Allergies and Pets: Tough Love?

James Thompson, MD Health Pro
  • "Dr. Thompson, my child really wants a dog and we are considering bringing one home soon. His skin test was negative to dog and we have done dust mite controls for his dust allergy, which helped. Is it okay?"

    This is a common question allergists hear throughout the year from parents.

     

    Let's say you or your children have allergy problems with seasonal worsening in the spring and fall and also have allergy problems in the winter. Previous allergy testing may have confirmed allergy to grasses (spring and summer triggers), ragweed (fall allergen) and dust mite (a common cause of year round allergies). Even though you don't have a dog or cat, allergy tests to them, were done and were negative.

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    What are the risks of bringing a dog in the house under these circumstances? Well, nobody knows for sure, but allergists generally try to discourage introducing a new warm blooded, furred creature of any kind to your indoor quarters. The reason for this is, people that have developed allergic sensitivity to other allergy triggers are at a higher risk (compared to people with no allergy problems) to later become hypersensitive to new allergens when exposure to them is increased.

     

    You or your child may do fine the first several weeks or months but after that period of time symptoms may surface and progress. People with hayfever (allergic rhinitis) may experience not only worsening nasal symptoms but also develop asthma. If you already have asthma, your control of this potentially life-threatening condition may dramatically fall off.

     

    So what should you do? Most allergists agree that the best way to manage allergy problems is avoidance. If you have allergy problems and do not have a dog, cat or hamster, it is best not to bring one into your house. Negative allergy testing by blood test or skin puncture does not reflect future potential of developing allergic sensitivity to pets. To be safe, avoid getting the pet.

     

    Allergists realize that many families will not go home and remove pets that are already established in the household. As a parent it is easier to fight and win the battle of keeping a pet out of your house versus removing a pet from your house.

     

    So, what if it's too late and you already have a cat, dog, rabbit or hamster in your house?

     

    Here are some tips if you have a pet and are allergic.

    • 1) Restrict the pet from your bedroom at all times
    • 2) Bedroom and family room should have wood, tile or linoleum flooring
    • 3) Encase your pillow, mattress and box spring with dust mite proof covers
    • 4) Change filters on your heating and cooling system monthly when in use
    • 5) Bathe the pet weekly when possible (warmer months). Someone non-allergic should do the bathing and grooming
    • 6) Couches and chairs should have leather or vinyl cushions
    • 7) Remove drapes and curtains and replace them with blinds or shades
    • 8) Consider getting an air filter device for bedroom and family room. HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air filter) are the best.
    • 9) If the climate allows, keep the pet outdoors

    I have sometimes given allergy shots to reduce dog or cat allergy but prefer to reserve this for people that have allergic problems when they visit friends or relatives that have pets. If one works around pets (animal hospital, pet store, research) but does not have them at home, allergy shots are of greater consideration if there is bothersome pet allergy.

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    If the above tips do not help (along with medications recommended by your doctor) reconsider finding another home for the pet. Of course, if you have not seen an allergist, arrange to do so.

Published On: February 22, 2008