By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker
Most family dogs, cats and other companion animals spend all or the majority of their time indoors. What many pet parents don’t think about or realize is that when their four-legged family member is hanging out at home, he’s being exposed to a wide variety of airborne particles and contaminants.
In fact, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor air contains two to five times and potentially as much as 100 times more contaminants than the air outdoors. The particulate matter continually floating around the air in your home is made up of substances like dust, metals, smoke, liquid droplets, chemicals and pollen. This is the air you and your family, including your pets, are inhaling into your lungs.
Because most pets spend much more time at home than their humans do, they have a higher, more consistent level of exposure to indoor pollutants. In addition, thanks to their sense of smell, our pets are much more sensitive than we are to airborne toxins.
For Allergic Pets, Dirty Indoor Air Can Make a Bad Situation Much Worse
Many dogs and cats these days have environmental allergies, including dust mite allergies, that can be triggered or made worse by poor air quality inside the home. If your pet has allergies, she’ll be very itchy. She'll scratch like crazy and may become irritated, snappish or even aggressive.
She might bite or chew at a certain part of her body, or she may be itchy all over. She may rub herself against the furniture or the carpet to relieve the miserable itch. As the itching and scratching gets worse, the skin becomes inflamed, irritated and quite tender. Secondary yeast and bacterial infections can develop. There might be areas of hair loss, open sores or sores that have scabbed over. Some animals develop one hot spot after another.
Pets with environmental allergies often also have problems with their ears and feet. The ear canals become very itchy and inflamed, and they often become infected with yeast or bacteria.
Because dogs and cats sweat from the nose and the bottoms of their feet, when they go outside, billions of allergens cling to their paws. Those allergens are tracked back inside and spread all around your home, including in the air, creating a major source of recurring irritation for your pet’s itchy skin. Some pets, especially cats, can even develop allergy symptoms that are very similar to humans, such as a runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing and coughing.
Contaminants in Indoor Air
There are literally hundreds of substances in the average home that can pollute the air your pet is breathing. Common contaminants found in homes include:
Formaldehyde from paint, bookshelves, cabinets, beds, plastics, cosmetics, fabrics, pillows and drapes
VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, from paint, pesticides, building and hobby materials, cleaners and cabinetry
Lead from old paint (simply opening an old painted window can release it into your air)
Airborne bacteria and viruses from humans, pets, moist surfaces and ventilation systems
Flame-retardant chemicals from furniture, carpeting and mattresses
Fragrances and other chemicals from candles, synthetic room sprays, upholstery fresheners, and cleaning and laundry supplies
Mold, mildew and other pollutants from faulty plumbing and leaky foundations and roofs
Dander and allergens from pets and other animals
Tobacco smoke, including second and third-hand smoke
Most if not all of these substances present a significant threat to the health of everyone in your home. Some of these toxins, like formaldehyde, certain VOCs and flame retardants, are known to cause metabolic dysregulation and endocrine disruption, and also potentially cancer.
In addition, many people use air fresheners, candles and incense around their home to cover unwanted odors, however, some of these products contain phthalates, which are potentially harmful chemicals that have been shown to cause hormone abnormalities in mammals, as well as birth defects and reproductive issues in humans.
And phthalates aren’t just in scented products. They’re also found in children’s toys, some imported dog toys from China, nail polish and perfumes. When chemicals from these products are released into the air, the phthalates become airborne and can be inhaled into the lungs or absorbed through the skin. In both cases, they end up in your pet’s bloodstream. Basically anything in your home has the potential to end up in your pet’s bloodstream, so make sure you choose products wisely.
Recommendations for Cleaning Your Indoor Air
Given that the air your pet is breathing all day every day is unavoidably polluted, I always recommend that pet parents invest in an air purifier for overall respiratory well-being.
If your pet has asthma, a dust mite hypersensitivity, dust mite irritation, collapsing trachea or persistent reverse sneezing, I absolutely recommend an in-home air purification system. This is especially important if your pet is a brachycephalic breed with very short muzzle, because he’ll have a hard time breathing to begin with, as well as other pets with significant respiratory conditions.
I first used Dr. Mercola’s line of ClearAir purifiers when I opened my animal hospital because they feature advanced Photo Catalytic Oxidation (PCO) technology, which was originally invented for use in space by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
This technology destroys biological contaminants and produces purifying plasma to eliminate odors, minor mold, bacteria and viruses. PCO cells have been proven to reduce potentially dangerous pathogens by more than 99 percent in less than 24 hours, which was another reason I brought the units into my hospital.
They were extremely helpful in controlling infectious disease in my practice, and I didn’t have to use a lot of harsh chemicals around the building. Instead of simply covering up the source of smells and contamination, the ClearAir purifiers break down the actual molecules.
Needlepoint Ionization Is a Superior Air Cleaning Technology
ClearAir purifiers use needlepoint ionization that travels to the pollutants in every corner and on every surface of the room, rather than waiting for contaminants to enter the purifier. Most air filtration technologies on the market, including the popular high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter units, use a passive approach to purify the air, which means the air has to be sucked into the unit to be cleaned.
Negative ions impart a charge to particles like dust, dander and bacteria, causing them to attract other particles and clump together. As more and more particles come together, the heavier they become. They either enter your home’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) air filter, or they fall to the ground where you vacuum them up. It’s a nice way to actively filter the air.
Another plus of needlepoint ionization is its ability to reduce ultra-fine or even nano-sized particles. HEPA filters can only filter out particles 0.5 microns or larger. It’s the ultra-fine particles that present the greatest potential threat to your pet’s health — much more so than the larger particles you can actually see.
ClearAir purifiers also feature a scalable activated oxygen purification technology that uses activated oxygen, or ozone, to purify and clean the air. Another active method of air purification, activated oxygen neutralizes odors instead of masking them with toxic air fresheners.
Ozone is highly reactive so when it cleans or oxidizes an air pollutant, it loses one of its oxygen atoms and turns back into pure oxygen. In fact, its half-life is very short. The amount of ozone in your air decreases by 50 percent in only 20 minutes.
Once ozone oxidizes a pollutant, the contaminant loses its ability to cause odor or to be allergenic or potentially harmful. Mold spores and bacteria can no longer reproduce as ozone reacts with the fatty acids in bacterial cell walls, breaking down the membranes and allowing the cellular contents to escape. It does a really nice job of neutralizing toxins naturally, without any chemical insult.
If you’re worried about ozone, like many of my exotic animal and bird clients are, the EPA has established limits for ozone in air purifiers for occupied spaces at 0.05 parts per million (ppm), which is the same level found outdoors. Dr. Mercola’s ClearAir purifiers have carefully designed controls that allow for adjustable levels based on the square footage of your space to maintain levels of ozone well within the safety margin.
An Air Purifier Is a Much More Effective, Safer Approach Than Chemical Air-Scenting Products
If you’re ready to give the air you and your pets breathe a good cleansing, I recommend Dr. Mercola’s ClearAir Room Air Purifier. The room model will transform the air in your bedroom, bathroom, office or other small space — including the spaces you share with your beloved cat or dog — into fresh, contaminant-free, clean-smelling air.
Using two of these advanced technologies, both the ionization and the activated oxygen, the ClearAir Room Air Purifier with its adjustable dial removes offending particles and odors from the air rather than covering them up with chemical-laden synthetic air fresheners. You can avoid plug-ins, room sprays and other air-scenting products, which I never recommend using around pets.
The ClearAir Room Air Purifier is perfect for small spaces, about 50 square feet. If you have a larger space, you can plug in more than one unit. It’s great because you can target areas of your home where your dog or cat tends to hang out. It’s great for litterbox areas as well. You can also take it with you when you travel and use it to clean the air in your pet-friendly hotel room.
The ClearAir Room Air Purifier requires minimal maintenance. Since crystals will form on the vent with normal use, an occasional swabbing with alcohol will keep your unit functioning smoothly. The ClearAir is hands down the safest, easiest and most effective air purifier I’ve ever used. It’s something that all pet parents should consider. If your pets spend the majority of their lives inside your home, it’s one of the best gifts you can offer them.