I’m putting together a picture post for Groom Expo on Sunday, but I wanted to quickly address this.
I’m actually allergic to cats, and very bothered by all animals IF I am not doing a good job keeping myself healthy and my house clean. My daughter spent two consecutive winters in and out of the hospital with reactive airway disease that is worsened by contact with dander. But I live with dogs and cats and a horse, and that’s not going to change. So I’ve figured out how to minimize it, and now we all live pretty much wheezing-free. Honour (the nine-year-old) is on Flovent during cold and flu season as a precaution, but she experiences actual shortness of breath only once a year or so.
What you do for dog allergies is actually a little different than you do for cat allergies. That’s because the cat dander particle and the dog dander particle are quite dissimilar. Cat dander looks like a series of spikes or hooks. It is extremely “sticky,” like a burr. Cat dander freely hitches a ride on fabrics and other surfaces, and it is incredibly difficult to get rid of because of its burr-like characteristics.
Dog dander is more like a bumpy ball. It tends to fall down and off surfaces, which is why it’s a lot easier to get rid of and a lot easier to tolerate if you’re an allergic person.
There are basically two things that make dog allergies a problem: the dander itself (which is NOT hair–it’s flakes of dried saliva and shed skin, both loaded with dog proteins that your immune system does not like) and the fact that shed skin cells are what dust mites thrive on. Lots of dead skin = lots of dust mites, so even people that are not allergic to dogs can be allergic to the dust mites.
And, for a few people, the reaction is pretty much just physical–they’re not allergic to the proteins, but they are very bothered by the particulate matter in the air. This is actually what bothers me about dogs–I generally get extremely stuffed up when I go to a dog show because there’s just so much crap in the air. I DON’T react to my own dogs, no matter how vigorously I groom, but other dogs bug me.
So the way you minimize allergies is to remove the things that are bothering you.
Get rid of dog proteins. Keep them stuck down to the dog, and as soon as they come off they need to go down the sink. So you feed a diet that leaves the skin healthy and unstressed (raw is best, but one of the high-end and/or grain-free ones would be a decent option to try), and you bathe the dog or dogs frequently. You can bathe twice a week if you want–just use a good shampoo and rinse VERY thoroughly.
In the home, vacuum with a HEPA-equipped vacuum frequently. Consider either covering couches with washable covers (and then washing them frequently) or switching to leather (this really helps me). I damp-mop every wood floor as often as I can–I would be totally lying if I said I was a great housekeeper, but I try to not let any dust (which is mostly skin cells, after all) build up.
Get rid of the proteins in the carpet or flooring. I use a Rug Doctor-type rental carpet cleaner about four times a year, and I use the hottest water I can get out of my water heater. Heat denatures proteins, which means that if the dander’s been exposed to hot water it will cause many fewer issues even if there’s still a little bit left. One other tip: I never use commercial carpet cleaner. That stuff is pretty noxious and it makes me sicker than the dog or cat dander does. Instead, I use a little bit of Tide or another fabric detergent in the first wash, and then go over it again with plain hot water. Then I do it again (a third time) with a mixture of hot water and Nature’s Miracle. It takes me a whole weekend to do the upstairs (which is the only place we have carpet) but it really works.
Get rid of the particulate matter in the air and the skin cells on the ground or in the beds. Crack the windows in each bedroom, even if it’s cold outside. You want maximum air exchange where you sleep. Put a dust mite-proof zippered cover on the mattress. And then wash pillows and blankets frequently. Many people never wash blankets, season in and season out. At our house they’re washed every 2-4 weeks, and I use only cotton blankets or quilts. I use only feather pillows–I would rather have the possible allergy to feathers than the off-gassing from foam. Again, the pillows get washed frequently.
Soft things are your enemy. Wash stuffed animals, wash dog beds, wash cat blankets, etc.
Several companies sell an allergen-reducing spray that goes on the dog or cat. As far as I can tell, these are pretty simple solutions of very dilute alcohol (again, it denatures proteins) and enzymes that break down proteins. I would definitely use them to eke out another week between baths, if you have a dog or cat who strongly objects to being bathed, but I think that a bath is definitely the better choice and is likely to be better for the animal’s skin as well.