Pet Dander's Effect on Air Quality and Asthma

Pet dander, tiny pieces of skin shed by dogs, cats, and other animals with feathers or fur, is one of the most powerful and pervasive (i.e., it can be found everywhere, including homes without pets, places of work, libraries, hospitals, etc.) allergens known to man. It is these “allergens” (things that trigger allergic reactions and breathing problems in susceptible individuals) that can bring about medical complications, including asthma. So tiny that they are often undetectable to the naked eye and can end up inside the respiratory tract.

Pet dander greatly affects air quality inside the home but it is only one of several biological pollutants found almost everywhere. Pets also emit allergy-producing proteins through their saliva, feces, sweat, and urine. The cumulative effect of these plus other contaminants (pollen, cigarette smoke, dust mites, lead, etc.), in fact, create conditions inside the home that are often more toxic than conditions found outdoors.

Some alarming figures that may put the problem in better focus are the facts that about 15% of all Americans are allergic to dogs or cats; about 1/3 of people diagnosed as having a pet allergy remain pet owners anyway; most of the people advised by physicians to give up a pet refuse to do so; there are more than 100 million pets in the US; about 50% of people with pet allergies fail to exhibit symptoms right away—actually, it may take years for any such signs; pet dander is very sticky and clings to many things; most people spend 90% of their time indoors; and, most importantly, pet allergies can be mild or life-threatening.

Some of the symptoms to watch out for include coughing, dizziness, lethargy, fever, watery eyes, sneezing, shortness of breath, and digestive problems. The people most susceptible are children, older folks, and persons with general allergies or breathing problems and diseases.

Pet dander may contribute to the development of asthma or may worsen the symptoms of people who develop asthma for other reasons. As these small particles invade the body, they trigger defensive reactions from the immune system. This is what is generally referred to as an “allergic attack.” Air ways may become inflamed and blocked, thus greatly restricting air flow, thus leading to asthmatic conditions.

The best possible solution is the removal of pets (although it may take months to get rid of the effects of the lingering dander) but, if that is not feasible, the following solutions should be seriously considered:

  • Regularly vacuum (with HEPA filters) carpets, furniture, and upholstery where dander may accumulate
  • Use allergen-protecting bedding encasements
  • Avoid furnishings that accumulate dander; deny pets access to furniture
  • Wash pets and their bedding often; brush them outside to reduce dander spreading
  • Consult the advice of an allergist, if possible
  • Wash your hands after playing with pets
  • Wear gloves/mask if grooming pets
  • Keep litter boxes away from air vents
  • Change and wash clothes that come in contact with pets
  • Change air filters often if you have pets
  • Keep pets out of the bedroom
  • Wash stuffed animals regularly
  • Clean hard surfaces (including walls) to prevent dander/dust buildup
  • Keep windows closed to prevent allergens coming in from the outside
  • Place door mats at each door; ask people to wipe shoes off well on them; you may also ask that people remove their shoes when coming in (to prevent their bringing allergens in)
  • Use strong air cleaners in every room
  • Get pets without feathers or fur (such as fish), if possible
  • Seek immunotherapy (allergy shots, sprays, and pills) treatment, if medically feasible

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