Pet allergies are reactions certain animals trigger in people. Allergies are an immune response triggered by items unfamiliar to the body. Some people suffer allergies from multiple types of animals, while others only react to one type. Many people choose to have pets even though they have allergy symptoms.
What causes pet allergies?
Pet allergies occur when you come in contact with an allergen, in this case, an animal, that the body has created antibodies against in defense. People are commonly allergic to cats and dogs, though rabbits, horses, and rodents are domestic pets that can also trigger allergies.
Contrary to popular belief, pet allergies result from animal dander, not animal fur. Dander is skin cells shed from the animal that can stick to fur and other objects. Certain proteins shed in the animal’s saliva, urine, and sweat can also cause allergies. Dander is the biggest allergy offender because it is tiny and light, making it able to travel through the air and breathable. Dander also easily sticks to clothing, fabric, and other surfaces, allowing for re-exposure and recirculation.
Who gets allergies?
Allergies to pets can be quite common. Some people do not know their symptoms stem from their favorite companions since these symptoms are very similar to those of seasonal allergies. Those with a history or family history of asthma have an increased risk of developing pet allergies.
Symptoms of pet allergies
Symptoms can range from mild to severe but often mimic seasonal allergies. However, in people with asthma, symptoms can be more significant and result in flare-ups or difficulty breathing. Symptoms occur from exposure to a pet, the pet’s environment, or the fabric or clothing exposed to a pet. Symptoms can include:
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Stuffy nose
- Itchy skin
- Itchy eyes
- Throat irritation
- Facial pain or pressure
In more severe instances:
- Skin rash or hives
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
Symptoms may come and go or may be continuous depending on exposure. For people who have ongoing exposure, symptoms do not go away. This is one of the reasons people do not realize that pets are the cause.
Diagnosing pet allergies
If you experience these symptoms, discuss them with your healthcare provider to find out the cause. Your healthcare provider can determine if you suffer from pet allergies based on your symptoms or refer you to an allergist. They can also order allergy testing to determine what is triggering your symptoms.
Allergy testing is most commonly done through skin testing though blood testing can be done if needed. Skin testing involves placing a small amount of the allergen in a liquid form on a small prick in the skin. The provider waits approximately 15 minutes to see if any redness, swelling, or irritation occurs. If any of these reactions occur, this is a positive test, meaning the allergy is present. Otherwise, the test is negative. This is the easiest form of testing.
How to treat, manage, and prevent pet allergies
Unfortunately, the best treatment is to avoid the triggers. If this is not possible, or you choose to keep your pets despite your allergy symptoms, there are things you can do that may reduce symptoms.
Ways to decrease symptoms:
- Avoid kissing, hugging, or letting the pet around your face
- Do not allow pets in your bedroom or on your bed
- Cover pillows and mattresses with hypoallergenic covers
- Remove carpeting or replace it often
- Dust with a damp cloth every couple of days
- Avoid soiled litter
- Wash hands and clothes after contact with the pet
- Use a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter air cleaner in the bedroom and frequently used rooms
- Vacuum daily with a HEPA filter-equipped vacuum but not around the person with the allergy
- Do not let the pets on the furniture
- Bathing dogs at least twice a week can decrease allergens
- Keeping pets out of the house will not prevent dander from entering the house. Clothing and fabric can carry dander and cause symptoms.
Unfortunately, if symptoms are severe, it may be necessary to consider rehoming the pet. It will still take several months to remove the allergens and dander from the home completely.
Research suggests that children who have early exposure to pets may be less likely to develop pet allergies as they get older. Children under one year of age who have early exposure can develop immunities against allergens.
Your healthcare provider may prescribe medications to reduce or control your symptoms, such as:
- Antihistamines block the histamines released by the body when exposed to an allergen. This may decrease symptoms that develop. Be aware antihistamines can cause drowsiness. Examples include Loratadine, Cetirizine, and Fexofenadine which are available over the counter or by prescription.
- Corticosteroid nasal sprays reduce swelling in the nasal passages and decrease inflammation. Available over the counter and prescription, they include Flonase and Nasacort.
- Your provider or allergist may suggest allergy shots that have proven effective in long-term treatment. These are often used when other medications do not control symptoms or symptoms are severe.
Can pet allergies have complications?
Frequent sinus infections may be a problem. People with pet allergies are more inclined to have chronic swelling or inflammation of the sinuses. This inflammation can cause blockages which can lead to infections.
Pet allergies can aggravate asthma and make it hard to control. Notify your healthcare provider or seek emergency medical treatment if you cannot control your asthma symptoms.
Several studies report that a genuinely hypoallergenic pet does not exist. There are several breeds of dogs said to be hypoallergenic. However, studies show that testing shows dander and other proteins released by the dogs still test positive as allergens. Cats are not reported to be hypoallergenic in any study.