Many of those who suffer from allergic asthma and/or allergic rhinoconjunctivitis (“hay fever”) are allergic to their pets.

Ten to twenty percent of people around the world are allergic to cats and dogs, which are the most common pets in the United States; the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology estimates 161 million cats and dogs live in about 62% of all American homes.

Pet Allergy Symptoms

Symptoms can vary from person to person, but frequent symptoms include:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Cough and postnasal drip
  • Wheezing, shortness of breath
  • Itchy eyes, nose, and throat
  • Watery eyes

For those with asthma, animal allergies can aggravate your asthma with symptoms such as:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath

Many people who are allergic to animals also have skin symptoms if frequently in direct contact with animals:

  • Raised, red patches of skin that can present as hives, or a nonspecific rash
  • Eczema flare
  • Itchy skin

What Causes Pet Allergies?

Proteins in a furred or feathered animal’s saliva, dander, and urine are what cause animal allergies. Your pet’s hair, fur, or feathers have dander, another word for dead skin cells. 

For those who are sensitized to animal dander, when the protein that causes allergies gets into the airways, eyes, nose, mouth, or skin, it causes an allergic reaction.

Pets that can cause allergies include dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, ferrets, birds, and, rarely, horses. Some animal breeds are better than others for people with allergies, but no breed is completely allergy-free, or “hypoallergenic.” If you want a pet that won’t make your allergies worse, choose one that doesn’t have fur or feathers, like fish, turtles, or reptiles.

WHERE ARE PET ALLERGENS FOUND?

There are allergens from pets everywhere. Since allergens can be carried on clothes, they can show up in places where pets have never been. Many surfaces and fabrics can hold allergens from pets. Even after a pet leaves, allergens can stay in the house for up to six months. This is especially true for allergens from cats.

RISK FACTORS FOR PET ALLERGIES

Like many allergies, you are more at risk of pet allergies if you have a family history of allergies or allergic asthma. Also, several research studies have suggested that having a dog or a cat in the home at an early age may decrease the chances of developing dog or cat allergy later in life.

Family history of allergies
Family history of allergic asthma

WHEN TO SEE A DOCTOR

There are many advanced ways to treat allergies to pets. One of our specialists is the best person to talk to regarding diagnosis and therapy options. You can contact us directly or ask to be put in touch with one of our board-certified allergists who specializes in allergy testing and treatment. During your first appointment, we’ll talk about your symptoms and how long you’ve been having them. We’ll also talk about testing options to help find your triggers and develop a treatment plan that works for you. 

Pet Allergy Treatment

If you have pet allergies, it may be beneficial to start with simple over-the-counter treatments that include: 

  • Nasal/sinus saline rinses
  • Nasal corticosteroid or antihistamine sprays
  • Allergy eye drops and/or artificial tears 
  • Oral antihistamines
  • Oral decongestants

If these over-the-counter treatments aren’t working for you, our allergy specialist may prescribe other medications or allergy shots (also known as immunotherapy).

How to Prevent Pet Allergies?

If you are allergic to a pet, the first step to preventing a reaction is to reduce exposure. This may seem obvious, but any touch with a furry or feathered friend can trigger a reaction if you are allergic.

You can also limit your exposure to pet dander by keeping the pet out of your bedroom and washing your hands thoroughly after handling your pet. Also, know that visitors who own pets can bring pet dander with them on their clothing and luggage. Depending on your sensitivity, even this indirect exposure can trigger pet allergy symptoms. If you will be visiting someone who has pets, plan ahead. Ask that the pet be kept out of the room you will be sleeping in for a few weeks before you arrive. This is also a good time to start taking allergy medicine, to help prevent reactions.

Using a combination of preventative measures has proven to be the most likely to reduce pet allergens in the home. To reduce your exposure, have someone who is not allergic help with the following tasks and home improvements:

  • Weekly bathing, brushing or grooming of your pet to reduce dander
  • Weekly washing of dog and cat beds, cleaning of small pet cages and bedding
  • Replace carpets with hardwood floors and cloth curtains with wooden or plastic blinds
  • Use a HEPA room air cleaner (ionic air purifiers are not recommended due to ozone emissions that can be harmful to the lungs)
  • Frequently vacuuming using a vacuum cleaner that has a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter
  • If allergic to feathers, replace feather or down pillows with synthetic pillows
  • Dusting often with a damp cloth
  • Frequently changing litter boxes

If you need to rehome your pet

Rehoming your pet due to your or a family member’s allergy is a difficult choice to make. But ultimately, it might be your only choice to avoid negative health effects.
*Note: Pet dander can remain in a home for up to 6 months after the pet has been removed.

01

Remove all pet bedding, equipment, and soft toys

02

Wipe down hard surfaces including walls, cabinets, and floorboards with a damp microfiber cloth

03

Remove wall-to-wall carpeting, or at least have it steam cleaned

04

Steam-clean any fabric furniture or curtains you can’t wash

05

Change air filters and consider cleaning air ducts.

Pet Allergy FAQ

How do I know if I'm allergic to my pet?

Can you develop pet allergies later in life?

How long do symptoms of pet allergies last?

Do pet allergies go away?

Can I be allergic to a dog if it is hypoallergenic?

Do certain air filters help prevent pet allergies?