Living with animals and allergies - BC SPCA
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Living with animals and allergies

June 27, 2016

Pets can help make a house a home, but as the many British Columbians who share their homes with furry companions know, some humans’ allergies to animals can be problematic.

Between 3.5 to five per cent of animals surrendered to the BC SPCA in 2014 were because their former guardians said they were allergic to them, but living with pets and allergies isn’t impossible. It is important to understand what is causing the allergies, and if it’s actually the animal causing the reaction, notes veterinarian and BC SPCA senior manager of animal health Dr. Emilia Gordon.

Tabby cat with long hair wearing collar id being pet at home lying on a couch

“Allergy-causing substances, or allergens, can be found in animals’ hair, dander, saliva, feces and urine. They can be carried on clothes and can stay in carpets and furniture for months, even after an animal is no longer living there,” she says. “Be sure that it’s really your pet who is provoking the allergic reaction. If you’re allergic to an animal, you are likely allergic to other things too, and by decreasing other irritants, you’ll reduce your overall symptoms.”

Allergies can be hereditary, but anyone can develop an allergy at any stage in their life, and there are many treatments available that can make living with allergies much more comfortable; allergy sufferers should first consult a physician for suggestions. In the home, people with pets can take several steps to decrease any symptoms from allergies to animals.

“First, limit the areas of the home where the animal is allowed – usually, the bedroom and the bed are a good place to start,” Gordon says. “Keep your bedroom door shut.”

Golden retriever dog lying down on a couch indoors wearing collar and ID

Cleaning thoroughly and often is a must, and homeowners can consider changing their furnishings and décor to eliminate allergen-trapping carpets and upholstery, and switch them for tile or laminate floors, and area rugs or furniture that can easily be washed.

While there are claims of “allergy-free” breeds of dogs and cats, Gordon says that even hairless breeds may cause a severe allergic reaction.

“Most pet guardians feel it’s worth the effort to preserve the special bond they share with their animal companion by looking into what’s causing their allergies and by trying these solutions,” Gordon says.

10 things you can do:

  • Create an allergy-free zone, preferably the allergic person’s bedroom, and strictly prohibit the pet’s access to it. Consider using impermeable covers, such as vinyl, for the mattress, box spring and pillows. Ensure any curtains, carpets or upholstered furniture are cleaned, and wash bedding frequently in hot water.
  • Consider replacing dust and dander-catching furnishings such as curtains with blinds and carpet with tile, laminate, linoleum or hardwood flooring or use rugs that can be washed, especially in rooms where you spend a lot of time.
  • Use high-efficiency particulate aid (HEPA) filter air cleaners in the bedroom and throughout the house and a Hepa-filter vacuum; remember to clean and replace HEPA filters often.
  • Always wash your hands after petting your animal companions.
  • Provide your pets with their own comfortable beds and blankets, and wash them at least weekly.
  • Be aware of dusty or deodorized cat litter, which can be as allergenic as the cat.
  • Ventilate your house – circulate air throughout your home by opening windows every day.
  • Be thorough when you clean – search out dust, mould and animal hair; clean and vaccuum often.
  • Bathe your pet(s) frequently.

Happy black Labrador dog lying on living room floor

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