How to Reduce Pet Allergens at Home
Cute but hazardous
Pets can be your best friends. If you have allergies or asthma, they can also be your worst enemy.
Pets shed dander, a combination of dead skin cells and hair (or feathers), which can trigger asthma attacks and allergic reactions in people who are sensitive to the allergens. (Cold-blooded pets such as snakes and turtles do not produce dander.)
Some guidelines recommend that people with allergies or asthma avoid keeping pets—especially cats. If a doctor says that you—or your child's—allergies or asthma is aggravated by dander, you may ultimately need to find a new home for your pet. However, there are several ways you can cut down on pet allergens at home.
Children with allergies should also avoid petting or touching animals. If they do come into contact with a pet, they should wash their hands thoroughly.
Restricting pets to rooms with wood floors may also help. Wood flooring traps less dander than carpet and is easier to clean; keeping pets off carpet may help cut down on allergens.
Keep Fluffy off the couch
Keeping pets off carpets, upholstered furniture, and beds can reduce exposure to dander. (Using allergen-resistant bedding will help fend off any dander that does find its way into bedrooms.) Keeping pets out of cars—or restricting them to a tailgate area, if possible—is also a good idea.
In addition, any furniture, fabrics, or materials that pets do come into contact with should be vacuumed or washed frequently. This includes throw rugs, pet beds, cushions, pillows, and blankets.
Clean, clean, clean
Replacing wall-to-wall carpets with wood floors will make it easier to remove dander.
Replacing the filter in your furnace or air conditioner with a HEPA filter and/or purchasing a room air cleaner may also help. Studies on the effectiveness of these methods have been inconclusive, however. (See our air cleaner buying guide for more information.)
Bathe your pet
A 1999 study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology compared the levels of allergens in dog dander before and after a five-minute bath with an unnamed “proprietary shampoo” (which could describe an allergen-reducing shampoo such as Groomax). The researchers found that the bath reduced the dogs’ allergen levels by about 85% (pdf). But the allergen levels returned to normal in about three days, which suggests that dogs need to be washed at least twice a week.
Similar studies using cats have had mixed but generally less encouraging results.
Birdcages and rodent cages should be cleaned at least once a week and, if possible, the cages should be moved outside to a garage or shed. Likewise, litter boxes should be cleaned frequently and moved out of living areas.