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Dander is small bits of hair, feathers, or skin that are naturally sloughed off by the body. It is estimated that almost ten percent of the world's population is allergic to dander. When it comes to these allergies, pet dander is by far the greatest culprit, and can be caused by exposure to hair and skin flakes, as well as to pet saliva and urine. While bird feathers and droppings, and exposure to pets like rabbits, mice, hamsters, and guinea pigs, can cause allergies, cat and dogs are the most common cause of dander allergies.
As with many allergies, reactions to dander can develop relatively suddenly, even to those who have spent years around a particular type of animal. Symptoms are often mild and can include sinus congestion, itchy or watery eyes, sneezing, and coughing. More serious attention must be paid to symptoms such as respiratory distress or asthma attacks.
Cat dander is particularly sticky and is easily carried on clothing. People with these allergies often suffer more in the presence of cats than dogs or other pets. In particular, male cats who are not neutered produce the greatest volume of cat dander.
Pet lovers need not dismay if a sudden pet dander allergy arises. There are several measures that can be taken to minimize allergic symptoms. Neutering a male cat is a good first step, as it will reduce the amount of allergen produced. Bathing pets frequently, as often as twice a week, and daily wiping with a wet cloth to remove any skin or hair dander that may have accumulated can also be effective.
Keeping a pet out of the areas where a person sleeps, and closing air vents leading to the bedroom, can help provide dander-free sleep and minimize exposure. The use of High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) technology can also help. Using HEPA air filters in individual rooms and daily vacuuming with a HEPA-filtered vacuum can help eliminate the allergens that travel across a home and permeate its surfaces.
If these efforts do not resolve or significantly improve allergic symptoms, it may be necessary to find a new home for the pet. If this is the case, be aware that pet dander can remain for months or years without thorough cleaning efforts. These should include washing all soft materials like bedding, rugs, and curtains, and replacing or cleaning all air conditioning and heat vents to remove any buildup. It is important to dust all furniture, vacuum the house thoroughly, and steam clean any carpet and upholstered furniture.
@clintflint - That makes sense, since people are hardly breathing in whole cat hairs every time they get an allergic reaction.
It's kind of the same thing with a dust allergy. People aren't usually allergic to the dust itself. You're allergic to the spore of the dust mites that feed on the dust and dander.
I'm getting more and more allergic to dust as I get older, which is very annoying. Although, I'm kind of glad to have discovered this allergy, since when I was a teenager and not so good at vacuuming my room regularly, I used to feel sick before school every day. My mother used to joke that I was allergic to school, but I guess I was allergic to my own bad cleaning skills!
Generally people aren't allergic to dog or cat dander itself, but to their saliva. That's why cats are worse, because they lick themselves all the time and the molecules that cause the allergy stick to the hair.
That's why you can get animals that are "hypo-allergenic" without being hairless. They have less of the actual allergen in their spit.
It doesn't make all that much difference to know this, to be honest, since you still basically treat the allergy by reducing the shedding as much as possible.