The logical treatment for a proven pet allergy is to give away the pet. Since this is an unacceptable solution for many people, some commonsense measures can prove very helpful for reducing symptoms even if Fido stays.
The first thing you can do is keep your pet out of the bedroom. Since most people spend the majority of their time at home in the bedroom, it makes good sense to banish your pet from that room in order to reduce your exposure to allergens. It has been estimated that doing so will result in a thousandfold decrease in exposure. The same logic applies to any other room in the house where you spend a good deal of your time, such as a study.
Once you have placed your bedroom off-limits, you should also remove all contaminated carpeting and bedding; these items are chock-full of allergens and can remain so long after your pet has been exiled from the room. A simple cleaning or vacuuming is not recommended, however. For one thing, not enough allergens are removed that way, and for another, you may make matters worse by stirring things up and spewing more allergens into the air. If you can, it is best to replace all fabrics and carpets with brand-new ones. Room air cleaners, either the electrostatic variety or the HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Accumulator) filters, may also be useful. Finally, a word of warning is in order: If you relent, even once, and let your pet back into the room, you may defeat all your good, hard work.
There is one useful preventive measure that unfortunately runs contrary to environmental protection and energy efficiency recommendations, namely, deinsulating your home. Well-insulated homes may contain as much as five times the amount of pet allergens as their more poorly insulated counterparts, even when such homes use HEPA filters on the furnaces. If you are lucky enough to have a backyard, however, you can let your pet roam outside as much as possible when you are at home (weather permitting, of course). And if weather conditions in your area are moderate for a good part of the year, you may even consider building separate living quarters for your pooch outdoors. This will also lower your exposure to allergens.
Another important measure is to bathe your pet frequently. This rids the fur of allergens as well as other possible troublemakers such as pollens. Bathing has recently been found to be particularly important in dealing with cat allergies. One of the most important allergens produced by cats is a sticky protein substance known as Fel dl, which is secreted by their oil glands. Monthly bathing has been found to reduce and in many cases entirely halt production of this protein.
The cleaning routine is fairly simple, and after only one or two times, most cats become quite used to it, especially if you start them when they are kittens. Begin by placing your cat in a basin of warm water. Next, slowly pour plain tap water (or distilled water, if you prefer) over your pet; rub the fur gently as you pour the water. Be especially careful to avoid getting it into the animal's eyes and ears. You may prefer to use cotton balls to protect the ears. For optimal results, you must repeat the cleaning procedure several times. When you have finished, press as much of the water from the fur as possible (it contains the Fel dl), and then towel-dry thoroughly. Do not blow-dry! Performing this procedure monthly for several months will result in a dramatic decrease or complete cessation of allergen production (spelling relief from your symptoms) and will in no way harm your pet.
Regular brushing and grooming is another important measure. It almost goes without saying that the pet should not be brushed indoors, and if you are the allergic one in the family, have someone else do the brushing, if possible. When that is not possible, you may find air filter masks and protective clothing helpful for reducing exposure. And if your clothing becomes contaminated by contact with the pet, change as soon as possible and launder thoroughly. This is also good advice following a visit to a neighbor's home where there is a pet.
The mainstays of therapy are similar to those used to treat other causes of perennial allergic rhinitis such as dust, mite, and mold allergies. Treatments include the use of a wide variety of antihistamines, nasal and oral corticosteroid drugs, and cromolyn sodium. When all else fails, short of getting rid of your beloved pet, you may consider allergy shots or immunotherapy (see Appendix B). Some recent studies have indicated that these shots, while more effective if initiated before exposure to a pet, may be helpful in reducing the severity of symptoms. To date they have proven of the greatest value in lessening flare-ups in individuals who are subject to occasional unavoidable social contact with pets. Nevertheless, they are certainly worth exploring when Fido is too lovable to part with and animal allergen exposure cannot be otherwise effectively reduced.