Experts Explain Ways to Beat Pet Allergies From Cats and Dogs

Besides dander, pet hair or fur can collect pollen, mold spores, and other outdoor allergens. Whether you're new to cat or dog allergies or you've had them for a while, there are ways to reduce allergy symptoms.

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI), pet allergens can come from fur, skin, and saliva.

The proteins found in a pet's dander, skin flakes, saliva, and urine can cause an allergic reaction or aggravate asthma symptoms in some people, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI).

Be Prepared

"If I know I'm going to somebody's house who has a pet, I just take a pill 20 minutes before I go," said Alejandra Soto, 36, who has been allergic to cats, dogs, horses, and pretty much any animal with hair since childhood.

Because she doesn't always know whether someone has a pet before she visits, said Soto, she always has an antihistamine in her purse.

"It's really rare that I'll be exposed and it will catch me by surprise," said Soto, who directs communications and outreach for the New York City Mayor's Office to Combat Domestic Violence.

Don't Choose the Soft Chair

The AAAAI tells us the best way to manage pet allergy symptoms is to avoid the allergen(s) causing the symptoms. If the house includes upholstered furniture, this means steering clear of it, since it can be a hotbed of dander in households with cats or dogs as the soft upholstery can trap dander.

Hard wooden chairs can't harbor as many pet allergens, so you're better off taking a seat there. Even if you can't spot any animal hair on that comfy-looking couch, don't go there.

Take Antihistamines

Non-drowsy antihistamines like loratidine (Claritin) can help keep you symptom-free and alert when you're visiting a household with pets that make you sneeze.

Angel Waldron, a spokesperson for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), who's also allergic to cats, says she takes loratidine every time she's visiting feline-friendly family members.

ACAAI said oral antihistamines or other oral medications as well as steroid nasal sprays can help with allergy symptoms. An allergist can help determine allergy triggers and what treatment would be best for your pet-caused allergy.

Also, If you're planning a long visit to a home with cats or dogs, you may want to ask a healthcare provider about starting medication a few weeks beforehand.

Practice Hand Hygiene

Two things that help fight colds and viruses—washing your hands and not touching your face—are also a good idea if you come into contact with pet allergens. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) advises that you wash your hands and clothes to remove pet allergens after playing with a pet.

Tempted to give your friend's pet a quick scratch behind the ears? Don't. Even minimal contact can trigger an allergic reaction. The AAAAI cautions you should try not to hug and kiss pets if you are allergic to them (as hard as that may be).

What's more, if you touch any surface and transfer dander to your face or eyes, it can trigger symptoms. So wash your hands before touching your face.

Have Air Filter, Will Travel

If you often visit friends or family with pets, but they don't have a HEPA air purifier in the room where you'll be staying, you may want to consider investing in a portable version.

HEPA air cleaners, says AAAAI, can be a big help in removing unwanted allergenic particles from the air. Small but powerful, HEPA air purifiers are available for under $200, and you can even use them to clean the air in your car.

"A HEPA filter is just great to have anyway," said Waldron. "It's good with pollen, it's good for mold, it's good for dust mite allergens."

When You Get Home

Even after a short visit to a household with cats or dogs, wash your clothes in hot water to avoid bringing allergens into your home.

Pet allergens are easily spread, says the NIEHS. They can circulate in the air and remain on carpets and furniture for months. They can also be carried on clothing into areas where there are no pets.

"When I'm home, everything I've brought, I need to wash thoroughly," said Waldron. The water should be at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit.

HEPA at Home

Installing air cleaners on heating and air conditioning systems will help keep circulating allergens to a minimum, the AAFA advises. To be most effective, air cleaners should have HEPA filters and should be on for at least four hours a day.

The AAFA also recommends that you choose a vacuum with a HEPA filter and wear a dust mask when you vacuum. Use a damp cloth for dusting, so you can avoid stirring up allergens.

You'll also want to keep your home as clean and tidy as possible because allergens can lurk in dust and clutter.

Keeping a Kitty

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Getting a furry pet can mean misery if you have allergies, and most allergists will advise against it. But if you are vigilant about it, you can reduce your exposure to pet allergens.

The AAFA has a bunch of recommendations including banning pets from your bedroom and covering any heating or air conditioning vents with cheesecloth.

It also suggests that you scrub bedroom walls and woodwork because allergens can stick to them, get rid of your pet's favorite pieces of furniture, and rip up the wall-to-wall carpet.

If you must have carpets, choose ones with low piles, and steam clean often. Toss throw rugs into the wash, and clean with hot water.

Healthy Pet, Less Allergy

The AAAAI suggests speaking with your veterinarian about your pet's diet. Animals that eat a balanced diet will have healthier skin, making them less likely to shed dander and hair, the group says.

The AAFA also suggests having a non-allergic family member brush your pet outdoors, and putting someone else in charge of cleaning your cat's litter box.

Allergy Shots

If other treatments and steps are not working, the AAFA says allergy shots (immunotherapy) can be very effective. An allergist injects a small amount of allergen into your skin and then watches you for symptoms.

Over time, the amount of allergen injected is increased.

Allergy shots require multiple appointments, but the treatment trains your immune system to tolerate the allergen better. Talk with an allergist to see if this option is right for you.

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