There's no denying pets are cute, but for pet allergy sufferers, they can also be downright dangerous.

September 23, 2020
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Pets can be your best friends, but if you have allergies or asthma, they can also be your worst enemy. Pets shed dander, a combination of dead skin cells and hair (or feathers), which can trigger asthma attacks and allergic reactions in some people. However, you can cut down on pet allergens at home. Here are some steps you can take.

Minimize Contact

You probably should bar pets from bedrooms where people with allergies or asthma sleep. Children with allergies should also avoid petting or touching animals. If they do come into contact with a pet, they should wash their hands thoroughly.

Restricting pets to rooms with wood floors may also help. Wood flooring traps less dander than carpet and is easier to clean; keeping pets off carpet may help cut down on allergens.

Keep Fluffy Off the Couch

Keeping pets off carpets, upholstered furniture, and beds can reduce exposure to dander. (Using allergen-resistant bedding will help fend off any dander that does find its way into bedrooms.) Keeping pets out of cars—or restricting them to a non-upholstered tailgate area, if possible—is also a good idea.

In addition, any furniture, fabrics, or materials that pets do come into contact with should be vacuumed or washed frequently. This includes throw rugs, pet beds, cushions, pillows, and blankets.

Clean, Clean, Clean

Dusting as often as possible will keep dander (as well as dust mites and other allergens) to a minimum. Vacuuming, however, may not get all the allergens from the lower levels of a rug and may stir up a bit of dander as you clean. It may help to use vacuums equipped with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter or double bags. However, it's still a good idea to dust or vacuum when the person with allergies or asthma is not at home.

Replacing wall-to-wall carpets with wood floors will make it easier to remove dander.

Credit: Rebecca Nelson / Getty

Close Registers

If you have forced-air heating and air-conditioning, closing air registers may reduce the amount of animal dander that circulates through your home. If closing all of the registers isn’t practical, try closing those in the rooms where asthmatic or allergic individuals spend the most time (especially bedrooms).

Replacing the filter in your furnace or air conditioner with a HEPA filter and/or purchasing a room air cleaner may also help. Studies on the effectiveness of these methods have been inconclusive, however. (See the Health.com air cleaner buying guide for more information.)

Bathe your Pet

Research shows that frequently bathing your pet reduces the allergens found in their dander.

A 1999 study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology compared the levels of allergens in dog dander before and after a five-minute bath with an unnamed “proprietary shampoo.” The researchers found that the bath reduced the dogs’ allergen levels by about 85%. But the allergen levels returned to normal in about three days, which suggests that dogs need to be washed at least twice a week—although that's generally more often than most pets need a bath.

Similar studies about bathing cats have had mixed but generally less encouraging results.

Clean Cages

Though hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, birds, and other pets typically confined to cages tend to be less problematic for allergy and asthma sufferers, dander and urine produced by these pets can still provoke allergic reactions and asthma attacks.

Birdcages and rodent cages should be cleaned at least once a week. Likewise, litter boxes should be cleaned frequently and moved as far as practical from main living areas.

A version of this article originally appeared on Health.com.