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Pet Allergies

Pet Allergies

Pet allergies are very common amongst allergy sufferers.  The most common pet allergies in the U.S. are to cats and dogs.  About 20% of people are allergic to cats and about 10% are allergic to dogs.  According to the 2013-2014 National Pet Owners Survey released by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), pet ownership has been steadily increasing over the years and it is at an all-time high.  In the survey, 68% of households have at least one pet.  This amounts to 82.5 million households with at least one pet.  Dogs are the most popular pet, while cats come in a close second.  Other common pets include fish, birds, reptiles, and rodents (guinea pigs, hamsters, mice, etc.).  While horses obviously are not kept in a family’s home, the number of horses as pets also has increased.

Regarding allergies to pets, the most common ones that are seen are clearly cats and dogs, with cat allergy more common than dog allergy.  Needless to say, any pet can cause allergic symptoms in sensitive individuals.

In cat allergy, it has been found that the two allergenic proteins responsible for causing most of the allergic symptoms are the proteins called “Fel d 1” and “Fel d 4.”  They are found in the sebaceous glands in the skin (dander), the saliva, and the urine of cats.  Patients allergic to cats suffer with typical allergy symptoms which may include some or all of the following:  sneezing, runny nose, post-nasal drip, stuffy nose, sinus congestion, wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, coughing, itchiness, hives, itchy, watery, puffy, and/or red eyes .  The best advice is to remove the cat from the home, even though most patients are resistant to this suggestion understandably.  It should also be noted that removing a cat from one’s home for a few weeks is not long enough as the dander of a cat tends to “stick” to things such as walls, carpeting, bedding, clothes, etc. and even with professional cleaning, it still takes a long time (several months) for the levels of cat protein to diminish to tolerable levels.  Another misconception is that there are “hypoallergenic cats.”  All cats have the capacity to induce allergic symptoms to individuals.  Some patients feel that they can tolerate short-haired cats better than long-haired cats, but studies do not support this often common theory.  On the other hand, brushing your cat frequently and bathing your cat regularly will reduce the cat protein levels that cause allergic symptoms and are advisable.  There are numerous medications (pills, syrups, nasal sprays, inhalers, etc.) that can help reduce a patient’s symptoms.  The diagnosis of cat allergy by an allergist is fairly easy.  It entails either skin testing or doing a blood test.  It should be pointed out that not everyone who feels they are allergic to cats are in fact allergic.  Many times, the tests are negative and allergies to other allergens such as dust mites, molds, and/or pollens are the culprit.  When all of the above have been taken into consideration, allergy immunotherapy (allergy shots) is a very effective means to alleviate and prevent cat allergy symptoms.

In patients that have dog allergy, the situation is similar to cat allergy, however, the major protein responsible is called “Can f 1.”  The dander of dogs (which contain the major dog protein responsible for allergies), unlike with cat dander, does not stay in the air as long as with cats and thus may be a reason why cat-allergic people outnumber dog-allergic people.  It must be noted that with dogs and cats, the furry hair (which is not allergenic) can also carry other allergens such as dust and pollens to sensitive individuals causing them to be exposed to more dust and pollens.  The dander of the dog, as with the cat, sticks to individual’s clothing, carpeting, bedding, etc., but with less affinity.  Besides dander, the Can f 1 protein in dogs is also found in saliva and urine, similar to cats.  It is important to note that dog allergy, like cat allergy, will cause perennial symptoms, unlike pollen allergy which affects individuals in certain seasons.  The symptoms, diagnostic tests, and treatment is essentially the same with dogs as with cats.

Horse allergies are not that uncommon.  Individuals that are allergic to horses typically have the same symptoms as one’s with cat and/or dog allergies.  There is an increased incidence of horse allergy in some individuals that have cat and/or dog allergies due to a common protein that is shared between all three animals.  The horse’s dander is the most common way that horses cause allergic symptoms in people.  The horse’s saliva, urine, and the fecal material dropped by horse mites are other ways that individuals are exposed to the allergenic proteins of horses.  Asthma symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and/or coughing are quite common manifestations when someone that is allergic to horses is exposed to horses.  Sneezing, runny nose, post-nasal drip, stuffy nose, sinus congestion, itchiness, hives, and itchy, watery, puffy, and/or red eyes also can and often do occur.  One additional factor should be considered if you feel you are allergic to horses.  One should note that you may also be allergic to the grass and molds that tend to be present in “hay” located in any barn.

Rodent allergies are similar to any other pet allergy.  In addition to the allergenic protein being present in the urine, dander, and saliva, certain rodents such as mice contain allergenic proteins in their mouse dropping.  In addition to allergy symptoms that are similar to the symptoms caused by other pets, there is one additional danger with exposure to mice and rats.  Mice and rats carry many diseases such as the hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS), salmonellosis, rat-bite fever (RBF), lymphocytic choriomeningitis, tularemia, bubonic plague, leptospirosis, and Lassa fever, to name a few.

Bird allergies are caused by dander, fecal material, urine, and feather particulates.  The symptoms can vary and be similar to other pets.  Similar to rodents mentioned above, exposure to birds can cause infections and diseases such as psittacosis, allergic alveolitis, campylobacteriosis, avian flu, avian tuberculosis, salmonellosis, Newcastle disease, cryptosporidiosis, giardiasis, to name a few.

Reptile allergies are not common.  There have been reported cases of allergies to various reptiles, particularly iguanas.  There have been reports of allergies to snakes, and of course there is always the possibility of an allergic reaction to the venom of certain snakes.  In addition to the typical allergy symptoms that occur with other pets, there seems to be more skin irritation with reptiles than with other pets.

If you have pet allergies, Black & Kletz Allergy can offer the diagnostic and treatment expertise that is needed to prevent and/or minimize your allergy symptoms when you come in contact with a pet.  The allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy will work with you to develop a treatment plan which addresses your lifestyle needs.

You can make an appointment with Black & Kletz Allergy at one of our three Washington, DC locations by calling our office or requesting an appointment online on our website, in order to explore treatment options for your pet allergies.