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Pet Allergies Information

Nearly half of U.S. households have a dog or cat. Pets provide companionship, security and a sense of comfort. Children often learn responsibility and lessons about life and death from pets. However, people with allergies should be cautious in deciding what type of pet they can safely bring into their home.

Pet exposure may cause sneezing and wheezing.

An estimated 10 percent of the population may be allergic to animals. A higher rate of 20 to 30 percent of individuals with asthma have pet allergy symptoms.

Pets can cause problems to allergic patients in several ways. Their dander, or skin flakes, as well as their saliva and urine, can cause an allergic reaction. The animal hair is not considered to be a very significant allergen. However, the hair or fur can collect pollen, dust, mold and other allergens.

What are the most common pets?

The most common household pets are dogs, cats, birds, hamsters, rabbits, mice, gerbils, rats and guinea pigs. Larger animals such as horses, goats, cows, chickens, ducks and geese, even though kept outdoors, can also cause problems as pets.

The number of pets in the United States is estimated at more than 100,000,000. This large number also increases the likelihood of accidental exposure to animals by the allergic patient when visiting homes, farms, etc.

Both feathers and the droppings from birds, another common pet, can increase the allergen exposure. The allergic patient should not use feather pillows or down comforters. If a feather pillow is used, it should be encased in plastic. An encasing with a zipper is recommended, so none of the feathers can escape.

Bird droppings can be a source of bacteria, dust, fungi and mold. This also applies to the droppings of other caged pets, such as gerbils, hamsters and mice.

What do allergists recommend?

The best types of pets for an allergic patient are pets that don't have hair or fur, shed dander, or produce excrement that creates allergic problems. Tropical fish are ideal, but very large aquariums could add to the humidity in a room, which could result in an increase of molds and house dust mites.

A frequent misconception is that shorthaired animals cause fewer problems. It is the dander (skin scales) that causes the most significant allergic reactions - not the length or amount of hair on the pet. As stated previously, allergens are also found in the pet's saliva and urine. In addition, dogs have been reported to cause acute symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis, or inflammation of the eye, and hay fever after running through fields and then coming back into contact with their owners.

Those pets that are known to cause significant allergic reactions should be removed from the home of the allergic patient to avoid possible progression of symptoms. A "trial" removal of a pet for a few days or even weeks may be of little value since an average of 20 weeks is required for allergen levels to reach levels found in homes without pets.

What can I do when visiting people with pets if I am allergic?

The approach to visiting households with pets for someone with pet allergies is to take appropriate precautions including administration of medications prior to visitation. Your allergist-immunologist can provide information on medications for your animal allergy, such as antihistamines, nasal sprays, decongestants or appropriate asthma medications.

For patients who have severe symptoms on animal dander exposure, the pet should removed from the house at least day before the visit, and the host household should be cleansed of animal allergen to the extent practical.

For more medical information, please contact an allergist in your area.

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