You can't stop sneezing, it feels like the inside of your head is itching, but it's not a cold and you're not sick. It’s the animal hair, they say. All that hair! But the truth is more complex than that: It’s the dander that’s attached to the animal's hair and skin that makes it so injurious to the overactive immune systems of the allergy ridden person.

 

So what is dander?

 

Dander, according to Wikipedia, is the "material shed from the body of various animals, similar to dandruff or pet pollen. It may contain scales of dried skin and hair, or feathers... and is a frequent cause of allergy in humans."

 

"Pet pollen" they call it. And I think I have never heard a better term, because just like pollen, it has a way of floating in the air before settling down invisibly on your hardwood floors and your Berber wool carpeting.

 

Sometimes it’s attached to the tumbleweeds of hair and visible scales that litter your home, but it can also lie there in a transparent layer... until you mop it up.

 

But beyond the practical considerations of basic mopping, wiping, and HEPA-filtered vacuum cleaners are the very human implications.

 

The incidence of allergies and asthma in children is alarming, and the trend seems to be growing at an unstoppable rate. Are the allergies caused by diet? Is it toxins? Is it our scrubbed-clean kind of living that encourages more allergies? Who knows?

 

Low-allergen pets help some. These include certain breeds of dogs, like bichon frisés and poodles for example, and that newly-marketed $5,000 cat. But there are no guarantees. Allergies are just so random and unpredictable and there is still so much we don’t yet know.

 

In the end, heartbreaking though it may be, a human child or a household’s new adult takes precedence over the pet. And, depending on the severity of the disease and the ability to mitigate the often debilitating or downright dangerous symptoms, the family and its pets must often part ways.

 

I’ve been there. And chances are, you know someone who has, too.

 

 

Dr. Patty Khuly

 

 

Last reviewed on October 7, 2015