Is Snuggles giving you the sniffles? Kitty making you cough? Between 10% and 20% of the world’s population is affected by allergic reactions to their pets, more often than not dogs and cats. Allergies to cats are twice as common as those to dogs, and you’re more likely to develop an allergy if allergies or asthma run in your family.
Pet allergies are rarely caused by hairless animals, such as reptiles and fish, but are most commonly associated with our furry friends, especially dogs and cats. However, it’s not really your fur child’s fur that cause allergies either. Their fur is merely a carrier for your allergens. You actually have allergic reactions to proteins (the allergens!) found in your pet’s skin cells, saliva, urine or sweat. More often than not, dander (dead flakes of skin) trigger allergic reactions.
Your immune system mistakes your allergen as a harmful invader and produces proteins called antibodies. Your antibodies then alert your cells to produce histamine and other substances, which cause allergic reactions. These reactions can include inflamed nasal passages or lungs when you breath in or come into contact with the allergen. This isn’t difficult, as these allergens easily circulate, stick to your clothes, or remain in your carpets or furniture for months.
Signs and symptoms
Signs and symptoms of a pet allergy may include:
- runny or blocked nose
- nasal congestion
- facial pressure and pain
- itchy nose, throat, or palate (roof of mouth)
- postnasal drip
- red, itchy, or watery eyes
- swollen, blue-coloured skin under the eyes
- itchy skin, hives (red patches on the skin), or eczema
Chronic inflammation of your nasal passage tissues can cause obstructions that can lead to sinus infections.
If you are highly sensitive or have asthma, you may experience:
- difficulty breathing
- chest tightness or pain
- trouble sleeping
Cats are the main culprits that trigger severe asthma attacks, which could lead to chronic asthma.
If your symptoms persist for more than a week, you’re more likely to have an allergy than a common cold. If your symptoms are severe, visit your doctor, or seek emergency medical attention if you start wheezing or experience shortness of breath.
Your doctor may diagnose a pet allergy based on your symptoms, an examination of the lining of your nose and your answers to their questions. A skin allergy test may be suggested, where tiny amounts of purified allergens are pricked into the skin of your forearm or upper back. You’re then monitored for 15 to 20 minutes for swelling, itching and redness. In some cases, you may need a blood test to screen for specific allergy-causing antibodies if a skin allergy test can’t be performed.
Management and treatment
The best way to avoid pet allergies is to avoid animals that trigger your allergic reactions as much as possible. In severe cases, you may need to re-home your pet and give your home a thorough cleaning to get rid of any lurking allergens. If this isn’t possible you could take preventative measures to reduce your symptoms (see section on prevention).
Treatments vary, depending on your symptoms. Your doctor may recommend antihistamines, or steroid nasal sprays to help control symptoms and decrease reactions. If you have respiratory or asthma symptoms, an asthma pump may be prescribed. Allergy shots are also available to build tolerance. Decongestants and nasal irrigation may also help to relieve symptoms.
Again, avoidance is the best way to prevent your allergic reactions, but if this isn’t possible, consider the following preventative measures to reduce your reactions:
- Keep your pet outdoors, or restrict it to only a few rooms
- Keeps your pet out of your bedroom
- Wash your hands with soap and water if you touch your pet
- Change your clothes after prolonged exposure to a pet
- Ask someone who doesn’t have allergies to brush your pet outdoors and bath it at least once a week
- Remove or keep your pet off upholstered furniture
- Remove carpets and rugs, or steam/wash them in hot water regularly
- Wear a dust mask while cleaning
- Use a micro-filter vacuum bag
- Consider using a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to remove allergens
If you suffer from allergies, it’s always best to consult your healthcare professional for advice. Bestmed members can find their nearest designated healthcare professional via the Bestmed app or online.