A family pet should bring a smile to your face, but not a tickle to your throat. While people can experience allergic reactions to pet hair or fur, it’s usually the proteins found in your dog’s dander (which are dead skin flakes), saliva and urine (depending on the breed) that can trigger an allergic reaction or aggravate asthma symptoms. The allergy triggering proteins cling to dog fur and dander, which in turn sticks to walls and furniture and finds its way into your carpet, bedding and clothing. Also, pet fur can collect pollen, mold spores and other outdoor allergens that can cause you to have an allergic reaction.

If you have an allergy to pet dander, saliva or urine, you may experience itchy or swollen eyes, a puffy face, sinus congestion, runny nose, red or irritated skin, itching or coughing. If you have asthma, direct contact with a dog or cat can trigger an asthma attack. Some reactions are immediate, while others may not happen until several hours after contact with an allergen. On top of that, some reactions are cumulative, taking weeks for the allergen level in your home to increase enough to affect you or another susceptible family member.

Get a diagnosis

The best way to determine if you have an allergy to dogs or cats is to go to your doctor or to an allergist for a diagnosis. Many allergy sufferers are sensitive to more than one allergen, so you may not want to blame the family pet just yet. You can work with an allergist to create a treatment plan that will reduce the allergen level in your overall environment by concentrating on all of the allergens, not just the pet allergy.

Contrary to popular opinion, there are no hypoallergenic breeds of dogs or cats. Even hairless breeds can cause an allergic reaction. The pet hair itself is not an allergen, however, allergy-causing dander often sticks to fur and, for pets that shed a lot, it is more readily released into the surrounding environment.

Reduce allergens

If an allergy test shows that you are allergic to your dog, it is important to understand what causes your reaction to them. If your reaction isn’t life-threatening, there are many ways to reduce indoor allergens and allergy symptoms so you and your dog can live together more comfortably:

  • Strictly prohibit your dog’s access to your bedroom
  • Use a high-efficiency HEPA air cleaner in your bedroom
  • Use impermeable covers on your mattress and pillows
  • Use HEPA air cleaners throughout the rest of the home
  • Avoid interior furnishings such as cloth curtains or carpeting, which collect dust and dander
  • Clean thoroughly and vacuum frequently
  • Frequently wash couch covers, pillows, curtains and pet beds
  • Keep pets off the furniture
  • Provide your pet with a comfy bed or two to call her own, and wash them often
  • Avoid kissing and cuddling your pet, or having them near your face

Keep your pet clean

Bathing your pet can help reduce dander levels. Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation for how often you can bathe your pet. Regular dog baths can help decrease the severity of your allergy symptoms, but it usually doesn’t eliminate them. Regular brushing can help, too, but brush your dog outdoors whenever possible. Ask your veterinarian for other options that can help minimize allergens from your pet.

The difficult decision

If you have made all efforts to live with your pet despite an allergy, and you have decided that you must re-home your dog, your first option should be to try and find a new home yourself by reaching out to family and friends. Alternatively, work with a rescue group that specializes in re-homing pets or a no-kill shelter that will offer your dog a safe haven until she finds a new home.

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