What is an allergy?
An allergy is a hypersensitivity, a misdirected response by the immune system, the body's defense against a substance that is ordinarily harmless to most people. In people with allergies, the immune system can't tell the difference between dangerous and harmless substances.
It is currently estimated that 15 to 20 percent of the population are sensitive to animals. With a population of approximately 250 million in the United States, this means that between 50 to 60 million Americans may be adversely affected when exposed.
Some types of allergies worsen over time. You might select a dog that you later develop allergies to in any case. This is why it's very important for you to find a good allergist who will educate you about your particular form of allergy and help you to manage it.
What is an allergen?
Substances which cause allergies are called allergens or antigens. The animal allergen is one of the substances that trigger allergic episodes. The dog allergens are hair, dander, saliva, and urine.
The major cause of allergic reactions is dander, or old skin scales, which dogs constantly shed into the environment. Animal dander is extremely light weight and tiny in size--approximately. 2.5 microns (1 micron = 1/25,000 in.), and can stay airborne for hours.
The hair or fur of a dog have no allergic potential themselves. However, they may be contaminated by dander and by salivary and urinary secretions which dry and later flake off into the environment, becoming airborne and circulating throughout the house.
Are dog allergies an "isolated" problem?
Allergies are cumulative. In other words, they build up. People can also have varying degrees of sensitivities to different allergens. When someone is allergic to animal dander and saliva, he's probably also allergic to other substances found in and around the house. Dust, mold, mildew, pollens, flowers, trees, paint, perfume, soaps, cosmetics, and other substances can trigger allergic reactions. Whether a person has symptoms or not depends on how many of these allergens are in his environment at a particular time.
How long does it takes to develop an allergy?
Exposure plays an important role. You're most likely to develop an allergy to a substance you've been exposed to in small doses, many times, separated by intervals. Sensitivity to a particular allergen can take anywhere from a few days to a few years to develop. Rarely does an allergen provoke a reaction the first time you encounter it. Every allergic person has a tolerance level above which an acute reaction takes place.
Allergies can develop at any age. There is a greater inclination for them to start during childhood, partly because a child's immune system is more active and sensitive than an adult's.
Is the Kerry Blue Terrier a hypoallergenic breed?
The Kerry is a breed with a nonshedding coat, which is why it is one of the most commonly recommended breeds for allergy sufferers. The Kerry sheds its skin (epidermal turnover) about every 21 days--far less often than most other breeds. When a dog's coat does not shed, less allergens are released in the air, provided that the coat is kept clean and clipped. However, it is important to note that there are some people who are, nonetheless, unable to tolerate these dogs.
It has been found, incidentally, that the epidermal turnover is more rapid in breeds that are prone to the various forms of dry and oily seborrhea, including Cocker Spaniels, Springer Spaniels, West Highland White Terriers, Chinese Shar-Pei, Basset Hounds, German Shepherd Dogs, Irish Setters, Afghan Hounds, Doberman Pinschers and Dachshunds.
There is no group of dog breeds that one can point to and say "these are hypoallergenic." People have differing levels of allergy and allergies to different things--sometimes it's the hair, sometimes the saliva, although most often it's the dander. The only way for you to be certain you are not allergic to a particular breed is to spend some time with dogs of that breed, and see how you react to the animals. It's important to spend time with the individual dog you are considering, and to do so in your own home, if at all possible, to eliminate other allergy-causing variables that may be present in another environment. If you are considering purchasing a puppy, be advised that puppies often have different coats than mature dogs, so it's important to check that you are not allergic to the puppy, as well as adults of the breed, such as the puppy's parents.
How to reduce your exposure to allergens
Being allergic to dogs doesn't necessarily mean that you can't have a Kerry, or that you must give up one you already have. Even if your doctor finds that you have an animal-related allergy, don't give up your pet so quickly! Talk to your allergist. A doctor who is conversant with allergies can test you and determine exactly what it is that you are allergic to. With that established, you can plan how to reduce that particular set of allergens, and get the most results for your efforts. Many people can also get a series of shots to desensitize them to the allergens, and also obtain effective medication for controlling asthma attacks.
To help reduce exposure to allergens:
- Clean all surfaces thoroughly with a damp cloth or mop. Avoid using carpets, heavy draperies, and upholstered pieces that become collecting grounds for pet allergens.
- Get allergen-impermeable covering cases for cushions, mattresses, pillows, and comforters. Use cases with plastic zippers so allergens already inside can't get out. And use non-allergic fillings, such as polyester, for beds, pillowcases, etc.
- Use a vacuum cleaner with a High Efficiency Air Filter to trap the tiny particles of animal allergen. The water vacuums are not effective on animal dander. Studies have shown they actually increase dander levels when in use.
- Try to improve ventilation by opening windows and air intake vents. These steps will improve indoor circulation and help keep Kerry dander from doing all its dirty work.
- Place air filters or screens made of cheesecloth or other thin material over bedroom vents to keep dander from circulating into the bedroom from the central heating/cooling system.
- Bathe your Kerry weekly with high quality shampoo and conditioner. Research has shown that if a Kerry is washed and brushed frequently (not more than twice weekly), the airborne allergens are drastically cut down. This task should be done outside of the home. Be sure the shampoo you use does not dry out your Kerry's skin, which may worsen the problem.
- Include Allerpet or other products in the hair care of your Kerry. Allerpet was formulated to solve allergy problems by cleansing the hair of the antigens that cause sensitivities, by controlling their dispersal into the environment, and by specially conditioning the hair and skin to reduce future accumulations.
- Keep your Kerry it out of your bedroom.
- Use a room air purifier to remove airborne animal dander. The most often recommended is the HEPA type filter.
- Keep clothing worn when playing with your Kerry out of your bedroom.
- Be sure to always wash your hands after each time you touch or play with your Kerry.
- Wash your Kerry's bedding and toys. The dog's bed must be wrapped in plastic cover.
- Feed your Kerry a well-balanced diet, which includes omega fatty acids, that helps reduce skin dryness and flaking.
- Use a professional groomer to keep your Kerry's coat trimmed to a reasonable length. A professional groomer can be your best friend when it comes to helping you take care of your Kerry.
- Watch for other allergens. If you are allergic to any airborne substance, including animal dander, it's also important to avoid other irritants like cigarette, cigar and pipe smoke, insect sprays, dust, and tar fumes. Even if you're not allergic to those substances, exposure to them could aggravate your Kerry allergy.