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When your pet makes you sneeze

By Louis Neipris, MD
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Almost seven in 10 American homes have one or more pets. But 10 million of these pet owners are allergic to their beloved cat or dog. Are you one of them?

Many pet owners put up with allergies or even asthma attacks triggered by their beloved pets. Pets shed dander, or skin flakes. When dander becomes airborne, it can trigger an allergic reaction or asthma attack in some people. But there are things you can do to help manage allergies and asthma triggered by pets.

Remove the pet or control the allergens
Asthma is potentially life-threatening, and sometimes you have to give up your pet to protect your health. Finding a new home for your pet can be tough, but it is the best way of removing pet allergens from the home if you have asthma attacks or severe allergic reactions to your pet.

But many people with less severe allergies prefer to keep their pet and try to get rid of pet allergens in other ways. This may include thorough cleanings or the use of an air filter. There is conflicting evidence about whether you can reduce the amount of pet allergen in the home, still keep your pet and help control asthma and allergic reactions.

Talk to your doctor to find out what is best for you. You may come up with a compromise. If so, try out some of these tips to help cope with your pet allergies.

  • Ban pets from the bedroom. Keeping pets outside the bedroom can reduce needless suffering since people spend about a third of each day in this room.
  • Clean the air. Pet dander is buoyant and floats freely, so you can use electrostatic or HEPA air cleaners to remove unwanted allergenic particles, especially cat dander. It may take six months after the pet has been removed to completely rid the home of cat dander.
  • Close but not too close. Avoid hugging or kissing pets.
  • Stay away from the litter box. Don’t let people with allergies handle litter boxes. Place the boxes away from areas of air filtration intake vents in homes with central heating and air-conditioning.
  • Wash up! Wash your hands after handling or touching a pet. This will help avoid spreading the dander.
  • Cover up. Consider placing plastic covers on the couch or other upholstered furniture. Pet allergens may be found where the pet sleeps or rests.
  • Keep pets clean. Wash your pet weekly. Have a non-allergic person brush the pet regularly, outside of your home.


  • Kilburn S, Lasserson TJ, McKean M. Pet allergen control measures for allergic asthma in children and adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2008, Issue 4. Art. No.: CD002989. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD002989.
  • American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Animal Allergens Accessed: 10/17/2008
  • NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Cat exposure increases asthma risk for children of asthmatic mothers. Accessed: 10/17/2008

View the original When your pet makes you sneeze article on myOptumHealth.com


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