It’s estimated that around 10% of people in the United States suffer from pet allergies. These allergies are mostly caused by dander, the small skin particles that are naturally shed by animals with fur or feathers. Pet dander is a common source of discomfort for sufferers of airborne allergies because in addition to being an allergen itself, it can also carry multiple other allergy-causing particles. If you think you might have a pet allergy, it’s useful to know some typical symptoms to look out for and how you can find relief from them.
Pet allergens are all around us
In 2021–2022, the American Pet Products Association (APPA) conducted a survey to find out the percentage of households that have pets. The results were surprisingly high – as many as 70% of families in the United States own a pet animal, including 69 million dogs and 45.3 million cats. As these figures reveal, avoiding pet allergies is a serious challenge; individuals struggling with them are likely to be exposed wherever they go – at people’s homes, in offices, at schools and in many other public places. For those suffering from severe allergies, a reaction can even occur in indoor environments during times when the pet is not present.
Understanding pet allergies
A widespread misconception is that it’s only a pet’s fur that can trigger allergic symptoms. A hairier cat doesn’t necessarily mean stronger allergies though – in fact, it’s much more complex than that. In addition to dander, the allergic reactions are triggered by proteins that are found in an animal’s skin cells, saliva or urine and released into the air. Usually these proteins are harmless, but some individuals’ immune systems view them as dangerous “intruders” that must be dealt with, responding similarly to the way they would with bacteria or viruses. Pet hair or fur can also play a role in provoking other allergic reactions due to its tendency to collect pollen, mold spores and other outdoor allergens.
Hypoallergenic dogs and cats – do they exist?
Various animal breeds are often advertised as being hypoallergenic, with many breeders claiming that some types of dogs and cats do not trigger allergic symptoms. So far however, no studies have shown this to be 100% true. In other words, there are no completely hypoallergenic cats or dogs. This means that for people who suffer with pet allergies, the struggle is real. Loving animals but being unable to have a pet or visit relatives and friends with cats and dogs in their homes is tough – and if someone who is allergic gives in to their temptations, the results can be unbearable – and long-lasting.
Pet allergy symptoms
The level of allergy intensity and onset time can vary notably from one person to the next. Those who suffer from severe allergic reactions to pets might notice their symptoms flaring up soon after exposure to the allergen. Others with lighter allergies might experience symptoms either immediately after coming into direct contact with a pet or a few hours later.
Here are the most commonly described pet dander allergy symptoms:
- Watery eyes
- Red eyes
- Itchy eyes, nose, throat or roof of the mouth
- Coughing and wheezing
- Tight chest and shortness of breath
- Skin rash or hives
- Runny or stuffy nose
Diagnosing a pet allergy
There are a few tests for determining whether a person is allergic to cats or dogs. These tests include skin prick (or scratch) tests and blood (IgE) tests.
Skin prick test
The skin prick test is undertaken by a healthcare provider and is usually done on the skin of the forearm or upper back. The test takes less than an hour. First, the skin is disinfected with iodine or alcohol and then tiny droplets of the potential allergens are placed on the skin. Next, a needle is used to lightly scratch the surface of the skin – this is done to provide an inlet for the droplets and will not cause any pain or bleeding. If the person being tested is allergic to one or more of the allergens, any reactions should occur within 15 minutes. Reactions usually include hives (raised bumps or spots that are round in shape) or changes in the color of the skin.
Blood tests that identify allergies work by detecting the presence of Immunoglobulin E (IgE), an antibody that is produced by the body in response to certain parasites and allergens. For this test, a healthcare professional uses a small needle to take a blood sample from a vein in the arm. Only a small amount of blood needs to be drawn, and this is sent to a laboratory for testing. The blood is then spun in a centrifuge and the extracted plasma placed on a testing plate that is coated with allergens. A chemical that measures the amount of IgE present for the specific allergen or allergens being tested for (in this case, pet allergens) is then added to the plate. If a high level of IgE antibodies is found in the sample, it’s highly likely that the person has a pet allergy.
Remedies for pet allergies
Living with allergies is a daily struggle, but fortunately there are remedies available that have proven to ease symptoms and offer relief – to a certain extent, at least. From antihistamine pills to air purifiers, we’ve put together the following list as a compass to help you navigate the maze of allergy treatment options.
Here are our top tips on how to efficiently avoid pet allergens and relieve your allergy symptoms:
- See an allergist and find out what kind of allergy you suffer from – this will help you to avoid harm and identify a suitable treatment plan. Some individuals can get notable relief with over-the-counter allergy pills and antihistamines, for example.
- Keep your home clean and vacuum often. For maximum efficiency in removing airborne allergen particles, use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter. Clean your carpets, curtains, furniture and pillow covers at least once every month.
- Regularly clear away any clutter and textiles in your home. Use blinds instead of curtains, change your bedsheets regularly and dust any areas in the home used by pets.
- Get a quality air purifier that helps rid the air of dust, mold, pollen and pet dander particles.
- Clean your home’s ventilation system – and don’t forget to change the air filters on a regular basis.
- Socialize with any friends who have pets outside rather than inviting them and their allergens into your home. Find something fun to do outdoors like going on a hike in the countryside.
- If you have pets yourself, take them to the groomer; regularly washing and brushing your dog or cat can reduce the amount of skin dander and flakes on the loose in your household.
- Even though we understand that the temptation can be hard to resist, try not to hug or kiss your pet too much. If you do, use soap and water to wash yourself straight afterwards.
- Use the Respiray Wear A+ wearable allergy-stopper in any indoor space that’s exposed to airborne allergens. Wear A+ is a lightweight and comfortable device that uses HEPA filters to remove allergens from the air, creating a protective shield of clean, breathable air around your nose and mouth.
We hope that these suggestions will help you to find some relief from your pet allergy symptoms. If you have a health concern, it’s important to get it checked out by a medical professional and this is always the best starting point. Once you know what you’re dealing with, it will be much easier to take appropriate action to deal with the situation. Good luck on your journey!