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George and Wheezy: Reacting to Pet Allergies

By Krista Elliott

I got back to my house this morning after dropping the kids off at school and daycare, and there, sitting on my step, was a small visitor. A petite black-and-white tuxedo cat had come to call, and was utterly delighted to see me. Twining about my legs, purring and chirping with joy, he was the most adorable cat I had seen in a long time, and clearly wanted to come inside.

He had no collar. 

My heart wanted to scoop him up, take him into the house, and pet him and squeeze him and call him George. My eyes and respiratory system, however, had other ideas. Within 30 seconds of chatting with the enchanting little fellow, my eyes were already starting to itch, and I could feel a tightness in my lungs that signaled the onset of some serious wheezing ahead. 

So, I asked around and as it turns out, the small cat belongs to a neighbor and had escaped. So he's safe back at his house. But even if he had been looking for a home, it wouldn't have been at our house. Because of my allergies.

George and Wheezy

So what are pet allergies, and what causes them? 

Despite popular belief, people aren't allergic to pet hair. So eschewing a long-haired, shedding cat (or dog) breed in favor of a short-haired or hairless one is probably not going to make much of a difference. Instead, what triggers the allergy is the animal's dander, saliva and urine.

Some people can be around this stuff and not bat an eye. Others? Well, as it turns out, they have an immune system that's just a wee bit touchy. So their body treats animal allergens like harmful foreign invaders like bacteria or viruses, and attempt to flush it out via watering eyes and sneezing. This is done via the body's histamines, which WebMD charmingly describes as "bouncers at a club."

By starting the process of making you sneeze, tear up, or itch, histamines do everything possible to rid your body of whatever it deems a threatening substance. And in people with pet allergies, the histamines are a little bit power-crazy, kicking out perfectly innocent pet dander over a case of mistaken identity. 

Simmer your Histamines, Lady

So, if I had wanted to allow my heart to overrule my draconian histamines, what steps could I have taken to tame my symptoms? There are a few different ways to calm pet allergies for people who can't avoid living with (or visiting) pets: 

  • Keep pet-free zones in the house. Keeping your cats/dogs out of your bedroom is wise. 
  • Make sure to wash your hands well after petting your cat or dog or taking care of its bathroom needs.
  • Antihistamines or allergy shots can reduce symptoms.
  • Bathing your pet often can reduce the amount of dander that gets everywhere. 

Having allergies doesn't have to preclude you from enjoying the company of furry friends. With a few precautions, you can have a cuddle and still breathe easy. And if George ever comes back for another visit, I'll be happy to hang out with him ... for a little while, anyway. 

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