would re-home the dog, which proves that finding the right person can help with allergies, too. Their daughter, Charlotte, loves growing up with Sebastian and hopefully will have no allergies.