For many pet lovers, living without an animal companion isn't an option. But what if you’re allergic to your furry friend? Here’s some helpful hints for living with pet allergies.

You may know that cats can cause allergic reactions. What you may not be aware of is that dogs, rats, mice, guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters, birds, horses, cows, chickens, ducks and geese do so too.
Animal fur per se doesn’t cause allergies. However, it can collect dust, pollen, mould and other allergens. The major problem with animals is their skin, which flakes off and can be allergenic. The dried saliva on cats’ fur is also a major problem.

It’s usually too traumatic – and unnecessary – to remove the pet from the household, so here are the measures you should take instead:

Cat allergy

    • Cat allergy is the most common pet allergy and affects nearly half of asthma sufferers. Proteins found in particles of cat skin (or “cat dander”) are the most common cause.

    • Because they’re so small, these particles (which are shed when the cat grooms itself) can stay airborne for months. If inhaled by an allergy sufferer, it’ll lead to an allergic reaction within minutes. The reaction usually includes itchy eyes and nose, sneezing, asthma and/or itchy skin rashes.

    • Studies have shown that more than 80% of asthmatic children whose home contained a cat at birth and during the first year of life developed a cat allergy. This incidence was far lower with dogs.

What can you do?
Vacuum the carpets, floors and beds thoroughly each week. Bath your cat weekly, too. Cats bathed from an early age generally don’t mind being bathed.

The cat should also be banned from the allergy sufferer’s bedroom. These measures, together with wiping down the bedroom walls with a damp cloth to remove allergen deposits, regular airing of the home and thorough vacuum cleaning will reduce the level of cat allergen. A special exhaust filter should be fitted to the vacuum cleaner to prevent the small allergen particles from going straight through the machine and back into the air.

Face masks can be used when cleaning or brushing the cat, and clothes should be changed after contact with a cat. It can take up to six months to sufficiently reduce household levels of the tiny cat allergen.

Dog allergy
Dogs have a number of allergy-provoking protein particles in their saliva and skin scales. Dog allergy is less common than cat allergy, and the longer-haired breeds, which carry more skin scales, seem to provoke allergic reactions more frequently. A dog's lick may set off a severe allergic response; so can breathing in the allergen particles.

Other pets
With rabbits, rats, mice, hamsters and guinea pigs the most important sources of allergens are the saliva and urine. Once dry, they become airborne and can be a source of allergy for children and laboratory animal workers.

    • Horse and cow skin scales can be allergenic to those exposed to them.

    • Birds carry allergy-provoking mites, moulds and pollen on their feathers.

    • Budgie droppings can release proteins into the air that induce insidious lung problems and asthma.

    • Some people develop allergies to the ants’ eggs upon which tropical fish feed, as well as moulds that grow in the fish tank.

If the measures listed above don’t work, oral antihistamines and injections can be used to treat the symptoms.