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How to Deal with Pet Dander

November 12th, 2018

Just because you have a pet allergy, does not mean you can't still enjoy their company

It’s your birthday. Your family tells you they have a surprise for you. In walks your wife with a German Shepherd. You’re all about some German Shepherds, and you’ve always wanted one. Your new companion runs up to you to say hi. Soon though, you begin to sneeze, and your eyes start to itch and water. What’s happening?

You might have a pet allergy. That’s okay though! You’re not alone as pet allergies are found in a large number of American homes. These homes can still be graced by man’s best friend, they just have to take a few precautions.

There are some hypoallergenic dogs, which are typically dogs that don’t shed, thus not producing dander, which is the primary trigger for pet allergies. If you want a dog that doesn’t make that list though, such as a German Shepherd, that’s manageable too. You just have to commit to minimizing your shedding dog’s impact on your indoor environment.

First, let’s discuss pet dander. These are little bits of skin that have been shed by animals. Many animals other than dogs and cats actually produce dander, including some birds. Cats and dogs are the ones most known for it though, for obvious reasons. Cats are actually notably worse for allergies than dogs, despite not producing dander at a rate that is materially greater. The presence of the Fel d1 Protein is the cause for this difference, as it makes cat dander stay suspended in the air longer and get inhaled easier. We won’t get too into the science though. That's just a random fact for you sound smart with your friends—or nerdy, depending on your friends.

As dander is shed from the pet, it floats around as an air pollutant and can stay suspended for long periods of time. Eventually, if it isn’t inhaled or sucked into a vent, it will stick to the first thing it touches. Clothes and carpets are especially vulnerable. If you own a dog and cat, you’re most likely carrying around pet dander on your clothes right now. Even if you don’t, you might still be from secondhand exposure.

Despite its abundance, you can make your home environment less of an allergy haven with the following.

Clean your animal

This one might seem obvious, but that doesn’t make it any less important. Bathing and grooming your dog or cat will help get rid of a lot of the dead skin that otherwise would make it into your breathable air. Even if you don’t have allergies, you should probably be regularly bathing your cat or dog anyways, but a good regular cleaning goes a long way for pet allergy sufferers. There is even pet shampoo specially formulated to take on dander.

Vacuum often

As previously mentioned, dander will easily stick to things once it comes in contact with a surface. Vacuuming carpets and dusting hard surfaces in your home will help eliminate dander particles that have already landed and are primed to re-enter your air and eventually your lungs. The vacuum industry has gone crazy recently, and there are about a billion different models with a billion different contraptions. Many are engineered with pet hair in mind. Good Housekeeping has its list of top five vacuums for pet owners, but there are a hundred different other lists out there to consult.

Use the right air filter

As discussed in previous blogs, not every air filter will capture pet dander. Your furry friends produce pollutants small enough to sneak by lower rated air filters. Using at least a MERV 11 MicroAllergen filter is recommended to deal with indoor air pollution unique to pet owners. If you’re a severe allergy sufferer, you should probably upgrade to a MERV 13 SuperAllergen. A decent portion of dander stays suspended in the air, and this is the stuff that’s readily available for inhalation. If your air filter can’t catch it, a lot of it will just recirculate back into your air. Getting the appropriately rated filter will stop that.

Eliminating pet dander entirely would be a Herculean task, and just one of these practices isn’t enough. Doing all of them though is enough to improve your quality of life without having to sacrifice owning a loving pet. If you find yourself struggling to keep up with your allergies though, you could always get a dog that makes life easier.

Get a hypoallergenic dog

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that there is no such thing as a 100% hypoallergenic dog, but there are a good number of dogs that do well with allergy sufferers. These dogs don’t shed and produce far less dander, and there’s a much wider variety than you might realize. Big to giant dogs such as the Portuguese Water Dog, Giant Schnauzer, and certain terriers are all hypoallergenic, as are many smaller dogs such as various poodles, Maltese, and something called a Xoloitzcuintli. We promise that’s a real dog and not just our resident blogger falling asleep on his keyboard.

You shouldn’t have to give up the companionship of a loving dog or cat just because you have some allergies. With these simple tips, you don’t have to.