When we talk about pets, the first thoughts that come to mind are cats and dogs because these are the most commonly kept pets. However, pets come in all sizes and shapes, and while some can take to the skies, some remain underwater. According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, around 62% of US households keep pets, and over 161 million of these pets are cats and dogs.1
Millions of pet owners develop an allergy (allergic rhinitis) to their animals. Allergies to pets with fur are common, especially in people who suffer from other allergies or asthma. In the US, almost three out of 10 people with allergies have allergic reactions to cats and dogs. Cat allergies are twice as common as dog allergies.2
Pet allergy is rarely caused by animals that don’t have furs, such as fish and reptiles. Some spiders such as tarantulas, although rare pets, have hair on their body that can cause irritations when they come in contact with human skin or eyes. Here are some common pets as well as some weird ones.
- Cats and dogs
- Mice, rabbits, hamster, guinea pigs
- Snakes, lizards, geckos
Causes Of Pet Allergy
Since dogs and cats are by far the most common pets, the causes mentioned here are mostly to do with cats and dogs, unless otherwise mentioned. It is not the hair of these pets that cause allergies as popularly believed. Dander is the main cause of allergy to animals, which contains allergens formed in the sebaceous gland secretions and saliva.3
Allergens from cats and dogs are usually found in the skin cells shed by the animals (dander). Allergens are also found in their saliva, urine, sweat, and fur. Dander is a major cause of concern as it is extremely small and can stay airborne for a long time even with the slightest air circulation. It easily settles down on the upholstery of furniture and sticks to the clothes of anyone who uses the furniture. Pet saliva can stick to carpets, beds, furniture and clothing. Once the saliva dries, it can become airborne and spread to other areas of the house.
Inhaling the allergen or contact with it causes the immune system to produce an inflammatory response in the nasal passages or lungs. Prolonged or regular exposure to the allergen causes the chronic airway inflammation that is associated with asthma.4 Touching your eyes after petting or grooming a dog or cat can result in itchy eyes. Many airborne particles are minute and can easily enter the lungs through the nose or the mouth resulting in severe breathing problems in some people. Occasionally, contact with a cat can trigger a severe asthma attack. Cat allergies also can lead to chronic asthma.
Pet allergens can also be circulated by the air from where the allergens have settled. This occurs because of dusting, vacuuming and other household activities. Once they are airborne, the particles stay suspended in the air for a long time. In just the US, three in 10 people with allergies have allergic reactions to dogs and cats.5
Rodents And Rabbits
Though rabbits are not rodents, their main source of allergens is found in their saliva. This allergen is also be found in their urine and dander. Their saliva contains the highest concentration and has been shown to be the most potent.6
The primary source of allergens from rodents like rats and mice is their urine, particularly the proteins involved in communication, called pheromones. These proteins are extremely allergenic and roughly one in three people who are most commonly in contact with rodents will develop allergies to them. Besides direct contact, people can also be exposed to rodent and rabbit allergens that are in the air.7
Most symptoms prompted by exposure to birds affect the respiratory tract. Besides rhinitis and/or asthma, inhaling the allergens associated with certain birds such as lovebirds, pheasants, canaries, parakeets, parrots, geese, and owls may sometimes cause hypersensitivity pneumonitis.8
In some people, exposure to reptiles can also affect the upper and lower respiratory tract. Asthma, rhinitis, and conjunctivitis resulting from exposure to iguana and lizard have been studied. The symptoms resulting from reptile bites range from an eruption of crusty pruriginous papules after an iguana bite to anaphyla a is with clear predominance of vascular symptoms after bites by lizards.9
Some spiders such as tarantulas have hairs that produce urticaria that is not immune-mediated and can cause persistent papular dermatitis. Sometimes, when the hairs come into contact with the cornea and conjunctiva, it may cause ophthalmia nodosa (an ocular inflammatory reaction to foreign bodies such as caterpillar spines and tarantula hairs). Generalized rash and hypotension after a spider bite have also been reported.10
Symptoms Of Pet Allergy
Exposure to a pet on a long-term basis can result in more chronic symptoms such as ongoing nasal congestion, unlike the sudden symptoms seen with short-term exposure, making it seem as though the pet is not responsible for causing the allergic problems.11 Some common symptoms of pet allergy include,
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Facial pain (from nasal congestion)
- Coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and wheezing
- Watery, red or itchy eyes
- Skin rash or hives12
Myth About Hypoallergenic Dog And Cats
As a marketing strategy, many dog breeders claim that some dogs are hypoallergenic (unlikely to cause an allergic reaction). although some variety of dogs may cause fewer allergy symptoms than others.13 Some dog breeds are marketed as hypoallergenic as they hardly shed fur. Since such dogs and cats shed very little fur, the allergy-causing dander sticks to their fur and is not released into the air or onto the floor as much as with a shedding dog or cat. The truth is that while you see less hair with a non-shedding dog or cat, they are simply not hypoallergenic.
A particular study was conducted in 2011 to compare dust samples from the homes with so-called hypoallergenic dogs and from homes with other dogs. The study showed that the levels of dog allergen in homes with “hypoallergenic” dogs did not differ from the levels in homes with other breeds.14
Pet Allergy Management And Treatment
- Keep dogs and cats out of the bedroom and restrict it to specific areas of the house. However, keeping a dog or a cat in only one room will not limit the allergens to that room.
- Avoid being around dogs and cats; if you have a pet at home, take specific steps to limit exposure.
- Avoid petting, hugging or kissing the pet; if at all you do, ensure that you wash your hands with soap and water.
- Some high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) cleaners that run continuously can reduce allergen levels.
- Regular use of high-efficiency vacuum cleaners or a central vacuum can also reduce allergen levels.
- Give your pet dog a bath at least once a week to reduce airborne dog allergen.
- Nasal sprays, antihistamines, and bronchodilators can help relieve symptoms.
- Consider allergy shots (immunotherapy).
|↑1, ↑11||Pet Allergy. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.|
|↑2, ↑5||Pet Allergy: Are You Allergic to Dogs or Cats. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. 2015|
|↑3, ↑4, ↑8, ↑9, ↑10||Díaz-Perales, Araceli, David González-de-Olano, Marina Pérez-Gordo, and Carlos Pastor-Vargas. “Allergy to uncommon pets: new allergies but the same allergens.” (2013).|
|↑6, ↑7||Allergic to your rodent or rabbit. The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine.|
|↑12, ↑13, ↑14||Pet Allergies. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. 2014.|