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Pets and allergies

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Dogs, cats and other furry pets can trigger allergic reactions in many people.

Allergy UK says that for 50% of children with asthma, cats can be a trigger, while the figure for dog allergies is 40%.

It's important to know what causes pet allergies: it's the protein found in an animal’s saliva, urine, and skin flakes, called dander, not the fur. So even if it's a bald cat, you can be allergic.

Symptoms of pet allergy

Many people, especially children, may not even know they are allergic. The proteins cause the body to produce histamines, which result in sudden eye itches, wheezy breathing or a rash.

Allergies can be hereditary. If you had asthma as a child, you may develop a cat allergy later in life.

Allergy type symptoms can result from other causes, so seek medical advice if symptoms don't clear up.

Coping with pets in the home

Doctors recommend a multi-pronged approach.

First is avoidance. You need to limit the areas of the home where the animal is allowed, primarily the bedroom and the bed. Don't forget how much time we spend breathing and touching things in that room.

Shutting the bedroom door and keeping pets out is one simple step.

Other tips:

  • Consider buying a HEPA air purifier for your home. HEPA filters can remove over 99% of allergens from the air. Consider removing dander-trapping carpets and installing tile or wood that can be cleaned thoroughly.
  • Wash bedding frequently in hot water ( dust mites, which do not come from animals, are also powerful allergens). Washing flushes away dander that has settled on the bedding.
    Do not allow your pet in the car, or use washable seat covers.
  • Wash your hands after playing with animals.
  • Clean and vacuum regularly. You can also find vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters.

Doctors recommend bathing pets frequently, which in the case of cats can be very entertaining! Even a damp flannel on the fur can help. Special wipes are also available at pet shops for this purpose.

Keeping the animal's skin healthy with vitamin supplements can limit shedding of dander.

Contrary to what you might think, the amount of dander an allergic person breathes does not make the symptoms worse or better. Small animal, big animal, long fur, short fur, it doesn't make a difference.

So much for the new 'designer dogs', such as labradoodles, although some people do swear they reduce symptoms. One prominent vet has also advanced the theory that female animals cause fewer allergies. This is open to debate.

Often it’s necessary for the allergic person to use medication with topical or inhaled corticosteroids, especially if he or she is asthmatic.

If all this fails, then there are allergy injections, called immunotherapy. Often these injections must be given every week, but they can keep allergy symptoms at bay.

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Reviewed on March 17, 2016

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