Could you be allergic to your furry pet?
According to the 2019-2020 National Pet Owners Survey, 67% of U.S households own a pet. Every year, this number seems to rise. The most common furry pets include cats and dogs, but many own rodents, ferrets, and rabbits as well. These pets can bring daily joy and companionship to their families. For many pet owners, these animals are part of the family. But what if you’re allergic to your pet? Unfortunately, approximately 15% of the population is allergic to their pet, cat and dog being the most common pet allergy.
What causes a pet allergy?
Allergies occur when the immune system over-reacts to a foreign substance such as pollen, mold or pet dander. This results in an allergic cascade, giving rise to mild, moderate or severe allergy symptoms. The typical symptoms of pet allergy include runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion, and postnasal drip. Some may experience asthma symptoms, such as, coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and wheezing. Others may have skin involvement – itchy hives, angioedema or swelling, and eczema. You’re more likely to develop a pet allergy if allergies or asthma runs in your family.
Is there a true hypoallergenic pet?
No. There are no true hypoallergenic breeds for dogs or cats. Certain breeds of dogs may shed less; however, they still secrete allergenic proteins that can cause symptoms for those who are allergic.
Cats produce a protein that is found in the skin, fur and saliva. These proteins are very small in size and can remain airborne for long periods. In fact, some studies have shown that these proteins can stick around in the home months after removal of a cat. Homes with more than one cat have higher levels of cat allergens. Additionally, cats can carry dust mite and pollen on their fur which can also add to symptoms, especially if you have dust mite and pollen allergy.
Dogs produce a protein this is found in skin, saliva and urine. These proteins tend to be higher in homes where the dog lives indoors versus outdoor. Additionally, the protein amount is higher in the rooms where a dog is allowed. Just as with cats, dogs can also carry dust mite and pollen on their fur which may worsen allergy symptoms.
Rodent and rabbit allergy
Common rodent pets include mice, gerbils, hamsters and guinea pigs. The proteins found in these animals are usually present in the hair, dander, saliva and urine. Rabbit allergens are present in dander, hair and saliva. These animals may also carry dust mite and/or pollen allergens.
What can you do if you suspect a pet allergy?
The best thing to do is to see a board-certified allergist at North Texas Allergy and Asthma Center. Diagnosis requires a throughout history, physical exam and allergy testing for common outdoor and indoor items, particularly cats, dogs and other pet animals. Skin prick testing is done in the office and results are available within 15-20 minutes.
How are pet allergies treated?
If the pet remains in the home, there will be constant exposure which could lead to chronic symptoms. If you are allergic to your pet, the best recommendation is avoidance and removal of the pet. However, this may be difficult to do for those whose pets are part of their family. Here are some recommendations if you decide to keep your pet:
- Restrict access: keep your pet outdoors and out of your bedroom
- Bathing: bathe your pet at least twice a week (might be more helpful for dog allergy versus cat allergy)
- Other measures that might help: vacuuming with a HEPA filter, impermeable coverings for pillow/mattress, air purifiers, and elimination of the reservoirs for allergens
Medications can help alleviate the immediate and chronic symptoms of pet allergies. They can also be taken to help prevent symptoms when you know you will be exposed to a pet allergen. Some of these medications include decongestants, antihistamines, nasal corticosteroids, anti-leukotriene inhibitors, such as Montelukast. Sinus rinses are a natural remedy that helps clear the nasal passages.
Immunotherapy works by gradually desensitizing a person’s immune system to the pet allergens. Allergy-causing proteins are injected under the person’s skin, triggering the body to produce protective antibodies. Over time, the person becomes immune to their pet allergens and their symptoms improve significantly.
If you think you may have an allergy to a pet, come see one of our experienced board-certified allergists at North Texas Allergy and Asthma Center. We can help come up with a good treatment plan!
SHIKHA MANE, MD
Board Certified Allergist