We all love our pets, but if you or a friend or family member is allergic to dogs or cats, pet dander (tiny skin flakes that are shed by your furry friend) or saliva may trigger a nasty bout of sneezing, red, itchy eyes and even hives. Dander is the primary cause of pet-related allergic reactions, and all of our furry or feathered friends give it off. Though most people are not allergic to pet hair, it can also exacerbate allergies by carrying pet dander and other allergens.
One way you might have considered to cut down on the effect of pet allergens is to get a home air purifier. But can air purifiers remove pet dander and hair from the air? And if so, what is the best type of air purifier for the job? Find out how pet allergies work and the best ways to cut down on pet dander, including using an air purifier.
How does a pet allergy work?
An allergic reaction is simply your immune system overreacting to something that would otherwise not harm you. Pets produce several different substances that can trigger allergies. Your immune system reacts to the protein molecules of the allergen.
Pets carry dander and can collect dust on their fur and coats. Dander is made up of skin flakes that your pet sheds in addition to their hair. If you have a dander allergy, it means that you are allergic to the proteins secreted by oil glands under your pet’s skin. Shed skin, covered in these proteins, is a part of any dander shed by your pet.
You may sometimes notice these skin flakes floating through the air or accumulating in certain corners of your home. However, not all dander is visible to the human eye. Some dander particles are microscopic and can get trapped in carpets, bedding and furniture. If disturbed, these allergens can be released into the air and suspend there for a long time.
Pet hair itself rarely causes an allergic reaction, but it helps to trap particles of dander, so pet hair can still be a problem if it collects on the floor, your furniture or gets into the air. Pet hair can collect other animal products such as pet saliva or urine, which contain allergy-producing proteins as well.
Some breeders tout certain dog and cat breeds as “hypoallergenic” because of their lack of fur or the fact that they do not shed. While it is true that a non-shedding or low-shedding animal will mean less airborne pet hair, all cats and dogs will shed some dander. However, dogs with curly fur may be more allergy-friendly than straight-haired dogs because their coat is better able to trap saliva and dander instead of releasing it into the air.
Dust bunnies can often be home to accumulated pet dander, hair and saliva, in addition to other common household allergens such as pollen and mold spores. Additionally, dust mites feed on pet dander, multiply and produce more allergy substances that can get into the air – causing further issues for allergy sufferers.
Pet saliva and accidents
Pet saliva is another common animal-related allergen. When your pets licks themselves, the proteins in their saliva can stick to their fur, just like dander, and cause allergic reactions when you come into contact with it. Pet urine also contains allergy-causing proteins, meaning that any pet accidents can be a potential source of allergens in your home. If you do not wash your pet regularly, the proteins in their urine can sometimes accumulate in their fur as well.
Cat allergies vs. dog allergies
Up to 30% of the U.S. population has some type of pet allergy, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, and of those people, cat allergies are twice as common as dog allergies, possibly because they groom themselves more often than their canine counterparts, which equals more saliva. Also, cats and dogs produce different allergy-causing proteins, so it is possible to be allergic to one and not the other. Both animals produce different proteins in their dander, saliva and urine. An allergist can help determine which of these allergens, if any, you are sensitive to.
The important thing to know about pet allergens is that they are carried on very small particles, and once floating in the air, they can stay there for hours. These particles get into your body primarily by being inhaled. Even though dander can be a microscopic, it is still large enough to get picked up by certain kinds of filters and removed from the air by an air purifier.
Can an air purifier work on pet dander?
Depending on the technology, an air purifier that uses a filter to remove particles can have a significant impact on the amount of pet allergens. These tiny particles can suspend in the air for long periods of time, even if your pet is not present in the home. Removing as much of them as possible may help with allergy symptoms.
Air purifiers with HEPA filters are designed to remove 99.97 percent of particles that are 0.3 micrometers in size. So a HEPA-equipped air purifier may help reduce some of the larger-sized particles like airborne dust, pet dander and dust mites in your home. If you have strands of pet hair in the air, a HEPA filter can take care of these large particles. However, when it comes to the very tiny particles of pet allergens that break off of larger particles of dried saliva or pet dander, a HEPA filter is not as efficient. Smaller molecules have a higher chance of passing through a HEPA filter and getting blown back into the air. If you inhale any of those molecules, you may have an allergic reaction.
A HEPA filter can help capture strands of pet fur or skin flakes, but it would need to be changed regularly and safely, as to not release particles back into the air during the replacement process. Pet owners may need to replace filters more often than average because of the large amount of pet dander and pet hair in their home, which can clog the filter.
Ionizing air purifiers attempt to attach an electric charge to pet allergen particles that flow past, and these charged particles then stick to nearby surfaces like walls or furniture. Because ionizers usually do not contain a fan, not much air can pass by, which can leave a lot of the space your pet occupies unaddressed. Also, because the charged particles of pet dander or allergens can deposit on the floors or other surfaces, they can easily be disturbed by someone walking or a vacuum cleaner. Plus, ionizing air purifiers could produce ozone, which is itself a harmful pollutant.
Carbon air filters
A carbon filter is only designed to remove specific types of gases in the air. They cannot address particles, which would make it ineffective for small and large particles of pet dander and especially pet hair. However, some people may choose a carbon filter to help with pet odors. You can read more about air purifiers and pet odors here.
Tiny allergy-producing particles, which are proteins carried on small particles of pet dander or pet hair, can break off and pass through traditional filters unimpeded. Because they are so small, they can remain suspended in the air and are normally not addressed by traditional filters. The Molekule air purifier, which contains a proprietary technology called Photo Electrochemical Oxidation (PECO), is different. In the first filtration stage, the Pre-Filter stops large particles of pet hair or pet dander from passing through. In the second stage, the smallest allergy-producing proteins, which are carried on pet dander or hair, are destroyed by the PECO technology.
What type of air purifier is best for reducing pet dander?
Are you a cat owner with asthma hoping to reduce pet dander in your home? Are you a dog owner with a friend who has an allergic reaction every time he comes over to your house? Luckily, although both cats and dogs (and to a lesser extent, birds) produce different types of dander with different proteins that affect people in different ways, most filtration-based air purifiers on the market can help reduce dander in the air, no matter what kind of dander it is or what animal it came from. Therefore, a particle filtration technology like HEPA is an acceptable option.
Having said that, the ideal air purifier for reducing pet dander and cutting down on allergic reactions to pets is one that can destroy the allergy-producing proteins carried by pet hair or contained in pet dander and saliva. You should look for an air purifier that combines a filtration element that captures larger particles such as pet dander, and additional technology to address smaller pollutants that cannot be filtered. The Molekule air purifier, which uses technology that can destroy smaller pet allergens, will do a better job of capturing pet dander and eliminating all other pet-related pollutants in the air of your home.
Other ways to reduce pet-related allergens
Pet dander is released from your pet’s skin all the time. It peaks when your pet is active, shakes, or gets some attention from its owners (yes, when you pet your dog you are releasing pet dander into the air). Brushing your pet’s fur releases a lot of dander, so it should always be done outside. This can actually help reduce pet dander in the house temporarily, since brushing gets rid of so much of it outside instead of letting the dander get shaken off inside the house.
There is some evidence that regular bathing (once a week) reduces the amount of dander a pet gives off, especially dogs. There are special shampoos intended to reduce dander, so use those whenever possible. Keeping your pet healthy by feeding a veterinarian-recommended diet and providing plenty of water can help, since healthy skin and fur gives off less dander than dried out, flaky skin.
Limit Area of Activity
One of the biggest problems with pet dander is that it gets trapped in carpets, bedding, sofas, and clothes. If just one person in your household has a pet allergy, restrict the pet so that it cannot get to that person’s bedroom. This will cut down on the amount of dander the allergic person is exposed to while sleeping, which may help with nighttime allergies. It can help to keep pets off of the furniture. You can also buy special pillowcases and mattress covers designed to prevent dust, pet dander, and other particles from getting trapped inside the pillow or mattress, which can help you get a good, allergy-free night of sleep.
Another important way to reduce the amount of pet dander in your house is frequent cleaning. Dust with a wet rag and vacuum carpets, rugs, and furniture with a HEPA vacuum cleaner. Doing this frequently will cut down on pet dander almost as much as an air filter will. In fact, if possible, get rid of carpets — bare floors do not trap dander and dust as well. You can use throw rugs instead, which can be washed in hot water, removing all the dander and dust mites.
Maintaining the filter in your home’s heating and cooling system can aid in the removal of pet dander from the air (and keep your system free from particle build up). For more effective filtration, regularly replace the filter element over the return vents of your HVAC system.
Living in a pet-free home may be the best option for those with severe pet allergies. However, if symptoms are manageable, there are ways that you can protect yourself from allergic reactions while still enjoying the companionship of a furry friend. It may take a little extra cleaning and maintenance, but for many families, the effort is well worth the result.
Our Molekule solution
Traditional air filters like HEPA filters will trap dander particles, but they cannot permanently remove them. The Molekule technology, on the other hand, effectively destroys allergen particles that pass through the device, permanently removing them from the air through the Photo Electrochemical Oxidation (PECO) process. First, air passes through the unit and into the Pre-Filter, which captures larger particles like pet hair. Then, particles like pet dander are broken down through a catalytic reaction on a filter surface, called the PECO-Filter. This process removes pet allergen particles, large and small. With pets in your home, you would need to replace your Molekule filters on time to ensure the most benefit. The Molekule air purifier is the best solution for pet dander and allergens, delivering clean air to your home while you enjoy the companionship of your furry friends.
With updated contribution from Catherine Poslusny