There’s no question that people in the U.S. love their pets! There are an estimated 76 million household dogs and 58 million household cats. However, as many as three in ten pet owners are allergic to their pets.
If you experience allergic symptoms when you’re around your pet -- including sneezing, itchy or watery eyes, a runny nose, or a rash -- here are some tips for dealing with your pet allergy symptoms.
1. Use a HEPA filter.
A HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter is a must-have for pet owners who are allergic to their pets. HEPA filters remove 99.97% of particles from the air. These particles include bacteria, viruses, and mold as well as pollen and pet dander. HEPA filters can be free-standing machines, or these filters can be installed in some furnaces and vacuum cleaners.
2. Create a pet-free zone.
To minimize your allergy symptoms, designate a pet-free area of your home. Ideally, this would be your bedroom, since mattresses, comforters, sheets, and pillows can harbor pet allergens that are difficult to eradicate. Also, since you spend roughly one-third of your day sleeping, making your bedroom pet-free gives you an extended period in which you’re not being exposed to allergens.
3. Bathe your pet frequently.
If your pet is easily washable, it’s a good idea to give them a bath at least once a week to remove excess dander, hair, fur, and other allergens from their coat. If your pet isn’t washable or is difficult to bathe frequently, allergy specialists from Harvard Medical School recommend wiping them off with hypoallergenic baby wipes once a week.
Pro Tip: If you bring a young pet home, start bathing them early on and reward them during bath time so they learn to enjoy it.
4. Wash your hands & clothes.
It’s a good idea to wash your hands and clothes after handling your pet. Also, don’t touch your face until you’ve washed your hands since you can transfer allergens to your eyes, nose, and mouth if your hands aren’t clean.
5. Use washable rugs instead of carpet.
Machine-washable rugs are the best floor covering option if you live with pets you’re allergic to since you can wash them frequently to get rid of allergens they may have absorbed. If you do have carpet, allergists recommend vacuuming frequently with a vacuum that contains a HEPA filter - and for wearing an N95 mask while you vacuum and when you empty the vacuum. Make sure you bring the trash outside immediately after you empty the vacuum into it.
If you have all hardwood floorings, be sure to sweep or vacuum frequently, as pet hair can build up easily and float around to unwanted areas.
6. Wash your pet’s bedding often.
Another way to reduce allergens in your home is to wash your pet’s bedding at least once a week, as well as any other washable items they use, including blankets, clothing, and plush toys.
You can also wash any household items with which they have come into contact, including rugs, towels, furniture coverings, and sheets.
7. Consult a healthcare provider.
If you have persistent allergy symptoms and are unsure why it’s wise to consult a healthcare provider. A provider can order allergy testing to rule out other causes of your symptoms. Also, allergy shots, steroid nasal sprays, antihistamine eye drops, and oral antihistamines are often used to alleviate pet allergy symptoms. Your provider will let you know what treatment options are best for you.
Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant