Have you experienced coughing, itching, sneezing, watery eyes, or other symptoms after cuddling or playing with your pet? If so, you might have pet allergies—and you’re not alone. As many as three in 10 people have allergies to dogs and cats.
Read more about the causes and symptoms of pet allergies, as well as ways to manage your symptoms.
What Causes a Pet Allergy?
Allergic reactions occur when your body identifies a substance, called an allergen, as “foreign.” This causes your immune system to kick into gear and release chemicals to fight against the allergen.
You might be surprised to learn that it’s probably not your pet’s hair that you’re allergic to. Allergens that exist in pets are proteins found in their dander (flakes of skin), saliva, and sometimes their feces or urine. However, when they shed their hair or fur, dander often comes with it.
The most common household pets are cats and dogs. While allergies to both exist, cat allergies are more common. However, you can also be allergic to other pets that live outdoors, such as horses.
Pet Allergy Symptoms
Pet allergy symptoms are similar to other types of allergies. If you’re very sensitive to pet allergens, you might have symptoms within 15 to 30 minutes of exposure. However, symptoms can also appear several days after exposure if your allergy is mild.
You can experience allergy symptoms even when your pet is not around, as dander can collect in your furniture or on your clothing. These symptoms include:
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Itchy eyes or skin
- Chest tightness
- Sinus pain
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling of mucous membranes in your nose and throat
Most of the time, allergic reactions to pets are annoying, but not life-threatening. However, severe allergic reactions can cause anaphylaxis. This reaction causes your body to go into shock, which can be life-threatening. Seek emergency medical attention if you suspect you might be having an anaphylactic reaction. Symptoms can include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling in your throat
- Hoarse voice
- Rash or hives
- Stomach pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Racing heart
Home Remedies for Pet Allergies
If you have an allergic reaction to your pet, you might be able to treat your symptoms at home. Over-the-counter medications called antihistamines can reduce your symptoms. These medications block the effects of histamine—chemicals in your immune system that tell your body to fight against an allergen.
Decongestants are another type of medication that can help temporarily relieve pressure in your sinuses and help you breathe better. Nasal congestion can also be treated by rinsing your nose with saline or sterile water. This treatment is called nasal irrigation.
When to Seek Professional Treatment
The first step in determining whether or not you are allergic to your pet is to see a doctor. Your family doctor might refer you to an allergist—a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of allergies.
Pet allergies are diagnosed using a skin prick test (also called a scratch test). The doctor places a small amount of the allergen underneath the surface of your skin (usually in your forearm). The skin that is tested is marked so the doctor can monitor the area for a reaction.
If you are allergic to the allergen, you will have a “positive” test result. The area will typically produce a small red bump (wheal) with red inflamed skin (flare) around its base—so called the wheal-and-flare reaction.
Your doctor can also test for allergies by taking a small sample of blood and testing it for allergy antibodies—or IgE—which are specific proteins that help fight off allergens. Higher levels of antibodies in your blood can mean you have an allergy.
Allergy shots are another option for some people with pet allergies. This treatment is a type of immunotherapy—the doctor injects a small amount of the allergen into your body, given in gradually increasing doses, to build up your immunity or tolerance to allergens.
Ways to Manage Pet Allergies
If your allergies aren’t severe, you might be able to find a way to live in harmony with your pet. Even if you do re-home your animal, allergens can be present in your home for up to six months after the animal has left.
There are several things you can do to help reduce the amount of pet allergens in your home. These include:
- Keep your pet in a limited area: Restrict your pet’s access to areas of your home—especially your bedroom—where allergens can cling to your furniture and bedding. Ideally, keep your pet in a room without a rug, or use an area rug that is machine washable.
- Keep surfaces clean: Vacuum your floors and furniture frequently to reduce pet allergens. Dander can also be removed from the furniture with a lint roller.
- Use a HEPA filter: High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters can help trap pet dander and other allergens that are in the air.
- Keep filters clean: Change the filters in your air conditioning and heating systems regularly to improve air quality.
- Change your clothes after spending time with your pet: Pet allergens can collect on your clothing, particularly if you’ve been cuddling your pet.
- Wash your hands: Wash your hands with soap and warm water after touching your pet to reduce allergens on your skin.
- Brush and bathe your pet regularly: Keeping your pet clean and groomed can reduce the amount of dander that ends up in your environment. However, you might want to ask someone else to perform these tasks to limit your exposure to pet allergens.
Preventing Pet Allergies
Unfortunately, there’s no way to prevent pet allergies from occurring. However, some research suggests that exposing children to pets (particularly more than one pet) in the first year of life could reduce their chances of developing pet allergies later in life. More research is needed to confirm these findings.
A Word From Get Meds Info
Finding out you or a loved one in your home has a pet allergy doesn’t automatically mean you need to get rid of your furry friend. Talk to your doctor about treatments that can help minimize your symptoms and improve your quality of life. With a little help, you and your pets can hopefully cohabitate in harmony.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can pet allergies go away with treatment over time?
Pet allergies do not resolve over time, unless you remove the pet from your home. Even then, it can take several months for the allergens to go away.
What is the best pet to get if you have pet allergies?
Look for a pet that has a non-shedding coat to reduce your allergy symptoms.
When do pet allergies show up in children?
Pet allergies can show up at any age.