How To Tell If You Have A Pet Allergy and What You Can Do About It

If you’ve found this article I’m guessing you suspect that you (or someone you know) may be suffering from a pet allergy and you’re looking for confirmation of this.

Or perhaps there’s no doubt in your mind that you’re allergic to pets, and now you’re looking for a solution to the problem so that you don’t have to suffer whenever you’re around animals any more.

Either way, this article will hopefully provide you with all the information you need to know about pet allergies and the different steps you can take to try to minimise the effects of this condition.

If you’re in a rush you can hop straight to the information most relevant to you by clicking the link in the table below.

What Exactly Is A Pet Allergy?

Before going into more detail, it might be useful firstly to take a quick look at what a pet allergy actually is.

Essentially, a pet allergy is where a person has an allergic reaction to proteins found in an animal’s saliva, urine or skin cells (the dead skin cells which an animal sheds are known as ‘dander‘). 

When your body reacts to something it considers to be a foreign substance it produces proteins of its own known as antibodies.  Antibodies are essential to protect us from bacteria and viruses that can cause infections and make us unwell.

When you have an allergy your body identifies a particular substance as being harmful even though it’s not, such as pet dander.

Your body then produces an inflammatory response in your nasal passages or lungs, resulting in one or a combination of symptoms.

In addition, prolonged or repeated exposure to an allergen can also result in the chronic inflammation of the airway associated with asthma.

What Are The Symptoms Of A Pet Allergy? 

As with many other medical conditions the symptoms of a pet allergy vary from person to person, both in the nature of symptoms displayed and in their severity.  Some people will be able to tolerate exposure to animals better than others.

Tell-tale signs of a pet allergy include: 

  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • nasal congestion
  • post-nasal drip / runny nose
  • red, itchy or watery eyes
  • facial pain or pressure

Some people may also suffer from a skin condition called ‘allergic dermatitis, where direct contact with a pet allergen may result in eczema, itchy skin or hives (raised, red patches of skin).

In addition, people who suffer from asthma may find their symptoms worsened by a pet allergy, and may experience tightness or pain in their chest, shortness of breath, or an audible whistling or wheezing sound when exhaling.

It goes without saying that you should ALWAYS seek immediate medical attention if any of your symptoms seem severe.  The information contained in this article is in no way intended to replace the advice of your own doctor or healthcare professional.  Please speak to them if you have any specific queries or concerns.

Can You Test For A Pet Allergy?

If you regularly display some of the symptoms above following exposure to pets, the chances are you may well be suffering from a pet allergy.

However, as some of the symptoms are also associated with other conditions such as the common cold you may want further confirmation, in which case there are 2 tests which can be carried out.

The first type of test is sometimes referred to as a ‘prick-test‘ and involves a small amount of an extract of a pet allergen being placed on your skin.

Your skin is then pricked with a small, sterile probe which allows the allergen to seep under the surface of your skin.  You’ll then be monitored for a period of time to see whether any allergy symptoms appear.

Alternatively, your doctor may choose to conduct a blood test to see whether you have an allergy, looking specifically at your levels of Immunoglobulin E (Ig E).

Which Types Of Animals Are More Likely To Cause A Pet Allergy?

Pet allergies are most commonly associated with cats and dogs, although any animal with fur can be the source of a pet allergy – for example gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, mice, rabbits and rats. 

Pet allergies are rarely caused by creatures that don’t have fur, such as fish and reptiles.

As to the question of whether you can get allergy-free cat and dog breeds – well, the answer unfortunately appears to be ‘no’.

While there are some breeds of dog which are said to shed less hair, such as Airedale Terriers and Bichon Frise, there’s no one type which can be said to be truly hypoallergenic.

Indeed, a study carried out in 2011 which compared dust samples from homes with dog breeds reputed to be hypoallergenic with samples from homes with other breeds of dog found allergen levels to be the same.

Do Pet Allergies Ever Go Away?

In most cases allergies first develop in infancy or childhood, although it is possible for them to appear for the first time when you’re an adult.  The chances of you developing an allergy are thought to be higher if you have a family history of allergies or asthma.

There have been reported instances of childhood allergies becoming significantly reduced as the individual has grown older, or even vanishing altogether.

Some experts believe this is due to the body becoming more accustomed to the allergen over time, thereby reducing the level of immune system sensitivity.

But equally, allergies which appear to have gone away can suddenly resurface again in the future without warning.

Can You Be Allergic to Cats But Not Dogs?

Yes.

That’s because the composition of protein is different for different types of animal. 

So you might feel fine, for example, in the company of canines, but fare less well around feline friends.

What Medical Treatments Are There For Pet Allergies?

Avoiding exposure is the easiest way to prevent a flare up of an allergy, but is of course far easier said than done.

We’ll look at some steps you can take to try and reduce the level of pet allergens in your home in a moment, but there are also a number of different medical treatments for relieving pet allergies.

These include allergy shots, oral antihistamines, antihistamine eyedrops, bronchodilators and steroid nasal sprays.

Your doctor or pharmacist will be able to advise you what treatments are available and most suitable for your own personal circumstances.

5 Top Tips To Help Reduce Pet Allergens In Your Home

There are a number of steps you can take to try and minimise the level of pet allergens in your home.

As we discovered at the start of this article, it is the protein secreted in an animal’s dander, saliva or urine that can trigger an allergic response in susceptible individuals

Dander particles can remain suspended in the air for long periods of time.  Or they can settle on surfaces such as upholstered furniture, carpets or rugs.

An air purifier with a HEPA filter can help to remove airborne pet dander particles, removing them from your living space before you have a chance to breathe them in.

There are several different air purifiers on the market today which are aimed at tackling allergens, and which have received praise from many customers for helping to reduce their symptoms.

For dander particles which have settled, regularly vacuum with a cleaner which again has a HEPA filter.

HEPA filters are superior to regular filters in their ability to capture microscopic particles like pet dander.  Ordinary vacuum cleaners may not be able to capture the dander effectively and may simply send the particles back into the air again.

A third way to tackle pet allergens indoors is to consider replacing any carpets or rugs with flooring which is easy to wash, and swap fabric curtains for wipeable blinds.  This reduces the number of surfaces available for pet dander, urine and saliva to stick to.

Fourthly, if possible, restrict the number of rooms into which your pet can roam and keep them out of your bedroom to avoid pet allergens adhering to your bedding and clothes.

Lastly, try to bath your pet at least once a week, and avoid petting or hugging them – no mean feat I know, but perhaps a price worth paying to avoid the unpleasant symptoms that can follow exposure.

Conclusion

I hope this article has answered any questions you may have had about pet allergies and what you can do about them.

It’s a relatively common condition, although that doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable for sufferers.

However, even if you do have an allergy to animals it may still be possible to enjoy their company by adopting some of the preventative measures above, or by managing your symptoms with medication.

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