If you can get a good night's sleep, you'll be better able to cope with almost anything, even allergies. That's why one of the best pieces of advice to those who are allergic to their pets is this: Declare your bedroom a "no-pets zone," at least during the height of spring allergy season.
That can be tough advice to follow for those of us who love to share our bedrooms, and even our beds, with our dogs and cats. For many allergy sufferers, though, establishing a pet-free sleeping area is a necessary compromise that will allow us to share our lives with pets despite our allergies.
Reduce allergy triggers further by keeping your sleeping area sparsely decorated with furnishing that do not attract dust, and be sure everything is cleaned frequently. Bedding should be washed often to combat dust mites, and pillows should be made of non-allergenic material, no feathers. Consider running a HEPA air cleaner in the room at all times.
The idea (both in the bedroom and outside of it) is to keep your total "allergy load" -- pets and everything else that triggers your allergies -- to a level that you can live with, or that can be controlled by medication. It's worth the effort to make an effort. Out-of-control allergies can make lives miserable, and, in the case of asthma, can be life-threatening as well.
As a lifelong allergy sufferer and chronic asthmatic, I find that keeping my bedroom clean at all times and pet-free at the height of pollen season is a strategy that keeps me from feeling miserable. When the pollen counts are not so overwhelming, my pets sleep on the bed.
I'm in good company as an allergy sufferer and pet lover. The Humane Society of the United States says having allergies doesn't stop many people from having pets: One-third of all those who are allergic to cats have at least one such pet anyway. What's more, the group says that in a study of 341 allergy sufferers, only one in five of those who were advised by a doctor to find another home for their pet actually did so.
Such dedication deserves to be rewarded, so here are some more tips for those who have both pets and allergies:
-- Limit exposure to other allergens. Avoid cleaning solutions, cigarette smoke and strong perfumes, and consider using a mask when doing yard work and housework, especially when pollen counts are high or your home is especially dusty.
-- Let someone else do the dusting and vacuuming, if at all possible, and if not, invest in a vacuum that filters the air it releases. The best vacuum for pet hair that I have ever owned is my Dyson upright, from a company that has a model actually designed for pet hair (it's called the "Animal"). My Dyson does an amazing job of picking up pet hair (and everything else), and not venting the allergens when it's operating. When I was in England recently at the Crufts dog show, Dyson was promoting a new "Animal" canister model that should be available in North America later this year.
-- Keep pets well-groomed. The dirt and pollen that pets pick up in their coats can be almost as bad as the hair and dander they generate themselves. It's essential for pets to be bathed frequently, and to be kept combed and brushed. Ideally, a non-allergic member of the household should assume this responsibility. Even cats should be bathed, by the way: A weekly rinse of your cat in plain water has been shown to help people who are allergic to them.
-- Work with your doctor. Rather than argue over suggestions that I dump my pets, I avoided allergists for years. Big mistake. After I almost died from an asthma attack -- set up by a chest cold and triggered by a friend's cat -- I got serious about getting help. These days, I work with health-care professionals who are willing to work with me, prescribing medications that allow my allergies and my pets to coexist.
-- Choose pets carefully. Do everything you can to make things work with the pets you have now, but when it comes time to adopt others, be aware that some pets may be better than others when it comes to allergies. In general, dogs are less of a problem than cats when it comes to allergies, and breeds like poodles can be easier for allergy sufferers to live with than other dogs. There is no such thing as a non-allergenic dog or cat, however, no matter what you've heard or read.
Like most allergy-sufferers, I find even the most beautiful spring to be a season of misery at times. But since I started following the good advice that's out there, I've been able to muddle through even the worst days without ever contemplating giving up any of the pets I hold so dear.
Not that I ever would, of course.
PETS ON THE WEB
I love libraries, offices and stores with resident cats, and I'm always delighted when I run across these places. While the keeping of such a cat isn't always smooth sailing -- some customers complain because they don't like cats or are allergic to them -- it seems to me that on balance, a cat adds a pleasant atmosphere to any establishment.
For those stores I can't visit personally, there is always Shopcat.com, a collection of the pictures and stories of more than 400 cats who ply their charms in retail environments. The site's pictures are generally of very good quality, capturing the sweet personality of those cats who must accept the admiration of strangers every working day. Don't miss the "page of silliness," with cat pictures sure to make you laugh.
For pets who drink from water bottles (which includes most small pets such as birds, rabbits and hamsters), touch the ball at the tip of the bottle's neck with your finger a couple of times a day to be sure there's no clog. This is especially important with clever pets such as parrots, who sometimes think it's a fun game to push food into the water
source and block the flow.
Another water tip: Be sure any outdoor water source for your pet is always in the shade and in a place that's always accessible. This is especially important as the weather gets warmer.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: You recently wrote about selecting pet-friendly plants for the vegetable garden. Any greenery suggestions for indoor kitties? -- G.C., via e-mail
A: It's easy to keep fresh greens always on hand for indoor cats. Grasses are a feline favorite. Since cats seem to like the tender shoots best, sow a fresh crop of grasses every couple of weeks in a wide, shallow planter.
Alfalfa, rye and wheat seeds are ideal. You can find seeds from catalogs or nurseries, but be sure to choose those that have not been pretreated with chemicals. If you search pet-supply stores, catalogs and Web sites, you can also find prepackaged kitty greens, complete with seeds, soil and planter. All you need to do is add water.
Parsley and thyme are also popular and can be grown indoors for your cat's nibbling pleasure. Any decent nursery will have young plants ready to be transplanted into a pot, and the mature plants make a handsome addition, indoors or out. (I recently saw the dark-green of parsley used as a contrasting backdrop for a variety of brightly colored flowers at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.)
You should also try to keep catnip and valerian plants on hand. Keep the pots where your cat can't get to them or your pet may pull the seedlings out by the root. After the plant is large enough to stand it, trim off pieces to give to your pet, stuff sprigs into toys or rub on cat trees.
Q: Please settle a disagreement for me. Can dog poop be composted? –- S.D., via e-mail
A. The fecal waste of carnivores such as dog and cats should never be put into your compost pile because it could carry disease. Put the waste of these pets into bags, wrap tightly and put into your regular outside trash container for pickup. I always use old pet-food bags for waste disposal they're sturdy enough to stand up to reuse before being discarded.
If you have a pet who eats nothing but plant matter -- rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, hamsters and mice fall into this category -- then sure, compost their waste. It'll be great for your garden.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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