Animal Dander Allergy

Animal danders are major indoor allergens, capable of causing nasal, bronchial and skin allergy symptoms. Decreasing exposure to animal allergens is an important component of allergy treatment.

What are animal allergens?

Cats, dogs and other mammals produce proteins in their skin that can become airborne and cause allergic symptoms. Because of their very small size (much smaller than pollen grains or dust mite particles) these particles remain suspended in the air for long periods of time. It is not the hair of the animal, but rather the dander produced by the skin, that causes the allergic reaction. Even a non-shedding pet produces dander, so the sad truth is that there is no such thing as a non-allergenic breed of cat or dog. However, it is true that some individual cats or dogs produce more allergenic dander than other individual cats or dogs.

Where are animal allergens found?

Animal allergen levels are highest in homes where pets are present. What is surprising, however, is that these allergens are also found (in lesser amounts) in places–such as schools and workplaces–where pets have never been present, having been brought there on the clothing of pet owners. Dander allergens are sticky, and dander in soft materials, such as carpets, mattresses, upholstered furniture and clothing, can persist for long periods of time. Unless special steps are taken, pet dander can remain in a home for up to six months after the pet has been removed.

What can be done to decrease exposure to animal dander allergens?

The medically best solution is the most emotionally difficult: finding a new home for the pet. Although this is a decision that only you and your family can make, the fact is that there is no other action that will as dramatically, effectively and safely eliminate the symptoms of pet allergy. If you are able to remove the pet, the steps noted below will hasten the clearing of residual pet allergen.

If you can not or will not remove the pet, the following steps will decrease the level of exposure somewhat. Whether or not they will be sufficient to relieve symptoms will depend on the severity of the allergy.

Start with the Bedroom

  1. Keep the pet out of the patient's bedroom at all times.

  2. Encase the pillow, mattress and box spring in allergen-proof covers, to prevent previously accumulated dander from becoming airborne and being inhaled. [Not all encasings sold today will block animal allergen. Verify that the encasing blocks dander as well as mite allergens before purchasing.]

  3. Wash all bedding including blankets repeatedly, or replace.

  4. Remove the bedroom carpet, if possible.

Clean Your Home

  1. Vacuum your carpet with a vacuum cleaner that traps the very small dander allergens. This generally requires the use of a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter.

  2. Confine the pet to a small area that is closed off from the rest of the house, ideally one with a wipeable floor.

  3. Minimize direct contact with the pet, and wash hands after touching it. Do not sit on furniture that the pet ever occupies.

  4. Bathe the pet twice weekly to temporarily remove allergen from its skin.

Control Your Air

  1. Open windows to allow an exchange of air through the house, so that airborne dander allergen can escape. (This may be counterproductive, however, if the patient is also pollen-allergic.)

  2. With windows closed, HEPA air cleaners can remove significant amounts of animal allergen. Air cleaners are more effective at removing animal allergen than dust mite allergen, since the much smaller and lighter dander allergens are always in the air, and thus subject to the filtering effect of the air cleaner.

The following steps are of questionable benefit, and we can not recommend them based on current information:

  • Despite claims to the contrary, there is no evidence that certain breeds of dogs or cats are less allergenic than others.

  • Products claiming to remove cat or dog allergen from the skin of the pet have not been shown to be more effective than ordinary washing.

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