Pet Allergy: What You Should Know

The two most common pet allergies in the United States are cats (20% of the population) and dogs (10% of the population).  Dogs, however, are the most common pet, followed by cats.  There has been an upward trend in the U.S. in the number of household pets with almost 70% of households having at least one pet.  Of course, besides dogs and cats, other common pets include birds, rodents (i.e., hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, chinchillas, mice, etc.) reptiles (i.e., lizards, snakes, turtles, etc.), rabbits, ferrets, horses, hermit crabs, spiders, and fish.  Horses, unlike the other pets mentioned above, do not live in people’s homes, but can be quite allergenic.

One can be allergic to any animal, but clearly the most common indoor pet allergies are cats and dogs.  For the purpose of this blog, we will talk exclusively about cats and dogs.  If you would like to see more information about allergies to other types of pets, please visit our website, , click “SERVICES,” and then click the 4th bullet which is a link entitled “Pet Allergies.”

When an individual is “allergic” to a pet, they are in fact “allergic” to particular proteins that are produced by that animal.  For example, the proteins that cause most of the misery suffered by people who are allergic to cats are designated “Fel d 1” and “Fel d 4.”  Likewise, in individuals that are allergic to dogs, the major protein involved is called “Can f 1.”  Most proteins that cause allergies in any household pet tend to be concentrated in the pet’s dander, urine, saliva, and/or feces.

The dander (from the skin of an animal) tends to be a big problem with most pets.  In cats, the dander tends to “stick” to things such as clothing, walls, carpeting, bedding, etc. and therefore can and is “transported” from the home to other places that people go to, such as their workplace.  If Fel d 1 protein is measured on a cat owner’s clothing or their upholstered chair at work, it is likely to be found.  In addition, since the proteins stick to the walls of the cat owner’s home, it takes months for the proteins responsible for causing an allergic reaction to diminish to non-detectible levels, despite a thorough cleaning of the home.  Since the protein is also found in urine, cat litter boxes are a rich source of the proteins.  In dogs, luckily the protein Can f 1 is not as “sticky” as the cat proteins, but still can stick to clothing, bedding, etc.

As a general rule, it is advisable not to have a pet if one is allergic to it.  However, despite common sense, most people still opt to either acquire a pet or to keep an existing pet that they have had even if they cause bothersome allergy symptoms.  Even though this is not advised, it is understandable since a pet can cause great joy in one’s life and becomes a member of the family!

One major misconception is that there are “hypoallergenic” cats and dogs.  While some people feel that

they do better around short-haired cats or around dogs that do not shed like poodles, most scientific studies do not support this phenomena.

One can take some measures to reduce their exposure to the allergens that cause pet allergies.  Brushing your cat or dog frequently and bathing your cat or dog often will help reduce the levels of cat and proteins.  It is also advisable to prevent the cat or dog from entering your bedroom.

The symptoms of pet allergies are similar to any other type of environmental allergy.  The symptoms can include any or all of the following:  sneezing, runny nose, stuffy nose, itchy/watery/red puffy/eyes,

post-nasal drip, itchy skin, hives, wheezing, chest tightness, coughing, and/or shortness of breath.

The board certified allergists at Black and Kletz Allergy can help you diagnose whether you have a pet allergy by simple tests which involve a thorough history and physical examination as well as skin tests and/or blood tests.  In addition to avoidance measures, there a number of medications that can be tried to try to alleviate your symptoms of pet allergies.  These medications can be in the forms of tablets, nasal sprays, eye drops, creams, inhalers, and/or injections.  Since pet allergies are a perennial (year-round) problem, many patients find allergy shots (allergy immunotherapy) extremely effective in preventing and/or diminishing their pet allergy symptoms.  Allergy shots can be administered to children, pregnant women, and adults and have been used for over a century.

If you would like to have a consultation with us regarding your pet allergies (or other type of allergies), please call us or use our website to “Request An Appointment” and we will get back to you by the next work day.  Black and Kletz Allergy has been serving the Washington, DC metropolitan area including Maryland and Northern Virginia for more than 50 years.