Anybody who visits this site regularly knows that I’m very much a “dog person,” not all that crazy about adult humans, and even less fond of children. I make an exception for my nephew, Owen, whom I’ve learned to tolerate. I also make an exception for the neighbor kid who lives about a mile-and-a-half down the road from me. Her name is Megan, she is eight years old, and I tolerate her because Janice and Leroy love her.
Regular visitors also know that I love to tell stories. This post is not going to be an exception to the rule.
Yesterday, Megan came to visit. I knew immediately that something was wrong, because she just dropped her bike in the driveway instead of standing it up against the wall of my garden shed the way she usually does. Then she burst into the house without knocking, which is very unusual for this ordinarily polite child.
Once inside, she grabbed Janice, who is now heavily pregnant, buried her face in Janice’s neck and burst into sobs. What with all the tears and snot, I was thinking maybe I should build an ark; this wasn’t looking good!
So I’m thinking, “Oh crap, what do I have to deal with here?” And being the sensitive soul that I am, I said “Megan, get a grip; stop squalling, and tell me what’s wrong!”
She wrapped her arms around me, and I managed to stifle my very natural (to me, anyway) urge to say, “Get off me!” in favor of “Okay, Megan, settle down and tell your buddy Ash what’s going on.”
What she said just ripped my nasty little pea-sized heart in two.
“Ash,” she said, “Mama says we have to give BooBoo away!”
BooBoo is a nice dog. He’s some sort of mix; I’d say there’s a bit of Lab in him, and maybe some German Shepherd, although no one really knows BooBoo’s lineage for sure. There have never been any temperament issues with BooBoo, so, as you might expect, my next question was “How come?”
I passed Megan a tissue and waited for her reply. And that’s when my heart got torn.
“Mama says I’m ’lergic to his doodle!”
Well, “’lergic” wasn’t hard to decipher, but what the heck did she mean by “doodle”? I’ve used the term myself, tongue-in-cheek, of course. Leroy’s “doodle” is what got Janice pregnant.
So, obviously, I had to ask a few questions. Finally, I was able to determine that what Megan’s mother had actually communicated to her daughter was that Megan was allergic to BooBoo’s dander.
This type of allergy is actually pretty common. In fact, studies have suggested that about 15% of Americans suffer from pet-related allergies. Studies also show that even though doctors typically advise getting rid of the pet, only about 20% of affected people will actually follow that advice. 80% choose, instead, to find ways to reduce dog dander allergy symptoms.
The obvious answer is that the benefits of keeping a dog far outweigh any adverse effects. And, realistically, most people don’t have to suffer; there are a number of ways to reduce dog dander, and the allergic reactions that go hand-in-hand with exposure to it.
Sometimes, the problem isn’t even really the dander.
Dander is often named as the allergen when, in reality, it’s something else. Dogs have sebaceous glands in their skin. These glands secrete proteins that can cause allergic reactions. When the dog moves, these proteins are released into the air, and can cause you to “stuff up.”
Allergens are also contained in saliva and urine, and when they dry on the dog’s hair, anyone who is sensitive to those allergens can experience an adverse reaction.
The short answer here is that there’s no such thing. However, so-called “non-shedding” breeds may be a better choice for people who are prone to allergies.
That said, there’s also no such thing as a dog that doesn’t shed. Some breeds don’t shed much. Others will shed constantly, and although you might think this is a bad thing, it’s really not when you’re considering allergic reactions. Poodles, for instance, are often thought to be “non-shedding,” but the reality is that they shed constantly; they just don’t have those huge hair losses that happen twice a year in other breeds. So, less shedding overall means less likelihood of an allergic reaction due to intense shedding.
Sometimes, it’s really not that big of a deal. In fact, I think Megan’s mother is probably overreacting. I always thought that Megan was a bit of a “runny-nosed” kid, since I’ve hardly ever seen her when she wasn’t snuffling. That said, though, Janice and Leroy (being Boxers) are short-haired and don’t shed all that much, so chances are that her allergies aren’t all that bad when she’s around them. BooBoo, on the other hand, is long-haired and sheds out seasonally.
So, some breeds are inevitably going to cause a more serious reaction than others. Those reactions can range from minor sneezing to full-on asthma attacks, depending on the sufferer. If the person also reacts to other allergens, the problem can worsen. In fact, now that I think about it, Megan always seems a fair bit more congested in the spring, when pollen abounds.
As long as the condition isn’t life-threatening, though, there are things that can be done to reduce dog dander allergy symptoms.
This is quite simply a room in your house that you’ll designate as being “allergy-free,” meaning that the dog will not be allowed in that room. Allergy sufferers can go there when their symptoms become problematic. Ideally, you will equip the room with a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter to reduce dog dander and other allergens. You should also buy impermeable covers for any upholstered items like chairs, sofas or mattresses, so that anything that’s carried in on clothing can’t get down into the upholstery.
If you install HEPA filters in other areas of your home, this will also go a long way to reduce dog dander. A vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter bag is also a good idea. Vacuum your furniture regularly, wash furniture coverings frequently, and if you can, get rid of anything that could hold hair and dander.
What this means is, obviously, that you should get rid of your carpets. This is the absolute best way to reduce dog dander and other allergens. Trust me on this; there is no such thing as a clean carpet! It doesn’t matter how vigorously you vacuum, there are still going to be allergens trapped in the fibers and every time someone walks on the carpet, those allergens are going to be released.
Forget steam-cleaning, too; all this does is make “mud” under the surface of the carpet, and when it dries into mere dirt, all those allergens are going to come up through the fibers.
If you give your dog a bath once a week, you can actually reduce dog dander by more than 80%! Often, this is all it takes to ease the allergy symptoms.
I’m throwing this out with a huge caveat. Immunotherapy for allergies is the use of injections containing small doses of the compounds to which the sufferer is allergic The idea is that the body will be encouraged to produce antibodies that will fight the allergies. The principle is the same as it is for many perfectly safe vaccines.
If the allergies are life-threatening, immunotherapy may be the only possible course of action, but it comes with a lot of risks. For one thing, if the allergist misidentifies the substances to which the patient is allergic, immunotherapy can cause more harm than good. For another, there is always a risk of a “bad reaction” to the shots – in other words, anaphylactic shock. There can also be long-term effects.
I’m speaking to you here from personal experience. When I was a child, my parents took the advice of a well-meaning doctor and placed me on a regimen of immunotherapy for various plant allergies – what was then known as “hay fever.” Over the course of the injections, I experienced several bad reactions, one of which was nearly fatal. Then, in my adult years, I developed asthma. I’m not sure if my asthma is the result of my allergy shots, but the fact that my doctor asked me, “Did you take allergy shots when you were a kid?” might be a bit of a tip-off.
The takeaway here is, I think, allergy shots if absolutely necessary, but there are other options. If you do go with immunotherapy, you’ll probably have to take a shot weekly for at least several months, and possibly for the rest of your life. So if the condition can be controlled by means of oral antihistamines or steroid inhalers, I would submit to you that this is the better, safer option.
You know, I just hate it when people say “Assume makes an ASS out of U and Me.” From where I sit, making an assumption does nothing more nor less than allow you to come to the most reasonable conclusion based on the information at hand.
That doesn’t mean that you should jump to conclusions based on assumptions, though.
So, don’t assume that if you reduce dog dander in your home, that will make your allergic symptoms go away. Consult an allergist, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. If the allergist wants to immediately jump on the immunotherapy bandwagon, ask why he or she isn’t considering oral antihistamines or steroid inhalers. Often, you can use one or the other, or both in conjunction to get relief from your dog dander allergy symptoms.
Because of my asthma, I have to make adaptations in order to have dogs. I love Janice and Leroy, though, and can’t imagine my life without them. So, my doctor has provided me with prescriptions for Ventolin (a broncho-dilator) and Symbicort (a steroid). I use them as directed, and I am symptom-free as long as I continue to use them as directed.
Before you take the extreme measure of giving away your dog, see your doctor and find out if your condition can be controlled using medication. Also, do what you can to reduce dog dander and other allergens in your home. I really believe that re-homing your dog is hardly ever necessary.
Now, if you don’t already have a dog, but you know that you have allergies, you should probably consult with your doctor before bringing a dog into your home. If your condition is manageable, then by all means, go ahead and get a dog. If it’s hard to manage, think very carefully before you make the decision. Keep in mind, too, that a lot of the time, doctors will adopt a “knee-jerk” reaction, and simply say “No dogs” without even trying to work with you. If that seems to be the case, consult another doctorif you can.
The last thing you want to do is get a dog that you really, really can’t have, and then subject him to being re-homed.
Once I got Megan’s snot under control, and Janice’s affectionate nature went a long way to stopping the crying, we talked about her situation. I promised her that I would talk to her mother and see if maybe there could be ways of dealing with Megan’s allergies that wouldn’t involve re-homing BooBoo.
Then, she looked at this person who doesn’t much like kids and said, “But Ash, if Mama really does give BooBoo away, can I still come and visit Janice and Leroy? I just loves dogs!”
Well, I’m not one to stand between parents and the way they want to raise their kids, but I went with what that pea-sized heart of mine told me what to do.
I said, “Yes. And me too!”