One of the worst discoveries pet owners can make is that they are (or a family member is) allergic to a pet, especially after strong emotional bonds have formed. If someone in the household has developed allergies to a beloved pet, you must make the heart-wrenching decision about whether or not to keep the animal.
Before jumping to any decisions, though, first have the allergy confirmed by testing. If the test comes back positive, most allergists will recommend that the pet causing the allergies be removed from the home to avoid the possible progression of symptoms and to decrease the amount of medication the allergic person requires. Once you've received the results and heard the recommendation, you'll have to decide what to do.
While allergists are generally correct when they recommend removing a pet, doing so is like losing a family member. Some people, understandably so, are unwilling to give up their pet. Instead, they choose to live with the pet by modifying behaviors and keeping the house as dander-free as possible. If this is the route you decide to take, consider the following suggestions:
- Wash and brush dogs and cats once a week. Have a nonallergic family member brush the pet outside daily.
- Make the allergic family member's bedroom and bed strictly off-limits to those with four paws. But be aware that, even though the pet's territory is contained, allergens won't be. Allergens spread far and wide with help from the heating and air-conditioning system, and they get a ride on people's clothing. High efficiency air filters should be used in the bedroom's heating and air-conditioning systems, if the residence has a forced-air system, and they should be maintained every two to three months to help reduce dander distribution.
- Make it a petty crime for pets to jump on furniture, but do provide them with a nice bed to call their own. If the pet's bed is washable, wash it weekly using hot water. Remember: Dust mites don't discriminate when it comes to dander.
- Consider keeping pets outside. This may be a good option for the allergy sufferer; however, in most cases this is a poor option for your pet, who will probably be happier and healthier in another family's home. Use your best judgment when deciding a pet's fate. Does it like to be outside? Does it have adequate room to run and play? Is the environment too cold in the winter or too hot in the summer? Does it have protection from the elements? Is it accustomed to constant attention from the family? Does it annoy the neighbors by barking?
- Do not let allergic family members hug, kiss, or cuddle pets. If the momentary lapse of love happens, make sure hands get washed after contact.
- If possible, use a central air cleaner for at least four hours a day. These air cleaners can help to remove significant amounts of pet allergens from the home.
- Vacuum carpets daily. Damp dust furniture twice weekly. Maintain all your regular allergy-proofing tasks.
- Place the litter box in an isolated area, where it won't be affected by the home's circulation system. You don't want to circulate the allergens and odor from the litter all over the house. Allergic persons should not clean the litter box. If they must, make sure they wear a mask and gloves.
CAT WASHING TIPS
Of the many actions people take to reduce pet allergens, washing a cat ranks right up there with disposing of dead cockroaches or cleaning out scum-filled toothbrush holders. Flying claws and sharp fangs, combined with an angry attitude, do not make for an enjoyable bathing experience for the human washing the cat. You may be able to avoid such theatrics if you condition the cat to tolerate baths when it's a kitten (notice the word "tolerate" and not "enjoy"). Without the benefit of conditioning, the bathmaster must do everything possible to make a soak in suds less traumatic for the scaredy-cat.
Speak in a soft, gentle voice, avoid jerky movements, set the cat slowly in the warm water, and wash/rinse it gently. Afterward have a treat ready; that is, if the cat hasn't left home. Ideally, a nonallergic person should do the washing, but finding a willing person is about as easy as cleaning the cat. Whoever has the difficult job, make sure they're dressed in armor, or at least a long-sleeved shirt and goggles, just in case paws and claws turn into propellers. To adequately reduce dander, cats should be washed once a week using warm water and a mild cat shampoo. Good luck.