What is a pet allergy?
People with pet allergies have over-sensitive immune systems. They can react to harmless proteins in a pet’s dander, skin flakes, saliva and urine. This can cause an allergic reaction or aggravate asthma symptoms in some people. You can find pet allergens everywhere in the home. Pet allergens are even in homes and other places that have never housed pets. This is because people can carry pet allergens on their clothing. The allergens will not lose their strength for a long time. The allergens cling to walls, furniture, clothing and other surfaces. The allergens may remain at high levels for several months. Pet hair is not an allergen. It can collect dander, urine and saliva. It also can carry other allergens like dust and pollen.
Symptoms of a pet allergy
Pet allergy symptoms appear during or shortly after exposure to the animal. The symptoms may linger long after the animal is gone, because the dander remains in the air, on furniture or on clothing.
- Runny nose
- Itchy, watery eyes
- Coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and wheezing
Contact with a pet may also trigger skin allergy symptoms (itchy skin or raised, red patches). Pets can also trigger asthma symptoms, causing wheezing, difficulty breathing or chest tightness.
Allergy testing will show if there is allergic sensitization to the animal. Your doctor can use either a blood test or skin test to aid in the diagnosis. Medical history, symptoms, physical examination and the test results will help your doctor to find the right diagnose.
If you suspect that you are allergic to cats, see an allergist for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Avoidance is the best way to manage a cat allergy. Avoid contact with cats or dogs or the areas where they live. Keep pets out of your home. If you have a cat and are allergic to cats, consider removing the cat from the home. If possible, try to avoid visiting homes with pets that you are allergic to.
Nasal symptoms often are treated with corticosteroid nasal sprays or oral antihistamines. Eye symptoms can be treated with eye drops. Asthma symptoms can be treated with inhaled corticosteroids and/or bronchodilators to either prevent or relieve respiratory symptoms. Immunotherapy can be an effective treatment, building tolerance against pet allergens.
If your family wants a cat even though someone in the household is allergic, think about other options. Choose pets that do not have fur or feathers. Fish, snakes or turtles are some choices.
If you have a cat but don’t want to find it a new home, here are some tips and tricks that may help:
- Try not to hug and kiss pets if you are allergic to them.
- Keep the pet out of your bedroom and restrict it to only a few rooms, but be aware that this will not limit the allergens to that room.
- Have someone who doesn’t have allergies brush the pet regularly. Outside, not indoors.
- Use of a high-efficiency vacuum cleaner with double or micro-filter bag to reduce the amount of pet allergen present in carpeting that leaks back into the room air.
- Remove carpeting and rugs, which can trap pet dander and other allergens.
- Try to bath your cat regularly once a week. It can reduce airborne cat allergen, but it is a very difficult task for both – you and the cat.
Pet allergy can be a social problem making it difficult to visit friends and relatives who have cats and dogs or horses and other animals. This may be especially troublesome for children who cannot participate in activities at the home of friends. Your allergist can help determine what treatment would be best to treat your pet allergy and give advice about possible use of medication before social exposures and specific measures to take after the exposure.