Having a pet is one of the most wonderful experiences. Pets provide companionship and comfort, and truly add something so remarkable to your life. Unfortunately, there are several common pet allergies that you may be susceptible to, that you may not know about or even know you have. Below, we have broken down the most common pet allergies and have included some tips on how to figure out if you are allergic.
What causes pet allergies? Without getting too scientific, a pet allergy is an allergic reaction to proteins found in animal’s skin cells, saliva or urine, according to the Mayo Clinic. It is often caused by exposure to pet dander, or the dead skin cells that fall off of their bodies. There are a whole host of pet allergy symptoms that you should be aware of. Common symptoms include sneezing, runny nose, itchy or red eyes, nasal congestion, and cough, among others.
For people who are allergic to dogs, they may experience a number of specific symptoms. These include, but are not limited to, a rash, hives or watery eyes. This could happen either when the person is exposed to the pet dander, or if they come in contact with the dog’s saliva (which is very easy to do!).
If you are experiencing these symptoms with your dog, there are some things you can do to help alleviate some of the symptoms. It is difficult to make your home allergen-free, because dog dander can stick to household items such as curtains, furniture, bedding and carpets. While the only sure way to avoid having an allergic reaction is to completely avoid contact with dogs, we understand that is nearly impossible. To help manage your symptoms, you can try using a saline sinus rinse, which should help clear out any of the pet dander from your sinuses. Taking certain types of plant supplements, such as those that contain rosmarinic acid, could also reduce allergy symptoms.
There are some lifestyle tips and tricks to help alleviate some of your allergy symptoms as well:
- Be sure to avoid touching your eyes or face after you have had contact with a dog, to avoid transferring pet dander to your face.
- Avoid close contact with dogs and be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after meeting them.
- Maintain a consistent, weekly cleaning schedule to help manage the amount of pet dander that is in the house at any given time.
- Be sure to give your dog frequent baths, to help remove some of the dead skin cells in a manageable environment.
Cat allergies are twice as common as dog allergies, unfortunately. People who are allergic to cats share similar allergies to dog allergies: cat saliva, urine and dander. Amazingly, if you are not allergic to cats, you cat can actually make your other allergies worse. Cats can bring pollen, mold and allergens into the house in their fur, making it possible for them to trigger your seasonal allergies as well. This can be quite frustrating, to be experiencing both pet allergies and seasonal allergies at the same time!
Symptoms of cat allergies include hives, rash, itchy eyes, coughing and wheezing and a runny nose. It could take anywhere from minutes to hours for an allergic reaction to appear after contact with a cat, depending on the severity of the allergy.
Those with allergies to cats should do everything they can to avoid contact or prolonged contact with a cat:
- Do not touch, hug or kiss cats. Even a small amount of contact could cause a severe flare up.
- Be aware of those friends who have cats at home and understand that they could bring cat dander into your home, even if they leave the cat at home.
- If you know you will be traveling to a home with a cat, request that the cat be kept away from the room you will be staying in, and prepare by taking allergy medication several days beforehand.
Of course, if you are already a cat parent and have recently developed a cat allergy, there a number of things you can do around the house to help alleviate some of your allergic reactions:
- If it is a severe allergy, ask another member of your family to take care of the cat such as cleaning out the litter box.
- It is also helpful to designate a section of your house cat free, and secure the cat in the other part of the house. This will allow you at least a small amount of space that you can clean thoroughly and you can guarantee will be pet dander-free.
Diagnosis and Treatment
If you are concerned that you are suffering from dog allergies that are difficult to live with, you should see your doctor. In order to test for your allergies, a doctor will use a skin-prick test to diagnose where your allergies lie. This includes a doctor putting a small amount of dog proteins on the skin then pricking the skin to allow the allergens to enter the body.
1. Over-the-counter medications
There are, of course, over-the-counter medications that you can take as well. Antihistamines are able to block allergy reaction and symptoms and can be bought online or with a prescription. Nasal decongestants are also quite helpful in alleviating allergy symptoms. Some nasal decongestants can be purchased without a prescription, and some can even be purchased online.
If you are suffering from severe or chronic dog allergies, you may also receive treatment through immunotherapy, or allergy shots. This process includes receiving regular shots to help you build up tolerance and can take several months to be fully effective.
Similar to handling dog allergies, you should consult a doctor if you are concerned about having an allergy to your cat. It is likely your doctor with conduct a skin-prick test, similar to the process with dog allergies. A doctor may request that you live without a cat for a few months, to better identify specifically what is causing the allergies.
Treatments include antihistamines, decongestants and nasal steroids, as with treatments for dog allergies. Allergy shots are also an option, and take a longer amount of time to build up a tolerance to the allergy.
Create an allergy-free space
Of course, no one wants to part with their pet. It is akin to losing a family member, and it can be absolutely heartbreaking. We certainly do not want you have to do that, so we have compiled a list of tips to help you create a space in your home that is allergen-free and a place you know you can spend time without worrying about having an allergic reaction.
1. Close off certain rooms to pets
Select a number of rooms that your pet will not be allowed into. The most obvious example is a bedroom, but you could also add a living room or family room or kitchen to that list, to create a number of spaces where you can live allergen-free.
2. Remove fabrics
Get rid of fabrics. Fabrics are some of the biggest culprits when it comes to pet allergies. Allergens collect in fabric materials such as rugs, curtains or furniture upholstery. If you can, remove all of these items from rooms that you will be designating pet-free. This may seem like an extreme step, but it will go a long way towards eliminating pet dander from your home. If it is possible for you to purchase new furniture, that would be a good idea. That way, you can ensure the materials you are bringing into your home are dander-free. If you do not have the ability to purchase new furniture, you should steam clean them regularly.
3. Invest in a high-quality vacuum
To maintain a dander-free environment, vacuum frequently with a high-powered filter and a bag that will not allow particles to blow out of the vacuum. This will help trap any allergens that have escaped from the areas of the house that have been designated as pet zones.
Prevent the spread of allergens
One of the most useful things you can to do help prevent excess amounts of dander in the home is to bathe your cat or dog frequently. At least once a week, use a shampoo that won’t dry out the skin but will help you clean out any dead skins cells and items that might cause an allergy flare up.
After bathing your pet, wipe them down with a product designed to prevent dander from building up. Your veterinarian will know which ones are safest for your furry family members. As your doctor reminds you to frequently take stock of your skin, do the same for your cat or dog. Note any signs of dermatitis and alert your veterinarian. Dermatitis can increase skin and fur shedding, increasing your exposure to allergens.
If you do have allergies and do not have a pet, but would like to be able to, all hope is not lost. Luckily for you, there are hypoallergenic dogs! While there are no dogs that are 100% hypoallergenic, many breeds of dog make for great companions for those who suffer from allergies. What makes these dogs so good for allergies? They generally do not shed, which means they don’t have hair for dander to attach to.
Some breeds of hypoallergenic dogs include:
- Afghan Hound, who should be bathed and brushed twice a week
- Bichon Frise, whose hair does not shed and will need regular grooming
- Portuguese Water Dog, whose waterproof coat will need regular grooming
- Poodle, who will need professional grooming
- Standard Schnauzer, who will require regular brushing.
For those with allergies to cats, you also have options. Some breeds of cats produce fewer allergens and can be considered “hypoallergenic.” These include:
- Balinese, one of the few breeds that produce fewer allergens than most
- Oriental Shorthair, a breed that is considered non-allergenic but should still be groomed
- Javanese, a breed that does not have an undercoat
- Devon Rex, who have shorter fur and less fur than most cats
- Sphynx, a hairless cat most associated with being hypoallergenic
- Siberian, which has a lower-than-average enzyme level in their saliva
There are a number of actions you can take to ensure your pet is as “hypoallergenic” as possible:
- First, make sure your pet has the correct amount of fatty acids in their diet. This will help shedding and dander production.
- If you invest in a high quality vacuum and clean your house regularly, this will eliminate any number of allergens that have accumulated in your home.
- It is also very helpful to purchase a quality air purifier for your home.
You should bathe your pet often, using a shampoo that is safe for animals and will not dry out their skin. It is important to keep in mind that because there is no such thing as a completely hypoallergenic dog, not all dogs will need a hypoallergenic shampoo. If your dog has red, itchy skin and you are concerned it is because of the frequency with which you bathe them, consult your veterinarian. Your vet will be able to tell you if your dog has an allergy to something in your home, instead of having a rash from the frequent washing. When you are looking for a hypoallergenic shampoo, keep an eye out for products that have fewer ingredients than regular shampoos. They shouldn’t include thickeners and likely will not product as much lather. Look for ones that do not include fragrances, dyes or perfumes.
The same advice should be followed when looking for shampoos for your hypoallergenic cat. Keep in mind that these shampoos are not necessarily highly regulated, so you should consult with your veterinarian before purchasing.
Realizing that you have a pet allergy can be truly disappointing, but don’t let it ruin the wonderful relationship you have with your pet. Thankfully there are a number of medications, cleaning supplies and tricks to help alleviate your allergy symptoms and allow you to continue to live your life with your pet!