Roughly 10 percent of Americans have cat or dog allergies (with cat allergies being about twice as prevalent as dog allergies). This becomes particularly troublesome for people who love pets but just can’t seem to live comfortably with them.
Many people experience animal allergies in childhood, but some people can develop allergic sensitivities to pets as adults. (We even had one patient who had owned animals her whole life and only became allergic to them after she opened her own pet-sitting business.)
What causes pet allergies?
Pet allergies are caused by pet dander (dead skin cells), urine and saliva. None of these elements will harm your body, and in a perfect world, your body would just ignore them. Instead, your immune system somehow confuses these stimuli with negative elements such as germs and bacteria and launches an attack. Your body releases chemicals such as histamine into your bloodstream. Histamine causes inflammation, which leads to hay fever, itchy eyes, wheezing, and other irritating symptoms.
Managing pet allergies
If you are allergic to cats, you can opt for felines that are less allergenic, including a Sphynx cat, Devon Rex, or Cornish Rex. Where dogs are concerned, the Bedlington Terrier, American Hairless Terrier, or Bichon Frise are less likely to stir up your allergy symptoms. The fact is, though, that there are no truly hypo-allergenic pets. You can try spending time with one of these breeds to see how your allergies react. You might find that you can still have your pet and feel good, too.
If your pet allergies persist, you can try minimizing your exposure to pet allergens by bathing your pet frequently (at least once a week), using HEPA filters, and creating “safe zones” in your house where your pet is not allowed to go.
Another option is to seek allergy treatment. Medications such as antihistamines and decongestants are helpful for seasonal pollen allergies, but they’re not a great solution for pet allergies. After all, your pets are always with you, and you don’t want to be popping pills all year long.
A better solution is allergy immunotherapy. Unlike medications such as pills and inhalers, allergy immunotherapy treats the source of the allergy—not just the symptoms. It exposes your body to traces of pet allergens in gradually increasing increments. Over time, your body can build up immunity to these allergens and stop overreacting to them with uncomfortable symptoms. Allergy immunotherapy can be administered through allergy shots or under-the-tongue allergy drops (a treatment known as sublingual immunotherapy).