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Are you Allergic to your Best Friend?

Many people suffer from allergies caused by their pet. This is a difficult situation if you already own a pet but there are ways in which you can try to reduce the problem.

If you believe that you have an allergy of any kind it is wise to see your GP. This article is written from a veterinary perspective and should not be used as an alternative to proper medical advice. Severe allergies of any type need to be treated properly and you should remember that allergies may develop or become more serious over time.

It is very common to be sensitive to allergens from animals, in fact 30 to 40% of allergy sufferers are allergic to pets. In practice I commonly meet people who are allergic to their best friend and it is not an easy situation for them. Cats seem to cause the greatest problem followed by dogs; pets such as rabbits, other small mammals and birds are also sometimes responsible for allergies.

People who are allergic to their pets may experience a variety of symptoms including:

Runny nose
Stuffy nose
Streaming eyes
Puffy/swollen eyes
Skin irritation (rash/ itchiness)
Breathing difficulty

Contrary to popular belief it is not the hair of the pet which causes the problem but potent allergens found on cats and dogs that result in a sensitivity reaction. The saliva of the pet, dander and urine may all cause a reaction in people who have an allergy to animals. Allergens from a pet will stay in the environment even when the pet has left the room and since they may be airborne they can cause considerable problems for sensitive individuals.

So how can you deal with this problem?

Well, if you have a severe allergy you may unfortunately have to consider rehoming your pet; this is obviously a sad situation. In many less severe cases the problem can be controlled to a tolerable level. It is important to reduce the amount of allergen in your home. This can be done by washing your pet's bedding every week in hot water or using disposable bedding and changing it regularly. Vacuum about three times a week or more, especially in the areas of the home in which your pet is allowed. Keep your pet off beds and soft furnishings. Ideally keep your pet out of bedrooms and I would recommend trying to keep your pet downstairs if you have an allergy to it. Your pet should be encouraged to go outside as much as possible in reasonable weather (this will be good for your pet too). Always wash your hands after handling your pet. If possible wash your pet once per week with a good quality shampoo (don't use human shampoos as these can dry the skin; I would recommend a product such as Episoothe for frequent washing). You should regularly groom your pet. There is a product called Petal Cleanse which can be wiped on to your pet to reduce the allergens on its coat. This product is claimed to be safe for pets and will reduce allergy symptoms in 90% of people allergic to animals. The product should be applied weekly and will take up to three weeks to have an effect.

Do remember to seek medical advice if you have a health problem related to your pet.

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