Allergies to animals are common and very troublesome. Some people simply cannot give up their pets, their horseback riding, or their friends who have pets. And yet exposure to a dog or cat can cause a sensitive person quite a serious reaction. For such people, a combination of treatment and partial avoidance is the best approach. In some cases, the allergy is just too strong, and the pet must be placed in a new home. Allergies to cats can be particularly severe. There are people who cannot be in a house or apartment where a cat has lived in the past year without developing burning eyes, sneezing, and even labored breathing. Recent studies have shown that not only are cat hair and dander allergenic, but cat saliva contains a very potent allergen (and cats spend half their waking hours grooming themselves); the same allergen is found in the glands of the cat's skin, at the hair roots. Almost all breeds of cats can cause a reaction in a cat-sensitive person. With dogs, however, sometimes one breed (not necessarily a long-haired breed) will bother a patient while another will not. Also, allergies to dogs occur less frequently. Dog allergen, incidentally, is in the dander, saliva, and urine. The dander of cats and dogs can remain in a home, causing allergic symptoms long after the animal is gone, even years later. If you are taking allergy shots for sensitivity to an animal, do not stop the shots when you get rid of the animal. You will probably still need them for up to a year or more afterward.
Ask your allergist about immunotherapy for animal allergies. Immunotherapy, or allergy shots, may be the treatment of choice if you cannot realistically reduce your or your child's exposure to animal allergens.
Some doctors feel strongly that a person who is allergic to an animal should find the creature a new home. This is certainly the best treatment. But getting rid of a cat or dog can be a draconian remedy when the pet is loved. And unfortunately, people (including children) who have not had much exposure to animals may not develop an allergic reaction for many months, sometimes up to two years later. By this time, the pet may have become a member of the family. If the prospect of life without your pet is too painful for you or your child, see an allergist about treatment and try to keep the animal clean and restrict its range. You should not brush or wash a cat or dog yourself if you are allergic to it. Nevertheless, the animal should be kept well groomed, with a good wash or brushing each week. The undercoat should be clipped and combed out regularly, especially in the spring. If your local animal groomer is too expensive, the grooming is a good chore for a teenager or even young child. The animal can be washed and dried in a bathroom and then the towels put in the laundry. Brushing and combing should be done outside the home. The brush and comb should be washed afterward. An allergic person should not empty a cat-litter box or should wear a mask while doing so. As for restricting a pet's range, the first step is to keep the animal out of the bedroom. Next, train it to stay away from your favorite chair or sofa. A cat or dog should have its own bed or one or two resting places of its own in the house. If the pet has a particular chair or sofa it rests on, it may help to cover that piece of furniture with a sheet. Wash the sheet daily or at least regularly. Allow the pet to spend some time outside, if possible. This solution is especially appropriate if the pet is a dog or rabbit since a doghouse or hutch will allow the pet to spend time outside comfortably and safely.
Are some animals more likely to cause allergic reactions than others? Must a new home be found for the animal? What is causing the child's allergic reaction? What can be done to minimize the incidence of allergic reactions? Can you suggest specific ways of diminishing exposure? Would allergy shots help? What is involved - how many shots are required? For how long would shots be necessary?