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Pet Allergy Survival Tips for the Holiday Season

For many of us, the holidays mean spending time with others, attending and hosting parties and perhaps staying overnight in the homes of family and friends.  This may also mean spending time with their pets, which can be a problem if you have allergies. Read on to discover the best ways to minimize your symptoms during holiday visits and survive the festivities flare-up-free.

Contact our healthcare professionals at The Allergy and Asthma Center today to learn more about allergy and asthma treatments.

The Facts

There are at least 9 allergy-inducing proteins produced by cats, the most common of which is called “Fel d 1”.   It is produced by the skin, salivary and sebaceous glands of cats.  Adult cats produce more than kittens and males produce more than females.  It is notoriously “sticky” which means that it can stick to clothing and be transported to areas where cats have never been.  For dogs, there are at least six allergens.  While some breeds may have lower levels of one or two allergens, they may also produce equal or greater amounts of the others.  So there are no completely non-allergenic cats or dogs.  But certainly some individual pets are tolerated by some pet-allergic people better than others.

Small rodents are also popular pets and can be allergenic in their own right.  Even if your hosts do not have gerbils or hamsters or guinea pigs, consider that small rodents may also be present in their homes as pests.  And consider that some pets are fed grass which may contain enough of its own pollen to be troublesome if you have grass allergies.

Tips for Pet-Allergic Guest

If you are a pet-allergic guest in the home of a bothersome animal, consider these general tips to consider before your holiday occasions.

  • Consider pre-treating yourself with an allergy medicine starting up to a week before your visit. You probably know from experience which medicines work best for you or perhaps what does not work for you.  As always, be sure to take in accordance with the package instructions or discuss with your provider.  If you are not used to taking a nasal spray, there are many videos available on-line that explain and demonstrate the proper technique. Here are some that are available over-the-counter:
    • Oral antihistamines, preferably non-sedating antistamines like loratadine, fexofenadine, cetirizine
    • Intranasal cromolyns like Nasalcrom® nasal spray
    • Intranasal steroids like fluticasone
    • Intranasal antihistamines like Astelin® nasal spray
  • Several eyedrop preparations are also available over-the-counter (antihistamine, and cromolyn) that can be taken before and/or after exposure.
  • Remember to pack these along with your regular allergy medicines if you are staying overnight so you can continue to use them throughout your stay.
  • Also pack saline nasal spray and/or a Neti pot so you can routinely flush allergens out of your nose. Saline or lubricating eye drops can do the same for your eyes.
  • Consider, as applicable, stepping up to the yellow zone of your asthma action plan if pet allergens are a known trigger of your asthma exacerbations, or at least pack those medications so you are prepared to step up if needed.
  • Consider bringing your own linens and blankets including mattress and pillowcase covers. In order to exclude cat allergens, they should ideally be woven tightly enough to exclude allergens smaller than 6 microns. Regular “dust mite covers” may only be woven down to 10 microns.
  • Consider the clothes you wear in the pet’s home to be “contaminated”. Bring a laundry bag to keep dirty clothes separate so they don’t contaminate your clean clothes or your suitcase.  Consider changing into fresh clean clothes after you leave.

Tips for Pet-Allergic Hosts

If you are pet-allergic and hosting guests who have pets:

  • Even if your guests leave their pets at home, consider that their clothes may be contaminated and plan accordingly. For examples, have someone else take their coat when they arrive and hang it away from your own coats and other clothing.
  • If you are hosting a large party, think twice before piling everyone’s coats on your bed.

Tips for Hosts of Pet-Allergic Guests

If you have pets and are hosting pet-allergic guests:

  • Select rooms for their visit that are well ventilated and, if possible, do not have carpeting. This is particularly important for the bedrooms of overnight guests.
  • Exclude troublesome pets from those rooms as far in advance of their visit as possible.
  • Remove ornamental pillows and stuffed animals that may harbor allergens.
  • Remove linens and blankets and suggest your guest bring their own, including mattress and pillow casings.
  • If you do not regularly vacuum and use room air filters, it is probably not helpful to start these in the few days before your guests arrive. In fact, the exhaust from a vacuum cleaner may actually increase the level of allergen in the air if the exhaust kicks up dust. Regular vacuuming with a cleaner equipped with a HEPA filter is recommended.
  • Dry dusting with a sticky dust cloth is an effective cleaning method for removing cat allergen from hard smooth surfaces.
  • Washing the pet(s) can be very helpful but the effect does not last long, only 2 or 3 days. Use regular pet shampoo and warm water and wash for at least 3 minutes.

Contact our healthcare professionals at The Allergy and Asthma Center today to learn more about allergy and asthma treatments.

Real life is complicated, and all these are just suggestions. Even if you implement them all obsessively, they still may not make the visit perfectly allergy-free. Just do your best to try and be accommodating and flexible and you’ll able to enjoy the time with family and friends in a much tolerable space.


Jay Portnoy, MD, Kevin Kennedy, MPH, James Sublett, MD, Practice Parameter: Environmental assessment and exposure control: a practice parameter—furry animals. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 108 (2012) 223.e1–223.e15.

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