Having a pet is a wonderful thing – until you realize that you, or someone else in your home, might be allergic to your dog or cat. Then it can be heartbreaking. You might even have to consider giving up your beloved family member. However, there are several remedies you can try before taking that drastic step.
Signs of a Pet Allergy
Many people assume that they are allergic to a pet’s fur, but that’s not the case. It’s actually the dander, or dead skin cells, that are hidden in that fur. In addition to dander, pet fur also contains other allergens, such as pollen and dust.
Common symptoms of a pet allergy include swelling and itching of the nose and eyes, and skin redness. In more severe instances, pet allergies can lead to shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing. They can also result in skin rashes on the neck, face, and chest.1
An Emotional Topic
It can be brutal to think about losing a beloved companion because of pet allergies. An estimated 68 percent of households in the United States have a pet.2 But allergens from pets can cause major problems. In fact, even “second-hand” exposure to these allergens can result in severe health issues – especially in children with sensitivities.3
If you have pet allergies, or your child is showing signs of an issue, you have an incredibly emotional decision to make. People have extremely strong feelings toward their pets, and it can be agonizing to think of parting with a dog or cat. Protecting the health of your child or family member is paramount, of course, but that doesn’t make the decision an easy one.
There’s also a lot of misinformation out there about pet allergies. For example, you might have seen articles claiming that certain pets are “hypoallergenic.” But there is little scientific evidence to support those claims.4
If you are faced with this unfortunate dilemma, it’s important to separate fact from fiction. Talk to your veterinarian and doctor to make sure you have the information you need to make the best possible choice for your pets, as well as the rest of your family.
A Growing Problem
Objective numbers on just how attached humans are to their pets are hard to find. However, one study took an interesting approach to the subject. Researchers looked at more than 1,300 magazine advertisements involving people and their pets. These ads appeared in magazines from the 1920s through the 1980s. The researchers looked at how the pets were depicted – specifically, whether they were inside or outside, on or off a leash, and whether or not they were being held or touched by their owners.5
The researchers concluded that pets have moved from being viewed as protectors who stay outside to guard the home, to cherished members of the family who mainly stay indoors.
As the roles that dogs and cats play in our lives have changed, our interaction with them has increased. We’re getting closer to our pets. As a result, we’re more exposed to the allergens coming from their bodies than ever before.
One school of thought is that nowadays people are not only more susceptible to animal allergies, but all allergies.
Researchers looked at the results of skin tests performed as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, or NHANES. They compared NHANES II (conducted from 1976 to 1980) and NHANES III (conducted from 1988 to 1994). They found that participants in the NHANES III study had about a 42 percent chance of testing positive to at least one skin test sample. Participants in the NHANES II study only had a 21.8 percent chance. The increase in reactivity to cat allergens was even higher – 17 percent in NHANES III, compared to only 3.1 percent in NHANES II.6
So, What Can Pet Owners Do About Pet Allergens?
There are some gentle, natural remedies you can try at home if you have itchy skin, or are showing other signs of being allergic to dogs, cats, or other pets. Here are five options:
1. Nettle Leaf
There are hundreds of types of nettle plants around the world. Over the last decade or so, experts have concluded that nettle leaf is effective in helping to reduce allergy symptoms. Research indicates that the active components of the nettle plant have properties that can help provide allergy relief.7
Butterbur is a plant native to Europe. It’s known for its extremely large leaves, which can grow to up to three feet in diameter. According to one study, allergy sufferers who received capsules containing butterbur extract experienced a substantial reduction in symptoms. In fact, the results were comparable to a commonly prescribed antihistamine.8
This compound is found in many types of plants, including foods like apples, peppers, and leafy green veggies. According to research, it does as good a job of controlling allergy-induced asthma attacks as two well-known prescription drugs.9 Quercetin has also been found to help inhibit the development of the lipoxygenase enzyme. Lipoxygenase often causes inflammation, which can trigger allergic reactions.10
4. Green Tea
This delicious drink might bring some relief to people suffering from pet allergies.
According to a study, a compound in green tea known as methylated epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) appears to be especially potent against a wide variety of allergens.
These include pet dander, dust, and pollen.11
Probiotics are, in a nutshell, “good” bacteria and other microbes. They help reinforce the beneficial microbes that already live in your body. Research indicates that probiotics could help children build up a tolerance to some of the more common allergens, including pet dander.12
Managing Pet Allergies
One of the best ways to manage an allergy to pet dander is to do whatever you can to avoid the allergic trigger. If you have dogs or cats, there are some things you can do to reduce the risk. For example, as hard as it might be to do, cut out any hugging or kissing of your pet. Keep your pets off of furniture and out of the bedroom. Have your pet brushed outdoors on a regular basis by someone who’s not allergic to dander. Take out rugs and carpeting that can trap allergens, and use vacuum bags that are designed to reduce allergens.13
Reasons Pets Are Good For Your Health
You should do all you can to hold on to your pets – even if they may be causing allergy problems. Not only are they lovable, they can actually help improve your health. Here are just a few examples.
They help you deal with rejection – Research shows that pets can help take the sting out of being rejected. According to one study, people who tend to treat animals more like family members are better equipped to handle rejection. The reason, researchers say, is that certain traits they have, such as empathy, help to protect them against negative thinking.14
They keep you from feeling lonely or stressed – Older adults with pets, one study showed, were nearly 40 percent less likely to report feelings of loneliness than those who didn’t have pets.15 Another study showed that women had reduced levels of cortisol (also known as the “stress hormone”) for 15-30 minutes after petting a dog.16
They might help protect you from developing heart problems – Cats could play a role in helping to reduce the risk of dying due to heart disease. According to one study, people who said they previously owned cats were at a lower risk of dying from a heart attack.17
They keep you mentally sharp – A study showed that older dog and cat owners who are homebound showed better mental functioning than those without pets. Functions tested included remembering details, using past experiences to decide how to act, and the ability to pay attention.18
They help keep you active – If you have a dog, you likely take them for regular walks. Not only does this make your pooch happy, it can also help you stay healthy. Researchers found people who have dogs tend to get about 30 minutes of exercise more per week than people who don’t.19
They help reduce pain – According to the results of one study, spending quality time with a pet could help reduce your need for pain medication. Researchers looked into the effectiveness of animal-assisted therapy for patients who had recently undergone joint replacement surgery. They found that patients who spent between five and 15 minutes with a dog after surgery had less need for pain medications than those who did not.20
They could help keep your child from developing pet allergies – It’s true that dogs and cats can trigger allergies. But there’s also evidence that they might actually help keep pet allergies from developing in young children. According to one study, babies who live with pets in the home are about 50 percent less likely to have a pet allergy than those who don’t.21
The Bottom Line
Don’t panic if you suddenly start developing itchy skin or other signs of a pet allergy. Likewise, don’t make a rash decision if you find that someone else in your home might be allergic. Take the time to speak with your veterinarian, as well as your doctor. They will be able to recommend the best course of action, so that you don’t have to part with your beloved companions.
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