By Dr. Paul Ehrlich
Love may conquer all, but does it conquer allergies? Our news page has an item from Slate.com advice columnist Dear Prudence (Emily Yoffe) from a woman whose boyfriend of 10 months claims to be severely allergic to dogs, and wants her to get rid of her 9-year-old pooch (with health problems of its own) before he will marry her. Pets are serious business. The index of our book shows around thirty entries for pets and related issues. I also tell a story about a patient who said the dog had to go; her husband served her with divorce papers the next day. My own opinion is that this kind of mixed marriage represents a fault line every bit as precarious as those between different faiths, different political parties, or different sports teams. In my own family, cats and dogs were an issue when the kids were growing up. Thank God my wife and I both are registered in the same political party, she runs the family Seder even though she wasn’t raised Jewish, and we are both Yankee fans. But get rid of the pets because of allergies?…never. When the subject of getting rid of Sammy the cat because of the kids’ allergies came up at dinner in my apartment one night, the vote was three to one to get rid of the allergist.
In the case of Prudie’s correspondent, the boyfriend claims not only is he allergic, but afraid of dogs because he was menaced by one as a child, which greatly complicates an already-delicate dilemma. In light of the psychological issues, Prudence encourages more proof of actual allergies. Trust issues anyone?
But in the end, she gives some very sound ideas on how to manage their home if they stay together: “Perhaps you can have your dog bathed and then the three of you can go for a walk. He’ll see how unthreatening your baby is, and maybe he won’t start wheezing. Perhaps if you move in together, your dog can be limited to certain areas of the house. Possibly your boyfriend can investigate allergy shots (if he really is allergic). I think he owes you the opportunity to have it all—his love, your children, and your short-timer of a cocker spaniel.”
Pet lovers may benefit from immunotherapy, but for dog allergen it only works half the time, and I only offer it in combination with other allergies like dust mite or pollens that have higher success rates.* Cat immunotherapy is effective more often, but it is also hard to work with because patients sometimes react even to the point of anaphylaxis. Dog dander can be partially controlled using something called Allerpet/D (there is AllerPet/C, too). It is also not as sticky as cat dander, and thus less likely to hitch a ride into the bedroom on clothes and shoes.
Look, there’s no one answer for any of this. People have conflicting needs, attachments, and values, as well as severity of allergies. Some allergies can be managed comfortably and some cannot. And some people are so attached to their pets that it’s “my shar pei or the highway.”
*A new study shows that the presence of a dog may actually help protect infants against a common respiratory virus associated with the development of asthma.
Photo from http://www.zimfamilycockers.com/cockers.html