Pet Allergy

The allergen is not the fur or hair, but something much smaller, stickier and sneakier.

Pets—particularly dogs and cats—are a common cause of allergy. They can also aggravate several other allergy-related conditions. Though less common, other animals—such as guinea pigs, rabbits, mice, horses and birds—can also trigger allergic reactions.

Pet allergy is a common cause of allergic rhinitis or hay fever. And, to a lesser degree, urticaria or hives. It can also trigger and severely aggravate asthma, eczema and allergic conjunctivitis.

While some breeders claim they can produce “hypoallergenic pets” there is little difference between breeds when it comes to allergens. That’s because the allergen is not the fur or hair, but something much smaller, stickier and sneakier. While fur, hair and dander can help to spread the allergen, it’s not what makes you sneeze, wheeze or itch.

Pet allergen is incredibly pervasive. Being smaller than pollen or dust mites, it floats in the air, permeates clothing and furnishings, and sticks to just about everything it touches. Studies reveal pet allergen to be present in close to 100% of homes, even though only about 50% of us keep pets.

Causes

Animals that can trigger allergic reactions:

  • dogs
  • cats
  • horses
  • mice
  • rats
  • guinea pigs
  • rabbits
  • birds

In cats, the primary source of allergen is the sebaceous glands—the oil secreting glands in the skin. The immaculate cat’s constant grooming and licking spread the allergen throughout the coat. Allergen can therefore also be present in the cat’s saliva and dander (shed hair and skin particles).

In dogs, a major source of allergen is saliva. And dogs do love to lick—themselves, each other, us, anything. Another consideration is what the dog has eaten—serious reactions can occur after the dog has had foods containing egg, or even treats containing nuts. As with cats, a dog’s hair and dander can also carry allergen. Allergic dander in cats and dogs is not affected by length of hair or fur, nor by the amount of shedding.

Treatment

Once pet allergy has been correctly identified, the problem and symptoms can be effectively managed and treated in a number of ways. Only in severe cases should you need to find a new home for your pets.

First and foremost of these is limiting exposure to the allergen. Treatment options for pet allergy symptoms include:

  • antihistamines
  • corticosteroids
  • saline nasal sprays
  • immunotherapy
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