Ask TreeHugger: Pets and Allergies

Question: Do you have any advice on reducing pet hair and dander (in addition to vacuuming) in a home where people suffer from allergies?

Response: Pets allergies can be a significant problem not only for people living with the pets but also for their visitors. Short of finding your pet another home, pet allergies can be best reduced by removing exposures to pet dander, loose skin flakes, hair, urine, and saliva --the main causes of pet allergies. This basically means that you have to get rid of all pet produced allergens (or allergy-causing pet products) -- a difficult and if not impossible task, especially for cats, which have particularly "sticky" dander.

The reason that it is so difficult to get rid of all pet allergens is that pets produce these allergens constantly and that once produced, these allergens (especially from cats) can be carried everywhere. As a result, your house can only be kept clean of pet allergens if you clean your home constantly.The best and most feasible way for you to do so will be to install a whole house air cleaner or several portable air cleaners (http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/02/ask_treehugger_1.php). In addition, you will need to clean your furniture and surfaces (especially cloth surfaces) using a vacuum cleaner with HEPA bags. [HEPA bags in your vacuum cleaner will make sure that any dust picked up by your vacuum cleaner stays in your vacuum cleaner.]

These cleaning methods should be accompanied by other ways to minimize your exposures to pet allergens, including frequent hand washing (especially after touching your pets), keeping your pets off the furniture, installing blinds instead of curtains, and keeping your pets outside as much as possible. Also, you should keep pets outside of rooms in which you or the allergic person spends a lot of time, such as bedrooms. You should keep in mind, however, that pet allergens will still get inside these rooms (especially if you have cats), as the pet allergens will be brought into the rooms through your clothes, shoes, bags, and other items that travel room to room. I know that many of these potential solutions are challenging and at least in my house seemingly impossible. But, following these suggestions as much as you can should help to minimize pet allergies.

Previous Ask Treehugger columns can be found here.

Helen Suh MacIntosh is a professor in environmental health at Harvard University and studies how pollution behaves in the environment and how it affects people's health. Please keep in mind that her answers are just her interpretation of available information and should not be taken as the only viewpoint or solution to a problem. Use this column at your own risk. Having said this, please feel free to post any of your environmental health questions to helen@treehugger.com (please use a descriptive email subject line and mention if you want to remain anonymous or not).

Tags: Pets

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