Pet Allergies: A Gander at Dander

in Asthma, Features, Pets
Published: July 2, 2010

The Cat Comes Back

Removing a pet may not be the end of the story. Cat and dog proteins are ubiquitous: one study found the proteins in 100 per cent of U.S. homes tested, though only 49 per cent actually housed a dog or cat.

Davidson explains that cat protein is dispersed in particles so small that some remain suspended instead of sinking to the ground. Enough protein to cause symptoms can be present for months, or even years after the cat has left the building.

After a pet has been removed, it’s time to get out the rubber gloves, and your wallet. Davidson says drapes, carpet and furniture should all be professionally steam cleaned, particularly if a cat was present, and removing carpets is worthwhile.

“All the dust in the room will contain a lot of cat protein,” he notes, stressing the need to get “onto the top of door jams and into light fixtures.” Ransom adds that if carpeting can’t be removed, brushing tannic acid powder into it, then later vacuuming, also helps to neutralize some allergens.

A Shot in the Arm

Immunotherapy is an option for some people for whom avoidance measures aren’t effective or prove impossible. (One of Davidson’s patients, a veterinary assistant, turned to allergy shots when wearing a mask and antihistamines could not eliminate all of her symptoms.)

Doctors give the desensitizing injections as a series of increasingly higher doses of the problematic animal’s protein, and the treatment can take up to five years. Davidson says these vaccines are more than 80 per cent effective in significantly reducing symptoms.

There are risks, however, ranging from minor swelling and irritation at the injection site to anaphylactic reaction. (Davidson estimates there are three to six deaths a year in the U.S. from all allergy shots, with those with poorly controlled asthma at a higher risk.)

Safer Pets

What is a good pet for those who duck for cover when the fur and feathers fly? “The textbook answer would be to get a fish or a reptile,” Davidson said, although he suggests “doing an audition” with a pet in your home for two or three days if you’re unsure how you’ll react. Just make sure you can return the pet.

Or “I might just say you’re a person who’s doomed not to have a pet,” Ransom adds. “Maybe you ought to have a baby instead.”

Related Reading: Asthma, Allergies Children’s blog post: A Woman’s Best Friend

First published in Allergic Living magazine.
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