My husband’s allergies to our dogs were mild until last year. Now he has developed asthma and has a twice-daily routine of medication and an inhaler.
Allergies. They’re the bane of people who love pets but develop a runny nose, itchy throat and watery eyes in their presence – or worse, coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing.
It’s one thing to know from childhood that you’re allergic to dogs, cats or other animals, but when allergies develop later in life, after you’ve built a relationship with members of the animal kingdom, it’s hard to give them up.
The good news is that in many cases, you don’t have to. Medication and environmental changes can help you and your pet live comfortably together. Here are some ways to keep allergy symptoms at bay.
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▪ Bathe your pet frequently. It’s not fur or hair that causes allergies, but saliva, urine and dander (microscopic dead skin cells). These substances contain proteins that cause allergic reactions, and frequent bathing helps to remove them from fur.
▪ Shower, wash your hair and change your clothes after roughhousing with your dog or cuddling your cat.
▪ Keep pets off the bed or out of the bedroom entirely. Reducing the presence of allergens in your sleeping area will help to ensure a good night’s rest.
▪ Clean often. Use HEPA air purifiers and filtering products. Use a double or microfilter bag in your vacuum.
▪ Redecorate. If possible, replace carpeting with hard flooring such as wood or tile. Limit floor coverings to machine-washable throw rugs (and use hot water on them). If you must have carpet, choose one with a low pile, and steam-clean it often. Steam-clean furniture as well. Declutter your home. The fewer items that collect allergens, the better.
▪ Avoid being with your pet in small, enclosed areas such as veterinary exam rooms.
▪ Consider the type and size of pet. It’s just common sense that a small dog produces less allergens than a big one, but did you know that female cats produce fewer allergens than males?
▪ Consult a board-certified allergist. In the bad old days, allergists used to recommend getting rid of pets, but now most of them recognize the importance of the human-animal bond and will help you develop a treatment plan to manage your symptoms. For many people, immunotherapy (allergy shots) is an effective long-term treatment.
Q: My cat doesn’t seem very hungry anymore. What could be causing her loss of appetite?
Anonymous, via email
A: All of us worry when our pets don’t eat. That’s especially true if their normal habit is to chow down with gusto. Pets who don’t eat lose energy, don’t feel good and can develop serious metabolic problems if it goes on for very long.
A lack of appetite can have many causes. It’s often the first sign of illness or, in some cases, the only sign. Cats, as you probably know, are masters at hiding sickness, and not eating may be the only clue they give. So a noticable change in appetite is one of the things you should let your veterinarian know about right away.
Appetite loss can also be a side effect of certain medications or pain from a condition such as dental disease, a mass in the mouth or inflammation of the jaw muscles that pets use to chew. Cats in renal failure often have decreased appetite. Sometimes pets simply don’t like the way their food tastes. Cats are notorious for developing aversions to certain foods.
A poor sense of smell can affect appetite. You’ve probably experienced that when you’ve had a bad cold. If your cat is getting on in years, her sense of smell may not be as good as it used to be. Or she may have an upper respiratory infection that is affecting her ability to smell.
Never assume that your cat will eat when she’s hungry. Just two or three days of not eating can cause your cat – especially if she is overweight or stressed for some reason – to develop a serious liver disease called hepatic lipidosis.
If your cat is experiencing decreased appetite, complete lack of appetite or changes in appetite, take her to your veterinarian for a checkup.
Dr. Marty Becker
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton, author of many pet-care books. The two are affiliated with Vetstreet.com.