As a veterinarian, I receive calls from distraught pet owners who think they have to get rid of their pets because a family member is allergic on a regular basis. It breaks my heart to see these pets ripped from their homes when there are other options available. In my experience, some physicians recommend getting rid of the pet without even discussing (or being knowledgable about) other alternatives. Here are my tips for handling this common problem broken down into two situations, depending upon where the animals and allergic people live.
Animals live apart from allergic person: This is a relatively easy situation to manage. People with pet allergies should refrain from visiting homes with pets. Friends and family members with pets should shower and put on fresh clothes before visiting the allergic people. I encounter this frequently with grandchildren who are allergic to their grandparents pets. Thank goodness, many children will outgrown their allergies in time. Remember to refrain from contact with the pet when leaving your house if you are headed to see an allergic person.
Animals live with an allergic person: For this situation, I recommend bathing the pet at least once a week to remove dander and then applying a leave-on conditioner to hold the dander on the pet. Keep the pet out of the allergic individual’s bedroom to give them a pet-free zone. Set up air purifiers in each room to clean the air. They have made a huge difference for my clients and even pets who suffer from allergies. Remove or minimize things from the environment that trap dander such as drapes, rugs, horizontal blinds and upholstered furniture. Clean sofas, blankets, pillows and tablecloths frequently to remove the allergin. Vacuum with a HEPA filter vacuum several times a week to keep dander levels low. Frequent vacuuming has really helped my clients.
I also recommend giving the pets as much outdoor time as possible to reduce allergins. Fenced in yards with protection from the elements work well for dogs. Cats enjoy screened in porches as long as you provide perches for rest and play. Rabbits love to spend time nibbling on the grass. I like the portable play pens with a top to keep predators from grabbing them. Watch rabbits closely in warm temperatures as they overheat easily. Also watch closely for rabbits that dig holes under the sides of the play pen.
Lastly, people who suffer from pet allergies should consider desensitization therapy to treat this problem, especially if prone to life threatening symptoms. It is extremely difficult to avoid pet dander in the real world. Children come to school with pet hair on their clothes. My suitcase is often coated with fur from my cat. There are also therapy animals in public places. One of my best friends in veterinary school was allergic to cats. Her parents decided to get rid of her cat instead of using medications and pursuing desensitization therapy. When she became an adult, she underwent therapy and now treats cats. Unfortunately, she still feels guilty about her childhood pet. Contrary to what some physicians believe, getting rid of the pet is not always the best solution.