Q: Can people allergic to dogs and cats still have them as pets?
A: Our immune system helps to find and fight foreign substances in our bodies such as viruses and bacteria. Some people have super-sensitive immune systems, which react to harmless proteins in pet saliva, dander (dead cells) and urine. These proteins are called allergens. The body’s immune system tries to attack these substances, and it is this response which causes the allergy symptoms such as swelling, itching, stuffy nose and inflamed eyes.
If you are allergic to pets, but would still like to have them in the home, the best would be to try to keep them out of the bedroom and off the furniture. Try to keep the house as free as possible from pet dander by frequent vacuuming with a decent vacuum cleaner. Wear a mask as the cleaning may stir up the allergens and make your symptoms worse. Remove any carpets and replace with a rug which can be washed in hot water, or even better – have no rug at all. Wash walls and floors frequently. A family member who is not allergic should brush the pets outside to try to remove excess dander. Unfortunately, this is often not enough to keep the dander away. You would probably have to rely on the use of antihistamines and a cortisone nasal spray, and possibly even an antihistamine eye drop to control the symptoms. It is best to speak to your GP about the chronic use of these medicines, especially if you have any other medical problems, as all medicines may have side effects or may interact with other medication you may be taking.
Dr Linda Baigent, veterinarian