Allergies to Pets

Do you suffer from allergy symptoms when you go near a pet? Do you suffer chronic allergy symptoms when living in the presence of a pet? If you answered yes to either of the above questions, then you may in fact have a pet allergy. The classic symptoms in someone who has a pet allergy may include sneezing, nasal congestion, runny nose, post-nasal drip, itchy nose, itchy eyes, redness of the eyes, watery eyes, itchy throat, sinus pressure, and/or sinus pain. The official medical term for these symptoms is allergic rhinitis in an individual who is allergic to pets. The same symptoms are also found in allergic individuals who are allergic to dust mites, molds, and/or pollens. Some individuals may experience wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and/or coughing when exposed to pets. These individuals are said to have pet-induced asthma. Unlike allergic rhinitis, asthma can be life-threatening and thus must be dealt with in a serious manner.

In pet-allergic individuals, the offending allergen is usually the pet dander, saliva, or urine. Depending on the pet, the allergen may be more likely to be the dander, saliva, or urine. In dogs, Can f 1 is the primary dog allergen. This major dog allergen tends to mostly be in the dander of dogs. In cats, Fel d1 is the primary cat allergen. It is primarily secreted through the sebaceous glands and is found mostly on the skin or fur. In addition, another common cat allergen by the name of Fel d 4 is produced in the salivary glands and secreted into the saliva of cats. The licking of the fur by a cat is the perfect storm for cat-allergic individuals as they are exposed to dander that is covered in cat saliva exposing the cat-allergic individual to more cat allergens. Still other pets (i.e., mice, rats) have their major allergens produced in their urine. The major allergen found in mice is known as Mus m 1. This allergen tends to be found more in the urine of mice. In these 3 examples above, it is important to note that major pet allergens can be found in various places in the animal which depends on the specific pet.

Another way that pets can contribute to one’s allergies includes it being a vector to carrying other non-pet allergens to the allergic individual. In other words, pets act as a carrier of other allergens, most notably pollen allergens. When a dog is outdoors for a prolonged period of time, pollen can fall on its fur/hair. This in turn may cause a problem for an individual with pollen allergies once they come in contact with the pollen-covered dog. It is for this reason that it is recommended to wash your pet after a prolonged exposure outdoors, particularly in the Spring or Fall, when pollen counts are the highest.

Some individuals with pet allergies may experience skin manifestations upon exposure to pets irregardless if they have associated allergic rhinitis or asthma. Some may develop eczema (i.e., atopic dermatitis) while others may develop urticaria (i.e., hives).

The diagnosis of pet allergies is usually confirmed by a board certified allergist like the ones at Black & Kletz Allergy. After an initial comprehensive history and physical examination, allergy skin testing is usually done in order to verify a true IgE-mediated allergy to the specific pet (e.g., dog, cat, rabbit, horse, mouse, rat, guinea pig, hamster, bird). Occasionally allergy blood tests may be utilized in addition to or instead of allergy skin testing.

The treatment of pet allergies usually begins with avoidance. It is always preferable to avoid the offending allergen if at all possible. It is also known that people love their pets and usually will not voluntarily part with them. Knowing this, there are a variety of treatment modalities ranging from medications to allergy shots. Medications may include oral antihistamines, oral decongestants, leukotriene antagonists, nasal corticosteroids, nasal antihistamines, nasal anticholinergics, ocular antihistamines, ocular decongestants, and ocular mast cell stabilizers. Oral and ocular corticosteroids are rarely used due to the potential side effects. Allergy shots (i.e., allergy injections, allergy desensitization, allergy immunotherapy, allergy hyposensitization) are a very effective tool to treat pet allergies. They have been used in the U.S. for more than 100 years. They can be given to both children and adults. Allergy shots are effective in 80-85% of individuals who take them. They can be given in combination with other allergens that an individual may be allergic to such as pollens, dust mites, and molds.

If you have or think you have pet allergies, the board certified allergy specialists at Black & Kletz Allergy have been diagnosing and treating patients with pet allergies for over 50 years in both children and adults. We have office locations in Washington, DC, McLean, VA (Tysons Corner, VA), and Manassas, VA. Our Washington, DC and McLean, VA offices are Metro accessible and there is a free shuttle that runs between our McLean, VA office and the Spring Hill metro station on the silver line. The allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy are extremely knowledgeable about the most current treatment options for patients with allergic rhinitis, allergic conjunctivitis, and asthma and can promptly answer any of your questions. 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. As mentioned before, we have been servicing the greater Washington, DC area for more than 50 years and we look forward to providing you with excellent state-of-the art allergy and asthma care in a welcoming and pleasant environment.