Many people are unaware that exposing an allergy to a pet can be life threatening. Pets should not be a vital part of family life where there is a history of asthma or hay fever they simply are not a good idea.

As a canine behaviourist my interest is in both human and pet behaviour.
Anything that has an effect on the relationship will have an effect on behaviour. As an asthmatic I am always interested in reports from the National Asthma Campaign and British Lung Foundation both of who are unsympathetic towards the pets before people brigade.

Myths abound about breeds of cats and dogs and even horses that are supposedly safe. Many say that poodles will not affect you because they are woolly rather than hairy. It is not the hair that causes the problem it is the allergens and enzymes secreted on to the animal’s skin and into its saliva that causes the reactions.

If you move into a house where a cat or dog has spread dander it can take up to two years to clear the allergens. They stick to walls and are in the carpets and soft furnishings.

If you suffer any form of allergy then you should consider removing the pet from the home. If this cannot be done then confine the dog or cat to one room. The kitchen is best because it has no soft furnishings. Some people are so allergic that they have only to walk past a cat to set off an asthma attack. The National Asthma Campaign report that they now know that if babies who have inherited the tendency to develop allergic reactions are exposed to cats in the first few months of life, 80 per cent will develop the allergy later on. The immune system has been primed and you might start to see wheezing when the child is about two.

If someone wishes to own a dog so much that they are willing to “give it a try” (which I’m not convinced is fair to the animal or the allergy sufferer), I would recommend some preliminary steps to making it as successful as possible. First – a visit to an allergist, to be tested and see how clinically severe the allergy is. Second, begin drugs therapy and immunotherapy; in
order to attempt to prevent reactions. Third – install air filtration in the home. Fourth – realise the practical limitations of interaction with the dog.

I adore my dogs but as an asthmatic I don’t snuggle them much, I don’t bury my face into them, like many owners I know. Voice commands rather than “hands on” makes them more controllable. I keep my hands off them 99% of the time. I usually limit the petting to their heads, where there is a little less saliva. Since they are unable to lick the top of their own head I do have them in the house, but my direct physical interaction is minimal and they must lay on “their” beds. I always wash my hands after handling pets.

I would not recommend a cat or dog for an allergic person, whose life would certainly be more uncomfortable by owning pets. I go into pet ownership with my eyes open and would recommend that others do the same.

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