Home allergens like mold, dust mites and household cleaners can trigger allergic reactions in you or your companion.
Fleas, pollen, certain foods…these are just some of the potential culprits that spring to mind when we’re dealing with allergies in our dogs or cats. But we often overlook indoor environments when we’re trying to pin down the cause of an animal’s itching or sneezing caused by allergens.
Fact is, several things found inside your home can trigger allergic reactions in you or your companion. Common indoor allergens include dust mites, dander, mold, and many household cleaners. They typically cause skin problems, but respiratory issues can occur as well. So if your dog or cat has allergies, it’s a good idea to look at what he’s coming into contact with inside your home as well as outside, and to take steps to make your indoor environment safer and more comfortable for him.
Offender #1: dust mites and animal dander
If you’ve ever watched a beam of sunlight slanting into your home through the window, you may have been surprised at how much dust and hair is drifting through it. We often believe our air is pure because we normally can’t see anything in it, but it isn’t as clean as we think.
It’s impossible to completely eliminate these allergens, but regular and thorough vacuuming and dusting can help minimize their effects. And don’t forget to groom your animal at least weekly, and keep his skin and coat healthy with a quality diet and supplements.
Dust mites are another source of allergies inside the home. These tiny creatures feed on organic substances such as flakes of shed skin. Their feces are a common cause of asthma and other allergic reactions in people and animals.
Veterinarian Dr. Mark Newkirk says that dust mites and animal dander can trigger sneezing and itchy red eyes in animals, much as they do in people.
Offender #2: household mold
Mold is a particularly unnerving allergen because it can be so insidious. Even if you don’t see an obvious moldy patch on your basement wall or bathroom ceiling, black mold spores could be in the air without your even realizing it.
Veterinarian Dr. Cindy Kneebone knows the horrors of household mold all too well. She has seen two cats die from black mold over the years. “One cat died from lung cancer by sitting over a furnace vent every winter,” she says. To avoid such tragedy, Dr. Newkirk suggests “cleaning the vents if you have forced air heat, and frequently changing the air filters in your heating system.” He recommends Hepa filters.
Mold likes to grow in humid places, which means it can turn up in bathrooms, kitchens and basements, as well as on window sills, shower curtains, tile grout and other surfaces subject to dampness. Patches of black mold should be cleaned up as soon as they start to appear. Wear rubber gloves, and use non-toxic substances such as vinegar, baking soda and hydrogen peroxide. Try to improve dryness and ventilation in areas where mold keeps reappearing. Exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathroom can help.
Offender #3: household cleaners
Regular cleaning is a big part of maintaining your home, especially if you have animal companions, but take a second look at the products you’re using. “Many commercial cleaning products pollute the air inside your home by off-gassing toxic fumes that can be very hazardous, not to mention irritating, to your pets,” veterinarian Dr. Karen Becker writes in an article entitled “Safe Household Cleaners for Homes with Allergic Pets” (healthypets.mercola.com). “Many cleaners also contain antibacterial substances that are not only unnecessary, but can actually help bacteria become stronger and more resistant to killing agents.”
For cleaning hard surfaces such as hardwood floors, ceramic tile, linoleum and vinyl, Dr. Becker recommends mopping them with a mixture consisting of one cup of vinegar in a gallon of warm water; club soda can be used after mopping to add shine. Windows and mirrors can be made to sparkle with four tablespoons of lemon juice in half a gallon of water.
Since bathrooms and kitchens are heavily used rooms in any household, it is especially important to keep them properly sanitized to prevent the spread of bacteria. Luckily, there are ways to do this without bringing toxic chemicals into your home, by using baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice, liquid soaps, and tea tree oil, a natural antibacterial, to regularly clean surfaces.
Furniture polish sprays are potentially toxic to inhale because of the petroleum often found in these products. Beeswax furniture polish is an alternative, and Dr. Becker also suggests a mixture of two parts olive oil to one part lemon juice. Commercial metal polishes, meanwhile, typically contain ammonia. A combination of equal parts vinegar, salt and fl our makes a good substitute.
Symptoms and treatment
There are several ways in which an animal will react to an allergen. “The most common responses are foot-chewing, paw-licking, shaking or scratching at the ears, or licking and scratching around the body,” says Dr. Newkirk. “If he scratches long enough or hard enough, secondary bacterial and/or yeast infections often occur. This makes him scratch even more, and this spreads the infection, which increases the itching yet again. So the process escalates over time unless we intervene with therapy.”
A dog or cat will sometimes also respond to an allergen in much the same way a human might. “This lesser common response includes red itchy eyes and sneezing,” says Dr. Newkirk.
For treatment, Dr. Newkirk recommends herbs, homeopathy, and NAET (Nambudripad Allergy Elimination Therapy), adding that he usually uses a combination of these. “Herbs taken internally are used to stabilize the immune system; homeopathic/homotox remedies are given intranasally or orally for symptoms and healing; and NAET is used to fi nd and eliminate the allergy,” he explains. “NAET is very useful in testing for allergies to household cleaners, air fresheners, perfume and more; then we can sometimes eliminate the allergy, by changing the cleaning product, for example. NAET also has the power to make the animal ‘unallergic’ to the allergen.”
Indoor allergens are a fact of life in most households, but there are many ways to effectively minimize their impact on you and your dog or cat. Regular cleaning and grooming, together with a healthy lifestyle that includes non-toxic household cleaners, can help reduce the risk of reactions and keep all your family members more comfortable.