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Animal Allergies

Any animal with fur or feathers can trigger an allergic reaction. These include cats, dogs, rabbits, gerbils, guinea pigs, hamsters, ferrets, mice, horses, cattle, monkeys, goats, pigs, chickens, and birds. Of these, research indicates that cats are by far the worst offenders, followed by dogs and horses.

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While some animals seem to be more tolerable than others, there are no dogs, cats, or other furry animals that do not cause allergic responses. It makes no difference whether an animal has short hair, long hair or how much it sheds.

Cats cause more severe allergic reactions than other pets. The major cat allergen is an extremely potent one called Fel d1. Secretions from the sebaceous glands of the skin are the primary source of Fel d1, but it is also deposited on the fur through the saliva when cats clean themselves through the licking or self-cleaning process. Eventually the Fel d1 flakes off and becomes airborne to trigger the symptoms that characterize allergies to cats. Male cats generally produce more allergens than females do.

The problem is not with the pet’s hair. It is the dander, or microscopic scales of dead skin (similar to, but much smaller than the dandruff on the human scalp) which pets are constantly shedding that is the cause. They are so tiny that you seldom, if ever, know that they are circulating in the air or laying on the furniture and carpets.

Recent studies indicate that urine (protein), from cats and dogs as well as from ferrets, guinea pigs, hamsters, and mice, contain allergens which also can trigger allergic reactions.

MYTH – Short-haired dogs and cats cause fewer allergy problems than those with long hair.
FACT – All dogs and cats – short-haired, long-haired, wire-haired, curly-haired, even hairless—are potentially allergic. Allergic reactions to dogs and cats are not caused by the hair or fur but by dander (the tiny scales of dead skin) and by sebaceous and salivary gland secretions. Short-haired dogs and cats cast off as many allergens into the environment as long-haired ones do.

MYTH – Dogs and cats that do not shed hair are “hypoallergenic.”
FACT – Whether a dog or a cat sheds hair or does not shed hair also makes no difference. Certain dog breeds…Poodles, Bichon Frises, Bedlington Terriers and Kerry Blue Terriers…as well as Cornish Rex, Devon Rex and Sphynx cats shed little or no hair. It is surprising how many pet owners have bought these breeds because they were told they did not cause allergies. Not true!

While it has recently been established that some animals cast off more allergens than others, there are no non-allergenic dogs or cats. The reason Poodles, Bichons Frises, Bedlington and Kerry Blue Terrier dogs are thought to be “safe” is probably because they are shampooed and groomed regularly and therefore cast off less dander in the home.

Some people may have more problems living with dog and cat breeds that shed hair profusely …because of the excessive amount of loose hair…contaminated by dried saliva and dander clinging to it…shed from the pet onto the rugs, furniture and the pet’s bedding and favorite lounging places. Frequent vacuuming is usually necessary, along with the use of a moist sponge, to pick it up.

Puppies and kittens cause fewer allergy problems than adult pets. True. Baby animals have no old skin to shed and consequently have no dander. It usually takes a few months before kittens and puppies produce these allergens. This may explain why people who buy young pets become allergic to them when the they reach maturity.

MYTH – People can be allergic to some breeds of dogs and not to others.
FACT – The possibility of dog breed-specific allergens was first investigated many years ago, reports Dr. David Knysak of the Department of Medicine’s Allergy Division of the University of Michigan Medical Center. Subsequent studies have determined both qualitative and quantitative variations in the antigen content extracts derived from different dog breeds, however, he adds, no breed-specific allergens have been found. It is true, though, that an individual may occasionally become sensitized to or build up resistance to a single breed over a period of time. Another reason why people may think they are allergic to certain breeds of dogs and cats is that some animals shed many more allergens than others, a process which may produce a higher level of exposure and consequently more allergic symptoms.

MYTH – Restricting a dog or a cat to one or two rooms of the house will make it easier to tolerate.
FACT – The longer a pet lives in a home, the more its allergens will have permeated the entire house to cause symptoms. Isolating a pet to one or two rooms in the home does not contain their allergens. Air currents from forced-air heating, air conditioning and fans spread the allergens through the house.

Airborne cat allergens have been measured in several clinical studies and have been found to be infinitesimally tiny in size. The Fel d1 particles ranged in size from 1 micron to about 20 microns, with a significant percentage being about 2.5 microns in diameter. What size is a micron? One millionth of a meter. As an example of just how small one is, the period at the end of this sentence is nearly 1,000 microns in diameter.

Such particles tend to remain airborne for hours, even in homes with minimal disturbance. Once they do settle, vacuuming or walking on the carpet, sitting on the furniture, fluffing up cushions pillows and the pet’s bedding, raising or lowering the blinds, and opening or closing the drapes or curtains causes tremendous amounts to be set loose in the air once again.

MYTH – Pets that live outside cause fewer allergy problems.
FACT – Pets that remain outdoors at all times cause very few allergy problems. But when an allergic person goes outside and plays with the animal, pets it, or holds it in his or her lap, symptoms can occur. Although many pets are never allowed into a house, bear in mind that those that do live outdoors are exposed to many risks. They may be lost or stolen, attacked by other animals, run over by cars, poisoned deliberately or inadvertently.

Pets that live outdoors — even in a barn or a garage –require a shelter with the bottom raised off the ground where they can go when its cold or when it rains or snows. In warm weather, they need shade and plenty of fresh water to drink. Only heavily coated or more rugged pets should live outdoors in winter. And its grossly unfair to any pet which has spent the majority of its life indoors to be suddenly made to live outside.

MYTH – Rabbits and other small furry caged pets and birds are safe for allergy sufferers because they don’t have the run of the house.
FACT – Rabbits, small furry animals and rodents (guinea pigs, gerbils, hamsters, chinchillas, ferrets, rats and mice) have become increasingly popular as house pets. They are small, clean, easy to care for, inexpensive to feed, they don’t bark to annoy neighbors and they are permitted in many apartment complexes where cats and dogs are prohibited. The urine, saliva and dander of small furry pets are potent allergens and contribute significantly to the allergen source in the home. The number of allergens they spread depends on their species, their size and number and how frequently they are handled by family members.

Birds are also growing in popularity as pets. Their major allergen is derived from feather dust which is also called “powder.” When birds preen themselves and flutter their wings, no matter how small they may be, they shake feather dust into the air where it collects in and around the cage and also circulates throughout the house. Some of the larger species of parrots may cause more allergy problems since they can produce enough powder to coat most surfaces in the room in which they are caged on an almost daily basis.

MYTH – People can be more allergic to their pets in the spring and the fall.
FACT – Cat and dog allergens, feathers, house dust, and molds are just a few of the culprits that cause the symptoms of perennial, or year-round allergic rhinitis. In most parts of the country, tree and grass pollen or mold spores in the spring, and ragweed and other weeds pollen in fall, are triggers of hay fever or seasonal allergic rhinitis. People who are sensitive to pets and to trees, grasses and weeds usually find their symptoms are much worse during pollen seasons because of an overlapping of seasonal and perennial allergens.

MYTH – People can tell if they will be allergic the first time they encounter a pet.
FACT – No one is allergic to a substance the first time he or she comes in contact with it. Sensitization, or the process that leads to development of symptoms, requires repeated exposures over a period of time, anywhere from days to months and possibly years. Sometimes, though, only a few minutes of a pet’s presence is necessary. People who come in contact with a cat, for instance, or who enter a room where a cat has been, may react to it within seconds. Other times an animal can be kept for many years and then suddenly its owner will become severely sensitive to it.

People can be allergic to clothing made from animal fur. True. It is possible for potentially allergic people to be sensitive to the animal fur and wool found in clothing, cushions, fabrics, blankets, sweaters, the linings of gloves, rugs, toys, furniture stuffing, and a myriad of other household items. Items made from rabbit fur, for example, can be a real source of sensitivities because the fur is too delicate to remove all traces of dander and dried saliva.

Dr. Ralph Bookman, allergist to former President Ronald Reagan noted in an interview published in Rodale’s Allergy Relief Newsletter, that if someone owns “a true Oriental rug — one actually made in the Orient — then it is certainly loaded with sheep, goat and camel dander.” Good quality domestic wool, added Dr. Bookman “is processed to be dander-free; it is not allergenic. However, it is irritating to many people, and not just those with allergies. Wool from third-world countries is not treated after its taken from the animal. This kind of wool can contain a lot of dander and cause serious allergy problems.”

Did you know?
Many allergy myths and misconceptions exist related to pet allergies. Carpet can actually have a positive impact on allergies if proper carpet cleaning is performed. Dust mites, mold, mildew, fungi, and allergens are easily removed with proper carpet cleaning. When buying a vacuum cleaner, buy a vacuum cleaner that passes the CRI vacuum cleaner rating programs guidelines. In Sweden, where carpet was removed to due beliefs that carpet increased allergic symptoms, allergic symptoms among the Swedish population actually increased when carpet removal took place.

About the Author
Michael Hilton was the original creator of Carpet Buyers Handbook. Having owned and operated a carpet wholesale company, Hilton has a vast knowledge about all-things carpet related as well as other types of flooring.