It's estimated that up to 47 percent of U.S. households include a dog, and up to 37 percent have a cat. That's a lot of woofs and purrs. But if you're allergic to animals, the prospect of pet ownership is a much sadder statistic. It becomes less about how much you want a pet, and more about how much wheezing you're willing to endure.
"If you suffer from pet allergies, it's important to have reasonable expectations," says Dr. John Pauls, a board-certified allergy and immunology doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. "If your allergy is severe, pet ownership may not be for you. But depending on the severity of your allergy, you may be able to control your symptoms in a manageable way."
Pet allergies are caused by proteins in saliva and dander (tiny flecks of skin shed by animals with fur or feathers). Wherever the pet goes, expect dander to follow. So what's an allergic animal lover to do?
Consider these 10 tips before welcoming a furry family member into your home:
- Choose a dog over a cat.
Cat allergies are twice as common as dog allergies. Among children, 1 in 7 between the ages of 6 and 19 are allergic to cats.
- Bigger is not better.
Although there's no such thing as a hypoallergenic furry pet, minimizing dander can help keep symptoms at bay. Smaller animals have less to shed.
- Browse breeds.
Hair itself isn't the problem, but it helps dander spread throughout your home. Some dogs, such as poodles, shed less than others.
- Keep it short.
If you must have a cat, choose a short-haired breed — the less hair, the better. But beware: Even hairless breeds can trigger allergies.
- Get tanked.
Fish, turtles and other reptiles do not have hair or dander. Skip the litter box and try something exotic and aquatic.
- Clean, clean, clean.
Choose a vacuum with a HEPA filter, and use it regularly. Non-HEPA vacuums can spread around the dander, making things worse.
- Pamper that pet.
Regularly clean and comb your pet. This will help minimize the amount of hair and dander in your home.
- Find an allergist.
It's best to get tested to find out exactly what you're reacting to. Plus, your allergist can help you with a symptom management plan.
- Stock up on medications.
Antihistamines and intranasal corticosteroid sprays can be purchased over-the-counter to control symptoms; both can be used regularly without adverse effects.
- Consider allergy shots.
Allergy shots help your body get used to allergens. In time, you may have few to no symptoms. It's a commitment, though, as you typically need monthly shots for three to five years.
Keep in mind that every animal is different. One cat may leave you sneezing, and another may not. So it's always a good idea to spend some time with the animal before you commit to keeping him or her.
Some pet adoption organizations, such as the San Diego Humane Society, let you return a pet if the match isn't right. In fact, 11 percent of relinquished animals are returned due to owner allergies.
Pets, while cute and cuddly, are a long-term commitment. So be sure to make a decision that's best for everyone.