What to do about my partner who's allergic to my pets?

Originally Published: January 23, 2004 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: May 5, 2008
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Hi Alice,

After all these years, I've finally met The One. He's wonderful, he's kind, he's perfect, he's... he's allergic to my dogs.

My mother (who apparently approves of him!) says that there are pills that one can take for allergies to pets. I've searched and can't find anything other than OTC antihistamines and snake oil.

His symptoms are mild mucous membrane irritation; however, I wouldn't ask him to live with that or with the side effects that go with antihistamines. Are there other alternatives we don't know about?

Dear Reader,

Allergies to pets are relatively common; at least 15 percent of all people have these frustrating allergies. Allergic symptoms can range from annoying itching, sneezing, and nasal congestion, to full-fledged severe asthma attacks, after close exposure to a particular animal.

There are a number of pet-allergy myths that are important to know about and dispel. For example, while most people think that the hair or fur on a pet is the problem, the substance (called the allergen) that triggers symptoms of allergy is actually found in the pet's saliva, urine, and in the tiny, microscopic skin flakes (dander) that are constantly being shed. Also, contrary to popular belief, there are no non-allergenic pets — some people may be more or less allergic to particular breeds, but no breed is "hypoallergenic." Whether the pet has fur or hair, or whether the length of hair/fur is short or long, all pets have the potential for causing allergies in susceptible individuals. Another myth is that there exists a shampoo, medicine, or other product that can be applied to your pet to make it hypoallergenic. Unfortunately, all of these remedies have been discredited in research studies.

Although some people with pet allergies can't safely have a pet in the house, others with more mild symptoms may be able to tolerate a pet if they follow certain precautions. It's important to know that every individual reacts differently and that a person's allergic response to a pet may change over the years.

Here are some tips for living with both a pet and pet allergies:

  • Never allow the pet into the bedroom; make that a pet-free zone. Keep the bedroom door closed at all times.
  • Cover mattresses and pillows with plastic covers.
  • Restrict the pet to only one or two rooms, depending on the size of your living space, so that the allergic person has some safe havens in the home.
  • Use air purifiers throughout the house, preferably those with HEPA filters that are most effective at cleaning the air of allergens.
  • Check into whether your heating and/or air conditioning systems can be fitted with filters.
  • Vacuum extremely regularly, and install a microfilter bag in your vacuum cleaner to trap allergens.
  • Wet mop all linoleum and hard wood floors very regularly.
  • Consider severely limiting or avoiding carpeting throughout the house, since the carpet fibers can harbor pet allergens.
  • Wash and groom your pet at least weekly.

It's probably worth going with your boyfriend to an allergy specialist, who may be able to help you both understand the potential risks of your boyfriend living with a pet to which he's allergic. Perhaps allergy testing will help reveal how severe his allergy is.

Seeing an allergy specialist can be particularly helpful if the above listed measures are inadequate in managing your boyfriend's uncomfortable pet allergy symptoms. The two of you can voice your concerns regarding antihistamines and the allergy specialist will be able to address your concerns and provide information, including possible treatment options. Your boyfriend also may reconsider trying over-the-counter or prescription antihistamine medications that treat allergic symptoms. Everyone reacts differently to these, so, with the help of an allergy specialist, he may have to try several to find one that works well with as few side effects (such as drowsiness) as possible. These medications are available as pills, nose sprays, and eye drops. Allergy shots can also be used to decrease (but not eliminate) the allergic response, but they have to be given weekly for several months and then monthly after that. The full series of allergy shots may take 3 to 4 years to complete, but it may not take that long for your boyfriend to be more comfortable.

Good luck with Mr. Right, and with your beloved dogs,

Alice