Allergic to Your Pet?

The novel coronavirus has inspired a dramatic increase in pet fostering and adoption, which is great news for animal shelters and animals alike. People who are now at home for extended amounts of time are anxious for the companionship of furry friends and now have the bandwidth to care for them.

Allergic to Your Pet?

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Hopefully, these pet parents will continue their care even after the virus runs its course and life returns to normal, but there’s another problem that can interrupt happy relationships with pets: allergies.

If you’re not allergic to pets, we hope this continues so that you can enjoy your cat or dog and feel good, too. But in some cases, people can develop allergies to pets later in life. For example, several years ago, I had a patient who loved animals so much that she had opened a pet-sitting business. Several years into it, she began developing allergies to the cats and dogs under her care. This was devastating to her. The very creatures she loved were making her feel miserable, and her finances were in jeopardy, too, since her livelihood was derived from pet care.

Whether you own animals that are making you feel sick or you would like to own animals but worry about their effect on your allergies, we have good news for you. Treatment is available for pet allergies, but before we discuss it, let’s explore some common Q&As about pet allergies.

How do I know if I have pet allergies?
Pet allergies can present with many of the same symptoms as pollen allergies. These include:

  • Runny or stuffed-up nose
  • Itchy, swollen eyes
  • Hives
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Asthma

Symptoms usually develop shortly after contact with a pet. Many people who have pet allergies understand that they are allergic to something, but they may think it is an outdoor allergen that is causing their misery. When pollens die down and they are still miserable, however, they may come to understand that their allergies are not seasonal—they are year-round reactions to their cat or dog.

Which is more allergenic—cats or dogs?
Roughly one in 10 people is allergic to cats and dogs, but cats are by far the more allergenic of the two. In fact, cat allergies are twice as common as dog allergies.

Can I buy a hypo-allergenic pet?
Many people assume that allergies are caused by animal hair and conclude that hairless (or short-haired) varieties are the solution. However, hair is not the source of the allergies. Rather, proteins in animal dander (skin flakes), urine and saliva trigger allergic reactions. Hair often becomes a carrier for these proteins so animals that shed less may be less allergenic, but there are no truly hypo-allergenic cats and dogs.

If you want to take your chances with a less allergenic animal, here are some breeds to consider.

Cats:

  • Sphynx
  • Devon rex
  • Siberian
  • Balinese
  • Burmese

Dogs:

  • Irish water spaniel
  • Bichon frise
  • Chinese-crested
  • Basenji

Just be mindful that if you are prone to pet allergies, you will still likely experience symptoms around these animals, but potentially fewer than you might with other pets.

What can I do for my pet allergies?
While you might be able to pop a daily pill to survive a few weeks of seasonal pollens, that’s not a good option for pet allergies since pets are with you for the long haul. For long-term allergy relief, the best option is allergy immunotherapy.

To understand why allergy immunotherapy works, let’s take a look at what’s going on in your body during an allergic reaction. Allergies are caused when your body encounters something harmless (such as animal dander) and confuses it for something bad like a germ. Your body then attempts to “defend” itself by releasing chemicals (such as histamine) into your body to fight it off. The problem is that these chemicals actually hurt you by causing the physical reactions that we know as allergy symptoms.

In order to achieve lasting relief, you need to “teach” your immune system to stop reacting to the wrong things. Allergy immunotherapy exposes your body to traces of allergens such as pet dander in gradually increasing amounts. As your body gets used to the pet dander, it learns to stop overreacting to it. Allergy immunotherapy is the only treatment that has been shown to change the underlying immune system for long-term allergy relief.

Allergy immunotherapy is available through allergy shots (subcutaneous immunotherapy) or under-the-tongue allergy drops (sublingual immunotherapy or SLIT). At AllergyEasy, we prescribe sublingual immunotherapy because it has been proven to be safer than allergy shots so it can be taken at home rather than at the doctor’s office. In our experience, greater convenience translates into better compliance, and when patients comply, they get better faster.

If your heart longs for a pet but you have allergies, all is not lost. Many AllergyEasy patients have been able to have their pets and feel good too with the help of their daily sublingual immunotherapy drops. The drops are a natural allergy treatment and free of the side effects of synthetic medications, and they can produce lasting results—not just relief that goes away when the medication wears off.

About The Author

Allergic to Your Pet?

Stuart H. Agren, M.D.

Stuart H. Agren, M.D. completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Utah and went on to earn his Doctor of Medicine from Tulane University School of Medicine in 1974. He completed additional training at L.D.S. Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah and then established his private medical practice starting in 1975. Dr. Agren completed a mini-residency in Industrial Medicine at the Robert Johnson School of Medicine at Rutgers University and also completed training to become a certified Medical Review Officer.

Dr. Agren was the Medical Director at TRW and McDonnell Douglas in Mesa, Arizona and at Stauffer Chemical and Kennecott Copper in Salt Lake City, Utah. He also served as an adjunct faculty member at Arizona State University.

In his private medical practice, Dr. Agren specialized in family practice and allergy. In his work as a private practice allergist, he was one of the first doctors in the country to prescribe sublingual immunotherapy to his patients as an alternative to subcutaneous immunotherapy (allergy shots). He has also been a trailblazer in the field of food allergy treatment and research, developing a program to treat multiple food allergies simultaneously using sublingual immunotherapy. Dr. Agren has been featured on local CBS, NBC, and ABC news affiliates and won the peer-nominated “Top Doc” award from Phoenix Magazine.

After 20 years in private practice, Dr. Agren became the Founder and President of AllergyEasy, which helps primary care physicians around the country offer allergy testing and sublingual immunotherapy treatment to their patients. Over 200 physicians in over 32 states use the AllergyEasy program to help their patients overcome environmental and food allergies and asthma.