It's estimated that between 10% and 20% of people are allergic to animals, and it's not hair or fur that's the real problem. Instead, people are commonly allergic to the dander -- flakes of dead skin (pretty much the animal equivalent of dandruff), which can irritate eyes, trigger sneezing and cause breathing problems - particularly for people with asthma.
So why does this happen? People with allergies have oversensitive immune systems and their bodies often overreact to harmless substances like dander and saliva from our pets, and their bodies attack it in the same way as harmful bacteria or viruses. So the sneezing and watery eyes that our furry friends can cause are simply the side effects of the body's attempt to get rid of the allergen.
Antihistamines (a common hayfever remedy) are a good way to minimize the impact of being around four-legged furries if you're allergic, but what else can you as an owner do to make your friends as comfortable as possible? Here's our top three tips:
1. Vacuum, dust and CLEAN!
Let's face it, if you have pets - it's practically impossible to keep your home pet-hair free. But if there's pet hair around, there's going to be dander. A quick vacuum of the essentials - carpets, rugs, sofas and chairs will help reduce the amount of pet-generated allergens in your home, and if you're expecting visitors over - you should probably do it anyway! A HEPA filter in your vacuum cleaner (which stands for high-efficiency particulate absorption) can also dramatically help as this means many more irritating particles are captured - making your home much more allergen free.
Removable fabrics that can be washed at a high-temperature - or ideally steam-cleaned are also a good-call. Cotton-covered furniture is the smartest choice, and washable blinds or shades make good window treatments.
And for your wooden floors, walls and hard surfaces, give them a good once-over with floor wipes and anti-bac surface wipes to capture any hair and dander and kill off any harmful bacteria at the same time.
2. Feed your pets the right stuff
The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) suggests that animals that eat a balanced diet will have healthier skin, and therefore create less dander. Low-quality pet foods, or unbalanced home-made diets can often lack the essential nutrients to maintain a healthy skin and coat, so it may be worth spending a little more, or supplementing your pet's diet to keep them in tip-top condition. Look out for foods that contain omega-6 fatty acids, which are great for replacing essential oils in your pet's skin.
3. Bathe and Groom!
Brushing and combing your pet regularly (outside if possible) gets rid of loose fur and the dastardly dander, and bathing your pet regularly can help keep on top of things - but this can be a bit of a pain, especially if you've got a water-hating cat or a dog who hates bathtimes. Instead - or in addition to - try pet grooming wipes. Available from most pet stores, these specially formulated moist wipes often contain ingredients such as Aloe Vera, which help keep skin conditioned, and help remove dander and loose hairs as part of the grooming process - plus it's quite nice to do!