Giving a dog a bath
I’m acquainted with a number of people who suffer from pet allergies, including many of my clients and colleagues — and even my wife, Teresa. But all of them love their pets so much that they’re willing to live with the itchy nose and throat; coughing, sneezing and wheezing; skin reactions; and watery, puffy, reddened eyes that come from contact with their animals.

Well, they’re not really willing to live with those things — in fact, they all do their best not to experience the effects of allergies. Fortunately, there are some simple tips and tricks that allow people with mild to moderate allergies to happily and, for the most part, comfortably share their home with pets.

In our house, the mantra is “Reduce the risk. Keep the pets.” In that spirit, here are my best bits of advice for keeping allergies to pets at bay.

Seven Ways to Sneeze Less and Snuggle More

1. Wash your hands. It’s not pet fur that causes people to sniffle and sneeze. It’s the allergens carried by dander (dead skin flakes), saliva and urine. So even if you have a hairless pet or one with a coat that doesn’t shed much, you’re still going to be exposed to allergens when you pet him. And some people aren’t allergic to pets so much as to the pollen or mold that comes in on a pet’s coat after he’s been outside. Washing your hands thoroughly after petting your animal helps remove those allergens.

2. Wash your furniture. Well, not the actual furniture. If you cover chairs and sofas with washable throws or slipcovers, you can launder them frequently. The same goes for your floor: Put down washable throw rugs if you have hard floors, and dust, sweep, mop and vacuum regularly. Use a vacuum cleaner with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter on larger rugs and carpet. A HEPA filter traps very small particles, so it’s especially useful for pet dander, which is lightweight, small and sticky. Bonus: It’s best if someone without allergies does the vacuuming, mopping, sweeping and dusting, so feel free to enlist the help of an allergy-free spouse or child. And while you’re clearing allergens from the house, it’s worth considering a HEPA air purifier for your home, if you have the budget. It’s expensive, but it’s especially good at trapping pet allergens.

3. Wash your pet. Bathing pets weekly helps keep dander levels low, and it typically won’t harm your pet’s coat or skin, if you choose a gentle shampoo made for pets. Between baths, give your pet’s coat a gentle rub with fragrance-free, hypoallergenic baby wipes to remove dander or pollen. If possible, assign this task to a nonallergic spouse or child, and have that person do it outdoors to minimize the spread of dander and other allergens.

4. Clothe your pet. Nope, I’m not kidding. Putting a clean pet T-shirt on your clean dog or cat will reduce the spread of dander as well as limit the amount of pollen or mold he picks up on his coat when he’s outdoors. It also allows you to pet him while limiting your contact with his dander-carrying fur. (But it’s still a good idea to wash your hands afterward.)

5. Shake hands — but don’t kiss. Who doesn’t love a big slurp from a happy dog? People with allergies — that’s who. A dog’s saliva contains allergens and can cause skin reactions in some people when they’re licked. To minimize the spread of allergens, teach your dog from puppyhood not to lick you or other people. And remember that cat saliva can cause allergic reactions, too.

6. Treat symptoms with medication. Many people find relief with over-the-counter antihistamine products or steroid sprays available by prescription. Some people who are allergic to cats respond well to allergy shots. Talk with your doctor about options to help manage your allergy symptoms.

7. Ban pets from the bedroom. This one is tough, and not everyone is willing to do it, but if you have allergies, making your bedroom a pet-free zone can help you sleep more comfortably. If you’re not willing to do that, at least keep pets off your bed. When that’s not possible — or if you just don’t want to do it — place a washable throw on the bed for your pet’s use, put dust mite covers on your mattress and pillows, and get used to living with a stuffy nose and puffy eyes. For many people, the companionship is worth the consequences.

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