Pet Peeve: Natural Remedies for Allergies to Furry Friends
by Julie Peterson
Jessica Martinez, a medical assistant and part-time dog groomer in Rockford, Illinois, was growing her family—a husband, two daughters and a young beloved husky. When their third daughter was born with health problems and an allergy to dogs, Martinez was determined to manage the situation.
She cleaned fervently—vacuuming, wiping down hard surfaces, and bathing and brushing the dog every day. Everyone had to wash their hands frequently. In addition, the room where other dogs were groomed had to be thoroughly cleaned after each session. It all eventually became too exhausting, and the husky was rehomed.
But there may have been other options available to the family, say practitioners that treat patients with pet allergies. “I personally would rather not recommend that a patient not be around animals, because there are so many health benefits that animals can bring,” says Rosia Parrish, a naturopathic doctor at Naturopathic Wellness Center of Boulder, in Colorado, and a spokesperson for the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.
Some families opt for one of the so-called hypoallergenic breeds of dogs or cats. However, experts at the American Lung Association and the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology advise that all warm-blooded animals shed dander: flecks of skin containing proteins that can cause allergies. Additional allergens exist in proteins from saliva, urine and feces. Because proteins, not fur, are to blame, even short-haired or hairless dogs and cats can elicit an allergic response. They’re present in the dander of all mammals, including horses, rabbits, cows and mice.
“Allergies are caused when the immune system cannot discern the difference between a safe protein, such as egg, and a dangerous protein, such as mold, and it starts attacking the wrong ones,” says Barbara Meconis, a registered nurse and owner of Holistic Care Approach, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
In the home, these proteins can easily become airborne and cling to surfaces and clothing. They can be carried by people to pet-free schools and hospitals, making the proteins difficult to avoid, so for those that deal with symptoms that range from watering eyes to difficulty breathing, allergies can flare up in unlikely places.
Traditional Medical Response
“Allergies are one the most complex, unresearched topics,” says Meconis. Because of the general lack of knowledge in the field of immunology, people with allergies may have difficulty finding relief, especially when multiple or severe allergies are present. Pet owners aren’t given many choices.
“In the last five years, there is a working theory regarding being desensitized with incremental exposures, but there is no proof,” says Meconis. “Elimination has always been the answer from mainstream allopathic medicine, so if you are allergic to pets, they say, ‘don’t have a pet.’”
Parrish suggests that making lifestyle changes may enable some people to keep a furry friend in their lives. Effectively preventing allergic reactions requires limiting exposure to the offending animal proteins. This can mean vacuuming often, using HEPA-grade air filters, removing carpeting, leaving coats and shoes at the door and washing sheets, mattress covers—and the pet—on a regular basis.
At Holistic Care Approach, Meconis is trained in Nambudripad’s Allergy Elimination Therapy (NAET), a combination of allopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic, kinesiology and nutrition. Treatments are typically effective in as little as one session per allergy.
“We reprogram the immune system so that it no longer ‘sees’ that particular allergen as an invader,” Meconis says. “By removing disharmony at the intercellular level, the body stops being so reactive.”
Founded in 1983 by Devi Nambudripad, a California chiropractor and acupuncturist, today there are more than 12,000 NAET practitioners.
Parrish recommends natural treatments for affected people such as steam showers and baths with thyme, eucalyptus and menthol to help clear passageways, along with anti-inflammatory supplements like boswellia, quercetin, nettle leaf, fish oil and magnesium.
“Unless an allergy is severe, I think that living around cats, dogs and other furry animals is a really good thing and brings so much love and sloppy kisses into our lives,” she says. However, for a serious allergic reaction such as asthma, a pet lizard may be in order.
Julie Peterson has contributed to Natural Awakenings for more than a decade. Contact her at [email protected].