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Discovering you have a pet allergy can be heartbreaking if you already have a furry friend that has you coughing and sneezing. Is there any way you and your pet can still live together if you are allergic?

Do you suspect you are allergic to your beloved cat, dog, or other pet and are you wondering what to do now? Though many people will strongly advise you to rehome your pet as soon as possible, the fact is that many pet owners do manage to live relatively symptom-free lives together with the pets they love. How do you do it?

The Science Behind Pet Allergies

First off, let's debunk the very pervasive myth that people who are allergic to pets experience an adverse reaction to their fur. Pet allergies are allergies to their dander, and more specifically a protein within it. Pet dander is made up of barely visible bits of skin that build up within their fur, and which they shed as they go about their business. A pet's urine and saliva also contain allergens. The pet will inadvertently spread bodily cells that contain allergens everywhere it goes — to your bed, your couch, your walls, your clothes, everywhere.

Cats and dogs are the most popular pets in the United States, but they are not the only pets you can be allergic to. Rats, guinea pigs, ferrets, horses, and birds are all pets to which some people are allergic. 

If you are allergic to a pet, you may experience:

  • Sneezing and nasal congestion
  • Coughing
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Red, watery and itchy eyes
  • Urticaria, more commonly called hives
Those who suspect they have a pet allergy should have this confirmed with an allergist. That is because, as the Humane Society points out, "You may find that you're allergic to something else and not your pet at all!"  As an example, they add that "you may assume that you are allergic to your beloved dog, only to find out through an allergy test that you're actually allergic to a specific tree pollen that got on his fur during a walk together, and that's actually what's bothering you."
What if you have your pet allergy confirmed despite already having a pet, or you find out that a child you added to the family long after you got your pet is allergic? Does that mean you have to rehome your beloved friend? And what if you don't have a pet yet, but are wondering whether you could have one even though you are allergic?

If You Find Out You Are Allergic To A Pet You Already Have

Pet allergies can, in some cases, be life-threatening. In that case, rehoming your pet will sadly be the only option available to you. However, you may be surprised to learn that it is indeed possible to live a harmonious life with a pet you are allergic to in many cases. You can attempt to implement these tried and tested tips allergists are on board with:
  • Use HEPA filters all over your home. These are designed to eliminate tiny particles to which many allergic people react, including dust, pollen, and yes — pet dander, from your living space. 
  • Avoid using decorative items in which pet dander can build up. These include curtains, pillows, and carpets (a big one!).
  • Be meticulous about housework (or rather, make sure someone in your family who isn't allergic is), washing fabric items such as couch covers and bed sheets regularly and hoovering daily (try an automated hoover as well). Wipe down walls frequently.
  • Wash your pet, too — once a week.
  • Discuss treatment options with an allergist who understands that you would very much like to keep your pet. While limiting exposure to your allergen is indeed the most effective method of staying symptom-free, you do have other options. Steroidal and antihistamine nose sprays, antihistamine pills, and even allergy shots are among those options.
  • Finally, keep one room in your home completely pet free, so you have a place to go when things get rough.
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