We love our pets, but unfortunately for some of us, our bodies do not love the proteins in their dander (dead skin cells), saliva, and urine. In the United States, up to 30% of pet owners suffer from itchy eyes, sneezing, cough, nasal congestion, itchy skin, hives, and even asthma symptoms… all in the name of love.
What causes pet allergies?
Pet allergens are proteins found in the pet’s saliva, dead skin cells, urine and blood. Pet hair and fur are not allergens but may appear as triggers for allergies when the proteins get stuck in them. These pet allergens are easily spread, circulate in air, and can remain on furniture for months.
People who suffer from pet allergies have immune systems that mistaken harmless pet proteins as damaging invaders. Their immune system forms antibodies against the allergens to signal histamine release which causes the allergy symptoms.
For people who suffer from dog allergies, certain breeds (such as poodles, some terriers, and Portugese water dogs ) have a reputation for being “hypoallergenic.” However, a truly non-allergic dog and cat does not exist.
Can I be allergic to my pet?
Your doctor may diagnose a pet allergy based on symptoms, examination of the lining of your nose and skin, and medical history.
To understand exactly what you are allergic to, you may be referred to an allergy specialist who can perform a simple skin. In the skin test, tiny amounts of allergen extracts are pricked into your skin and observed for skin reaction within 15 minutes of exposure. Alternatively, the allergy doctor may order a blood test that screens your blood for specific allergy-causing antibodies to various common animal allergens.
What is the best treatment for pet allergies?
Avoidance of the pets that trigger the allergies is the best way to be symptom-free.
If avoidance of the animal is not possible, medications such as nasal steroids and antihistamines may be recommended by your doctor to manage the symptoms.
But I want to keep my pet
No problem. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences recommends the following to reduce exposure to pet allergens:
Keep pets out of the bedroom where you or the allergic person sleeps
Encase mattresses and pillows in special allergen-proof fabric covers
Remove or replace carpets
Vacuum regularly using a cleaner with a HEPA filter or a double-layered micro filter bag
Use a portable air cleaner with a HEPA filter for the allergic person's bedroom
Avoid certain ionic air cleaners that can generate harmful ozone
Keep pets off furniture and out of cars
Bathe dogs, which may decrease allergens if done at least twice a week for effectiveness
After playing with your pet, wash your hands and clothes to remove pet allergens
Avoid contact with soiled litter
Dust often with a damp cloth