Common types of pet allergies in humans
If your furry friend is making you sneeze or wheeze, you might just have a pet allergy. Allergies to pets affect around 1 in 5 people.* The most common pet allergies are dog allergies and cat allergies – which is not that surprising when you consider that dogs and cats are the most common pets to have at home. Some people can be allergic to other animals that are kept as pets, including guinea pigs, mice, birds, and horses.
*HealthDirect. Cat and dog allergy [Internet]. June 2021. Available: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/cat-and-dog-allergy [accessed February 2023].
Pet allergy causes
Pet allergies can develop at any age during your life. Like any type of allergy, a pet allergy happens when your body’s immune system reacts to a substance called an allergen – in this case, the allergen comes from the animal. While you might think pet allergies are caused by all the fur on a dog or a cat, the allergens are mostly found in their skin and saliva. These allergen particles are tiny and sticky, so they can spread easily around your home and in the air and can hang around for a long time – even after a pet has been gone for a while.
When it comes to dogs, the main source of dog allergen is their saliva. So, being licked by a dog might trigger dog allergy symptoms in some people. But because dogs also lick themselves, they transfer these allergens onto their own fur and skin, which is then spread around when they shed dander.
What is dander, you ask? Dander describes the teeny tiny flakes shed from the skin, fur, hair, or feathers of an animal – including humans. So dog dander – which is covered in those sticky allergens from their saliva – spread the allergens around in the air and transfer them onto clothes, bedding, and furniture throughout your home.
Cat allergens, on the other hand, are mainly found in glands on their skin called sebaceous glands – these produce an oily, sticky substance called sebum. Cats spend a lot of time grooming themselves, and all this licking spreads the allergens over their skin and into their fur. These allergens can then be transferred directly from the cat itself or via cat dander onto clothes and other surfaces in your house.
Common pet allergy symptoms
Common cat allergy symptoms and dog allergy symptoms include:
- Itchy skin or eyes
- Hayfever symptoms/allergic rhinitis
- Skin rash or hives
- Itchy nose and throat
Symptoms of pet allergies can appear as soon as you touch a dog or cat, or they may appear a few hours later. Some people with pet allergies can experience allergic symptoms without even coming into contact with the animal itself – pet allergens on someone’s clothes or in a house may be enough to trigger a reaction.
Pet allergies and asthma
People with asthma may also have pet allergies. For these people, being around certain pets may trigger their asthma symptoms. If you have asthma and experience asthma or allergy symptoms around animals, you should speak to your doctor.
How to manage allergic reactions to pets
The best way to prevent or reduce the symptoms of pet allergies is to avoid coming into contact with pet allergens. But if the animal causing your allergies is already part of your family, this can be somewhat challenging. Here are some things to think about when it comes to keeping your pets:
- Where your pets live – keeping pets outside can help control the number of allergens inside your house; unfortunately, restricting your pet to one part of the house is not particularly effective because pet dander and allergens can easily spread through the air or via clothing
- Regular cleaning – vacuuming carpets and cleaning upholstery and curtains may help reduce the amount of fur and dander, but will not eliminate pet allergens if the pet still lives in the house
- Washing pets – while washing pets once or twice a week may help reduce the amount of allergens on their fur for a brief time, it has not been proven to be effective for controlling allergy symptoms and might not be in the best interest of your pet’s health either
- Removing soft surfaces – carpets, rugs, couches, and other soft surfaces are more likely to accumulate pet allergens than hard surfaces, but this strategy has also not been proven effective for controlling symptoms when a pet still lives in the house
Treatments for pet allergy symptoms
For those times when coming into contact with an animal or pet allergens is hard to avoid, your treatment options include medications called antihistamines, decongestants, and steroid nasal sprays that can help relieve your symptoms. It’s also important to remember to always wash your hands after touching your pet or any other animal!
When you need rapid, non-drowsy pet allergy relief from sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, runny nose, and rash or hives for up to 24 hours, try DEMAZIN Allergy + Hayfever Relief, which contains the antihistamine agent loratadine.
How to choose a pet if you have pet allergies
For people with pet allergies, you could consider choosing an animal that doesn’t have fur or pet dander – think scaley friends such as fish or reptiles. If you’re set on a furry friend, however, it’s important to know that hypoallergenic dogs and hypoallergenic cats do not completely remove the risk of causing allergies. Because the allergens are found in their saliva or skin, even dog or cat breeds that have shorter coats or no fur or that shed less can still cause allergies. Individual animals may produce lower amounts of allergen and breeds that shed less may spread less dander around the house.
Frequently asked questions about pet allergies
Dander describes the small flakes that are shed from the skin, hair, fur, or feathers of an animal – including humans. Exposure to pet dander causes allergy symptoms because it carries allergens transferred from dog saliva or glands on cat skin.
You may be allergic to pets if you experience symptoms such as sneezing, hayfever, itching, rash, or wheezing after touching an animal or being somewhere that an animal lives.
The most common symptoms of a pet allergy are sneezing, itchy skin or eyes, hayfever, rash or hives, and wheezing.
Yes – you can develop pet allergies at any point in your life, either during your childhood or later on when you are an adult.
The most effective way to control pet allergies is to avoid being around the animal or its allergens. When it’s your own pet, this may be difficult to manage. For times when you can’t avoid exposure, consider treating your allergy symptoms with an antihistamine such as DEMAZIN Allergy + Hayfever Relief.