Pet allergies used to be attributed to fur, but we now know that these conditions stem from exposure to pet dander.
What is pet dander? Dander consists of tiny flakes of skin, sloughed off naturally by the animal, that cling to floors, bedding, ductwork and other surfaces of your home.
These tiny flakes of skin come from many animals, including dogs, cats, rodents and birds. These flakes of skin are easily made airborne and can also cling stubbornly to fabric upholstery in the home.
Dander Management: Shampoo & Wipes
Dog dander shampoo and cat dander wipes designed for direct application on the pet may capture some active dander before it becomes airborne or hits the carpet or sofa.
However, these products may irritate the skin, resulting in more dander.
Pogi’s Grooming Wipes
Experts with AnimalPlanet recommend weekly bathing with a mild shampoo and lukewarm water. Stronger shampoos will not result in the removal of more dander; in fact, it may cause irritated skin and result in more dander.
Natural Oatmeal Dog-Shampoo and Conditioner
Water temperature is critical. Hot water, particularly for dogs, results in increased blood flow and itchy skin.
Be prepared for the process to get messy, particularly if you do it in your own tub.
If a weekly trip to the groomer works better with your schedule, budget and bathing options, consider taking your dog out for non-grooming adventures so the car doesn’t become a haven for hostility or anxiety.
If you plan to use a cat dander shampoo for your feline friend:
1) Start young. Cats generally don’t care for baths, and convincing your adult cat to make this behavioral change may be a challenge.
2) Encourage water-based play by tossing an ice cube in their water dish. Many cats will happily play with an ice cube, increasing their familiarity with water.
3) Invest in good gauntlet gloves, preferably with high quality gripping features. You’ll need to grip your cat safely when they’re soapy and wet, and if they’re sliding out of your grasp, you may unintentionally injure your cat. Gauntlet gloves can also protect you from hind claw scratches.
Dander Management: Pet Diet
Talk to your vet about the best diet for dander reduction, switch your pet slowly and monitor their skin condition.
If your pet develops an allergic response or a sensitivity to their food, it can trigger scratching and an accelerated dander output.
Highly stressful situations can also increase skin stimulation and thus dander production.
Make changes slowly and gently, and invest in good quality pet food. An automatic pet feeder can also help reduce the guess work for timing and portion sizes to keep things consistent.
Dander Management: Hygiene
If you’ve got a dog or cat in the house, you’ve got dander in the air and on many surfaces.
However, you can make some cleaning adjustments to your weekly to-do list that can reduce the dander load.
1) HEPA filters offer great protection when used in combination.
Adding a HEPA filter to your furnace will capture more dust, but it’s barely a start when trying to capture dander.
For this filter to capture animal dander, you’d need to get the dander airborne high enough to get caught in the air return and many of these are near the ceiling.
You’ll have more success with a vacuum cleaner with HEPA filtration. These filters need consistent cleaning and often have to be dried after for maximum capture.
Review your owner’s manual on your vacuum cleaner and make sure you’re not working at cross purposes with your dander removal desires.
2) Pet dander spray can often help to capture and weight down pet dander.
Your dusting and vacuuming skills will need to be put to the test once you’ve encapsulated the pet dander, however.
3) When dusting, use an electrostatically charged dusting cloth rather than a feather duster or cloth.
Charged dusting cloths have a much higher pickup rate and don’t kick a lot of dander back in the air.
You can also add HEPA filtration material to the vents of your house.
These generally come in sheets that you can cut to custom fit. Add them first to the vents in bedrooms of the severely allergic, and then add to the vents in common areas.
Please note that you will need to put together a changing schedule for replacing this filter media.
Dander Management: Changing Up Your Home
It can’t be overstated that nearly all mammals and many birds produce dander. To protect those who suffer with severe allergies, you must keep pets away from their sleeping areas.
Some parents have had very good luck adding a screen door inside their home to protect their asthmatic child from a visiting cat.
Does it block dander? No. Does it reduce the isolation of the child? Absolutely.
An additional change you might consider is getting rid of your carpet. This can be an expensive and challenging process, so if possible, only do this as the carpet needs replaced.
Rather than getting more wall to wall carpet put down, consider luxury vinyl, hardwood or ceramic. Hard surfaces are much easier to clean and the dander won’t cling to smooth flooring as it does with carpet fibers.
Dander Management: Pet Choice
The best way to remove pet dander from home is not to invite it in. There are many dog breeds such as the Schnauzer that produce very little dander.
Those with allergies to dogs and cats might also consider breeds such as the Balinese cat, which produces less of the protein that can trigger allergies in humans.
When searching for a new pet, always take the allergic person along to interact with the pet.
If you’re working with a breeder, the seller should have a spot where your new potential pet and your severely allergic household member can meet up and get to know each other.
For those who prefer rescue pets, consider arranging a meet-up away from the stress of the shelter. And, of course, never bring a new pet into your home without setting up a meet and greet to determine the level of allergic response.
Allergies can come and go and life events can increase or lessen the severity. For example, many women experience radical changes in their allergic responses after delivery.
Pay careful attention to your cleaning practices, use advanced filtration tools, and keep your pets away from sleeping areas of the severely allergic.