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A Guide to Pet Allergies

November 11th, 2011 Pets

If you frequently find yourself sneezing, coughing or getting itchy eyes whenever you're around a dog, cat or bird, you may be allergic to the protein molecules in their bodies. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), 15 to 30 percent of people who have allergies are allergic to pets, so you may get symptoms around animals if you're allergic to other things, like pollen. Here's everything you need to know about pet allergies and how to handle them, according to WebMD and the AAFA.

Causes Allergic reactions are triggered by "allergens," which are molecules that are usually proteins that can trigger symptoms when they come into contact with your body. Those who are allergic to pets have very sensitive immune systems that treat pet allergens as potential invaders when in reality, they're quite harmless. This is why not everyone is allergic to animals. Pet allergens include the proteins that are found in the skin, saliva or urine of animals. Believe it or not, it's not the hair itself that people are allergic to - just the molecules that can get trapped in it. The allergens don't lose their strength for long periods of time - sometimes several months - and can remain in the air for a while. Even if a house is thoroughly cleaned and the pet is removed, pet allergens can still linger around for months afterward.

Symptoms When an allergen comes into contact with the membranes around your eyes and nose, you may experience itching, swelling, a stuffy nose and watery eyes. Coughing and wheezing is also common when there are particles in the air. Some people can experience skin reactions if they are scratched or licked by a pet, and highly allergic people could even develop rashes. Many allergens are airborne and can be inhaled, which can cause breathing problems for people who are very sensitive - within a matter of 15 to 30 minutes. Those with minor allergies could begin to show symptoms after several days of being in contact with a pet, and the same goes for allergic people who are around pets with low allergen levels.

Treatment The most obvious way to avoid pet allergies is to stay out of contact with pets. However, this is not an option for those who have become very attached to their furry friends. It may help to keep your animals mostly outside and play with them and brush them there so their allergens don't spread far into your house. You should also keep them out of your bedroom and make sure to wash their beds frequently, as dander tends to accumulate there and can attract dust mites, which many people are allergic to. Wash your hands after you touch your pet and give your animals frequent baths. It would also help to minimize their contact with any rugs or carpets in your home, which can harbor allergens for long periods of time.

Alternatives If you have minor allergies, there are some dog and cat breeds that are friendlier for those who experience symptoms. Dog breeds like bichon frises, Chinese cresteds, Portuguese water dogs, malteses and schnauzers don't shed their undercoats and typically give off less dander. Labrador retrievers have also been shown to produce less allergens than other breeds. Siberian and Russian blue cats are said to be less allergenic, but most cats can cause allergic people to have symptoms. Instead of a dog or cat, you could get a pet that doesn't have fur or feathers, like fish, turtles, hermit crabs or snakes. These animals can be just as satisfying to have in your house, and you won't have to worry about feeling under the weather around them.