According to the Humane Society of the United States, nearly fifteen percent of Americans are allergic to cats or dogs. Despite personal discomfort, many of these people have one or more animals in their care. In addition, many allergic pet owners will get another animal when the first one dies, attesting to the comfort and enjoyment that a companion animal can provide to its owner.
Allergies can be cumulative, and it is possible that a person with allergies is not allergic to pets at all. Dust, pollen, smoke, insecticides and other products of one’s environment can contribute to allergy symptoms. Mild symptoms can cause sneezing and sniffling. A more serious symptom is asthma, which can be life threatening.
Allergens are secreted through glands in the animal’s skin, moving into its fur and then into the air. They are also found in animal saliva which, when transferred to fur and allowed to dry, can also become airborne. When saliva comes into contact with people, the allergens are transmitted directly.
If the allergy is determined to be from a cat or dog there are measures that can be taken to reduce exposure:
Limit the pet to certain rooms and strictly enforce the boundaries.
Clean regularly to reduce dust and dander.
Install air cleaners, especially in bedrooms.
Remove dander and dust-catching items (cloth window treatments & other furnishings, carpets, etc.) whenever possible.
Bathe your pet weekly.
Use microfilters in vacuums.
People with severe allergies may need the services of an allergist to help them cope with their symptoms. Desensitization with allergy shots may be helpful, but will not completely eliminate an allergy. Antihistamine pills as well as steroidal and antihistamine nose sprays may also prove helpful.
Children may outgrow an allergy, but adults generally remain allergic. Since no
cat or dog is completely non-allergenic it is important to consider the implications of pet ownership BEFORE adopting your pet. “Hoping” that things will work out is selfish and completely unfair to the animal that may have to be relinquished. Consider the consequences to the pet and the allergic individual when making the decision to acquire any animal.
Pat Jauch is secretary of Caledonia Animal Rescue Inc., P.O. Box 4054, St. Johnsbury, VT 05819.