Reduce Animal-Related Allergens in the Home

Cats, dogs, birds ... people enjoy the companionship and unconditional love that pets provide. But sharing a living space with a pet takes a measure of patience. That's because pets can often contribute to indoor air pollution that triggers allergies in many individuals. From animal fur and dander to microscopic parasites, having a pet means you'll have to work a little harder to keep your home clean.

People often mistake animal fur for the cause of their allergies. However, fur is not the culprit. Dander that collects on fur, feathers and saliva from some pets can cause allergic reactions. Pets that venture outdoors also can track in substances that can cause allergic reactions or other irritations. For example, a cat that loves to hide in the flower garden may carry in extra pollen. A dog may carry in chemicals from lawns on his paws.

Animal allergens are sticky and tend to adhere to furniture and other surfaces for some time. Coming in contact with these substances can trigger a reaction. You'll have to weigh your comfort level against the value of keeping a pet you might be allergic to. Fifteen to 30 percent of people with allergies have allergic reactions to cats and dogs.

If you decide to remain a pet owner, here are steps you can take to minimize the effect of allergies.

* Keep surfaces throughout the home clean and clear of clutter.

* Choose bare floors or low-pile carpets that can be frequently cleaned.

* Frequently launder a pet's favorite furniture.

* Consider adding a whole-house air filter to a forced air heating/cooling system. Run it frequently to remove more particles from the air.

* Keep pets out of the bedrooms where dander can settle on linens.

* Place filters on air intake vents to limit the amount of allergens sucked into the HVAC system.

* Wash and brush the pet frequently to remove dander and other allergens. Brushing a pet outdoors can limit the amount of fur inside.

* When pets have been outdoors, wipe down their coat and paws to limit the amount of foreign substances brought into the house.

* Change bird or small animal cages frequently to reduce the buildup of animal feces and mites.

* Professional grooming and routine veterinary visits can help catch fleas, ticks, mites, or other parasites before they spread in a home.

* Cats are generally responsible for more pet-related allergies than dogs. Therefore, if you are very allergic, you may want to consider a canine companion.

* Pets that do not cause allergies are nonexistent. Shorter-haired animals shed more and collect less dander. Think about adopting one with shorter hair and less drooling.

* Play with pets outside. Playing with pets stirs up a lot of dander, so it is better to have it in the outside air than in your home.

* Dust with a wet cloth. Never dry-dust as it only serves to stir up the dander and increase your chances of breathing it in.

* Keep pet excrement away from air intakes. This includes litter boxes.

* Invest in a HEPA vacuum cleaner.

* If pet allergies are a real problem, consider an aquatic pet or a lizard. Dander won't be an issue.

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