Allergies to Cats, Dogs, and Other Pets

We love our pets. Pets are very important to humans. They fulfill all types of psychological and social needs that people desire including happiness, self-worth, and companionship. Unfortunately, some individuals cannot experience the joy of owning a pet because they have allergy or asthma symptoms when they are exposed to the pet. Any pet can cause allergy symptoms, but the most common pet allergies in the U.S are due to cats and dogs. Approximately 70% of homes in the U.S. have at least one pet.  It is estimated that about 45% of U.S. households own a dog and about 35% own a cat. Despite this inequity, there are still more cats in the U.S. than dogs (i.e., 86 million cats and 78 million dogs). The U.S. is the number one pet-owning country in the world!

In addition to cats and dogs, there are numerous other pets that can be found in the U.S. These may include fish, birds (e.g., parrots, parakeets), rabbits, pigs, amphibians (e.g., frogs, toads, salamanders), reptiles (e.g., lizards, snakes, turtles, geckos), rodents (e.g., hamsters, guinea pigs, mice, gerbils, rats, chinchillas), ferrets, hedgehogs, hermit crabs, horses, insects, and spiders. Still yet, there are exotic animals that are kept as pets. Some of these animals may include, monkeys, chameleons, raccoons, foxes, bearded dragons, and tigers.

The classic symptoms of a pet allergy are those of either allergic rhinitis (i.e., hay fever), allergic conjunctivitis (i.e., eye allergies), asthma, and/or skin manifestations. The allergic rhinitis symptoms may include sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, post-nasal drip, itchy nose, itchy throat, fatigue, sinus congestion, and/or headaches. Eye symptoms typically may include itchy eyes, watery eyes, redness of the eyes, and/or puffy eyes. Some individuals with pet allergies may experience asthma symptoms such as chest tightness, wheezing, coughing, and/or shortness of breath. Known asthmatics may experience a worsening of their asthma when exposed to certain pets. Still others may develop skin manifestations which may include itchiness, redness, and/or hives (i.e., urticaria).

One myth that is widely held as fact by so many is that there are “hypoallergenic” cats and dogs to bring home if one is allergic to such a pet.  There are many pet-allergic individuals who feel that they have reduced allergic symptoms around short-haired cats and/or dogs that do not shed (e.g., poodles, Maltese, Portuguese Water Dog). It should be noted that there are no dogs that are 100% shed-free. Even though many people feel they are better around these non-shedding or short-haired animals, most scientific studies do not support this phenomenon. In addition, it is not the hair that causes the allergies, but rather the dander, saliva, and urine that is responsible for containing the allergens in cats and dogs that cause allergies.

The diagnosis of pet allergies begins with a comprehensive history and physical examination performed by a board certified allergist such as the ones at Black & Kletz Allergy. Next, allergy testing is usually done. The tests can be done either by allergy skin testing or by blood tests, depending on the individual and situation. Once a pet allergy is confirmed, it is important to discuss ways to prevent and/or treat such an allergy.

Prevention is the best option but most people are not willing to get rid of their pets which is very understandable, since they become part of the family. If prevention is not an alternative, there are still ways to minimize one’s exposure to a pet in the confines of one’s home. Despite one’s efforts to minimize their exposure to pets, it is often necessary to treat an individual for pet allergies.

Treatment of pet allergies may include antihistamines, decongestants, leukotriene antagonists, nasal corticosteroids, nasal antihistamines, nasal anticholinergics, ocular antihistamines, asthma inhalers, and other allergy and asthma medications. Allergy immunotherapy (i.e., allergy shots, allergy injections, allergy desensitization, allergy hyposensitization) is a very efficacious treatment option in the management of pet allergies. Allergy immunotherapy has been used in the U.S for more than 100 years. Both children and adults respond nicely to this treatment. It is effective 80-85% of the time. Most patients are on allergy immunotherapy for 3-5 years.

The board certified allergy specialists at Black & Kletz Allergy see both pediatric and adult patients and have over 50 years of experience in the field of allergy, asthma, and immunology. Black & Kletz Allergy has 3 convenient locations with on-site parking located in Washington, DC, McLean, VA (Tysons Corner, VA), and Manassas, VA. The Washington, DC and McLean, VA offices are Metro accessible and we offer a free shuttle that runs between the McLean, VA office and the Spring Hill metro station on the silver line. To schedule an appointment, please call any of our offices or you may click Request an Appointment and we will respond within 24 hours by the next business day. We have been servicing the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area for over 50 years and we look forward to providing you with the highest state-of-the-art allergy, asthma, and immunology care in a friendly and relaxed environment.