Hints and Tips for Indoor Allergen Avoidance
As winter hits (and this year it’s definitely hitting hard!) both pets and their owners will be spending more time indoors. Whilst the winter months may bring some respite for those animals who suffer from seasonal allergies such as to grasses, weeds and tree pollens, those who are affected by indoor allergens may now be showing symptoms of increased allergen exposure in the form of itchy and inflamed skin. There are, however, some simple steps that can be taken to reduce exposure to these indoor allergens and lessen the problems associated with them.
What are indoor allergens?
Indoor allergens include moulds, mites (house dust mites and storage mites), dander and fleas. Many owners may insist that their house is spotlessly clean, but even the cleanest house will have house dust mites, and their presence is not a reflection of the owners’ cleaning habits!
Divide and Conquer!
One key strategy that can help to reduce exposure to all of these indoor allergens is to limit the pet to only one or two rooms within the house. In this way allergen reduction strategies can be targeted to the areas where the pet spends the most time. Preventing the pet from sleeping on the bed or furniture is easier said than done but this may still be worth mentioning to owners as it is much simpler to wash a pet bed rather than treat a whole mattress or three piece suite!
Moulds, moulds, moulds
Mould loves warm and damp conditions so the key here is to ensure that rooms are well ventilated. By turning the central heating down a few degrees and regularly opening the windows moulds will be less likely to thrive. Particular care should be taken in the bathroom not to allow mould to grow around the bath or on the shower curtain. Owners should also avoid feeding old leftover food and especially rotten fruit to pets. Care should be taken to keep areas dry; tips such as drying shoes outside and using a mould inhibitor on any walls will help. Moulds can also thrive on compost heaps so remind owners to keep the compost heap in the garden well covered and inaccessible to their pet.
Fleas are a major pest for all pets as an irritant, but a particularly common problem in veterinary dermatology is flea bite hypersensitivity. Flea bite hypersensitivity is caused by the injection of salivary proteins into the animal’s skin when the flea bites. Treatment recommendations vary, but the main point to impress on owners is the importance of an ongoing flea management regime using a veterinary recommended flea spray or spot on. Other steps the owner can take include washing pet bedding at high temperatures and regularly vaccuming both carpets and soft furnishings.
It’s not just humans who can be allergic to cats, some dogs can as well. Steps can be taken to minimise dander in the environment without removing the cat completely! The owner should ensure that they brush the cat regularly; preferably outside or in a well ventilated area. The cat’s bedding should be washed weekly and owners always wash their hands between handling the cat and the dog. Preparations such as Petal Cleanse (available from all major veterinary wholesalers) may be applied to the cat’s coat to encapsulate and reduce airborne dander.
Mites are the most common indoor allergen. There are two main types of mite that affect pets; the storage mite and the house dust mite.
The two most common types of Storage Mites are acarus siro and glycophagus destructor; these tiny white mites are particularly common in dry cereal based pet foods e.g. kibble or dry complete food. Owners can reduce their pet’s exposure to storage mites by only feeding good quality dry food that is within the “use by” date or by switching to wet tinned food. If the owner prefers feeding dry food then they should buy smaller bags as opposed to large sacks to ensure the food is as fresh as possible and is not stored for too long going stale. They should decant the food out of the bag and into a sealed plastic storage container and should discard the dust left at the bottom of the bag as this will contain the most mites. Owners should ensure that they thoroughly clean the containers before adding more food and discard any dust or crumbs. Food should always be kept in cool, dry conditions and owners may find it beneficial to wipe their pets face with a damp cloth after eating to remove any dust around the muzzle, eyes and ears.
House dust mites are the most common cause of allergy in both pets and humans in the UK. They feast on shed skin and hair and thrive in damp, humid conditions. It is not the actual mite that causes the allergic reaction but a gastric enzyme (chitinase) which is secreted into the faeces of the mite in relatively large amounts (a teaspoon of dust can contain more than 250 000 dust mite droppings!!). House dust mites cannot be eliminated from the home but their numbers can be dramatically reduced.
The first step is to keep the house as dry and well ventilated as possible; regularly open windows, turn the central heating down and try to avoid drying clothes indoors on radiators etc. Dust mites love soft furnishings, carpets and thick curtains so owners may want to consider changing to wood, laminate or vinyl flooring in the rooms their pets occupy and switching from heavy curtains to lightweight washable curtains or spongable blinds. Regularly vacuum carpets preferably using a high efficiency vacuum cleaner with brushes that beat the carpet fibres. A vacuum can also be used to clean soft furnishings and curtains.
Finally, encourage your clients to implement a good house dust mite treatment protocol by using a dust mite spray (e.g. Total Hygiene DM1 Spray) to treat carpets, soft furnishings and curtains in the areas where the pet lives. A useful tool is the SENSITEST HDM Check Kit which is a valuble indicator as to the level of house dust mites in specific areas; clients can use these to identify areas of high dust mites levels and also to monitor the effectiveness of their treatment programme in those areas.
Many of the steps discussed here are relatively simple to implement and can make a real difference to a dog or cat with atopic dermatitis. Client compliance is essential when dealing with allergy and by following the guidelines described here owners may be able to reduce long term medication.
For more information regarding indoor allergen avoidance, the products mentioned here or allergy testing in general please contact Avacta Animal Health on
0800 8494 550