There’s no doubt about it — pets add joy and contentment to a home. In fact, numerous studies have shown that people who live with pets report they are happier and healthier than those who don’t.
And yet there are health factors those who keep furry friends inside should heed — such as managing the shedding, fleas and ticks, accidents, and other issues indoor pets can bring. And with 70 percent of U.S. households home to a dog or cat, according to American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, that includes just about everyone.
Approximately 10 to 15% of people are allergic to pets. Cat allergies outnumber dog allergies two-to-one. “There really is no allergy-free pet,” says Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America spokesperson Angel Waldron. “There are just pets with less dander.” Dander, a common source of pet allergies, is dead skin shed by pets on a daily basis. Urine and saliva are other typical sources of pet allergies.
Still, about one-third of Americans allergic to cats decide the benefits of animal companionship outweigh the downside of allergy symptoms and decide to keep cats anyway. In such cases, there are steps one can take to minimize the reactions, says Waldron.
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And allergies aren’t the only reason to think about your pet’s affect on your environment. Keeping a pet-friendly and easy-to-clean home is beneficial to your health — allergies or not. Keep the following tips in mind to make your home a haven for yourself and your furry friends:
Limit Access: Your spend a lot of your time in your bedroom. Therefore, limiting a pet’s access to sleeping quarters is key for people with allergies, says Waldron. Keep the door shut, set up sleeping quarters for Fido or Fifi elsewhere, and make the bedroom a dander-free zone. If allergies are severe, limiting the pet’s access to other shared areas may also be needed. Have someone without allergies handle tasks such as grooming, maintaining the pet’s bedding, and cleaning the litter box. Because dander can linger, it may take weeks or even months to see results.
Think Hardscaping: Wall-to-wall carpeting may be comforting underfoot, but it can also provide a haven for dander, fleas or ticks, and be difficult to clean if the pet has an accident. “Hard flooring is the best option for pet owners,” Waldron says. Think tile, linoleum, vinyl, hardwood, laminate, or concrete when choosing flooring options. Renters or those who can’t replace flooring can still keep pets out of carpeted areas. Area rugs over hard flooring — vacuumed weekly and steam-cleaned monthly — are a better solution for those who can’t stand the thought of bare floors, Waldron says.
Be Wash and Wear: Pet owners are wise to choose easy-to-clean furniture as well. Leather, wood, or plastic don’t stain as easily or trap dander or fur, and can be wiped down with a damp rag. Plain water works excellently, Waldron says, and won’t irritate those sensitive to chemicals like commercial cleaners. When fabric must be used, choose a smooth surface, such as microfiber. Another tip: For less lint-rolling choose furniture that complement the color of your pet’s fur, rather than contrasts with it. A beige couch is a better choice for a home with a golden retriever than a navy blue one, for instance. If someone in the home has pet allergies, keep pets off upholstered furnishings altogether.
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Suck It Up: Frequent vacuuming (at least once a week) of carpeted and hard flooring is key to eliminating shed hair and dander in the home, Waldron says. Look for a model with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter, which can trap over 99 percent of small particles, such as dust and dander. Empty canisters or change vacuum bags frequently, and make sure filters are clear as well, because a clogged vacuum can literally turn into a dander-spreading device, shooting clouds of dust and debris in its wake. If someone in the home is especially allergic, consider purchasing a second vacuum for use in their bedroom only to prevent cross contamination from other areas.
Seal it Off: Likewise, a home’s central air unit can become a mode of transportation for pet dander as well. Install HEPA filters and consider closing off vents to bedrooms where family members with allergies sleep or covering the vents with filter fabric to trap debris, Waldron recommends. A HEPA air filter unit in the bedroom itself adds another layer of protection against allergens.
Be Slick: Finally, don’t forget dander, oils from the animal’s skin, and dirt can build up on walls, doors, and trim that pets rub against . Gloss or semi-gloss paints are easier to clean, and stand up to repeated wipe-downs better than flat paint. Pet owners should avoid heavily textured wall coverings or heavy fabric drapery, as well. “Less is more,” says Waldron.
By keeping these simple tactics in mind, pet owners and their companion animals can continue to share a happy and healthy home. And that’s good for everyone.