Dog owner's boyfriend gives ultimatum

Posted: Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Dear Rex,

My boyfriend, who I will call "Richard," says he is allergic to dogs, and he says I have to choose between my dog Rover and him. Rover is 5 years old and goes everywhere with me. He is my best friend. He even sleeps with me. I love my dog, but I love my boyfriend too. What do you suggest?

Signed,

Torn between two loves,

Dear Torn,

And the problem is? It is obvious to me who should stay and who should go. However, since you are asking my advice, I am assuming you want to keep both Rover and Richard. So let's begin at the beginning.

Allergies to animals come from a hypersensitivity to proteins (allergens) in the dog's saliva or flakes of skin called dander. An estimated 30 percent of the population is affected by some degree of allergies to animals. A large proportion of that 30 percent have pets. Some take allergy medications and others have learned to live with their symptoms, preferring the quality of life with pets, over a life without pets. If your boyfriend isn't faking it because he thinks you might like Rover more than him (and some humans actually pull this trick), then he will be experiencing varying degrees of sneezing, swollen, tearing and itchy eyes, runny nose, rashes, scratching or even shortness of breath or wheezing. If he has these symptoms only when he is around dogs, and they are severe (especially if he is having trouble breathing), then this is a serious matter. You will have to get rid of him for his own sake (and here I mean the boyfriend). But before you make any decisions either way, be sure to take Richard to a doctor for allergy testing.

While you are trying to figure out who is staying and who is going, there are a number of things you can do that will help.

A good grooming is in order (I am referring to the dog, but from my observations of humans, it wouldn't hurt your boyfriend either). For the dog, a good brushing once a week and a bath with a good shampoo is important. Remember to rinse well and dry your dog. People often forget how important drying is. The boyfriend should wash his hands after petting any dog. Allergens are often transferred from a dog to a person by petting a dog and then rubbing your eyes. Of course he should never let a dog lick his face.

Another thing to remember is to keep the dog out of your bedroom. The place where you sleep should be dog free and definitely cat free (don't even get me started on cats!). Also, no dogs on the furniture. (I am definitely going to hear from my four legged friends about that bit of advice). And if you are really serious, the material on your furniture should be non porous. Hurray for plastic! Rover should have his own place to sleep and the bedding should be washed frequently. Carpet holds more allergens then solid surfaces. So rip out those carpets. And of course a thorough cleaning and vacuuming are a must. Whenever you can, air out the house. People living in air tight houses often have higher incidents of allergies. And a reminder to all you smokers ... smoking is not good for human or animal airways and tends to increase your susceptibility to air born allergens and reduce your body's ability to produce histamines to fight off allergies.

Considering you already have your beloved companion (and I am referring to Rover), the dog's hair length is already established. But in case you were considering a different pet and wondering about allergies, it is a myth that short haired dogs or specific breeds will not cause an allergic reaction. If you and Richard have kids remember that studies reveal that exposure to two or more dogs within the first year of life may reduce risk of allergic sensitivity to multiple allergens during childhood. That's not to say your baby and the dog (and cat if you must) should be drinking from the same bowl, but having pets appears to be a good thing in terms of reducing the chance of developing allergies.

Now let's get down to the real issue ... have you asked Rover if he is allergic to Richard? From the talk around the fire hydrant I can tell you many of my peeps have put the big growl on their human's relationships. If that is the case, now is the time to get all of you to work together on a solution so that all of you can live with.

Good Luck,

Rex

• Ask Rex is a column coordinated by the Gastineau Humane Society. Dog-related questions can be sent to "Ask Rex," Gastineau Humane Society, 7705 Glacier Highway, Juneau, AK 99801.



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