Love Fido but can’t live with him? You’re not alone. About 10 percent of people have animal allergies. Cats and dogs are the most common offenders, but cats are the more allergenic of the two. About twice as many people have cat allergies as dog allergies.
Many people assume that animal hair is the source of the allergy, but it is actually the proteins in the animal’s skin flakes (dander), urine, and spit that cause the problem. Hair can exacerbate the problem because the allergy-causing proteins can get ensnared in it, but short-haired pets are certainly not a panacea. Some cat breeds such as devonrex, Siberian, Balinese, or Burmese may be less allergenic than others, but there is no truly “hypoallergenic” cat. The same goes for dogs. Breeds like bichon frise, Chinese crested, and Irish water spaniels may also be easier on the allergies, but they can still stir up symptoms.
Signs of allergies to dogs or cats include:
- Runny or congested nose (you may feel like you have a perpetual cold)
- Conjunctivitis (red, itchy eyes)
- Coughing, wheezing
- Asthma (1 in 5 people with asthma has a flare up when they come in contact with cats)
Pet allergies often manifest immediately after contact with cat or dogs. While many people’s pet allergies start in childhood, it is possible to develop them as an adult.
So do pet allergies automatically mean you have to get rid of your animal to feel good? Fortunately, no! Many people are able to overcome dog and cat allergies through allergy immunotherapy.
Dr. Stuart Agren has used allergy immunotherapy to treat over 15,000 people with allergies—including many with cat and dog allergies. One of his most memorable cases was a woman who developed allergies in adulthood—after she opened a pet sitting business.
“Suddenly, the very thing she loved and that provided her livelihood was making her sick,” said Agren. “Immunotherapy helped desensitize her immune system to pets so she stopped reacting to them.”
Allergy immunotherapy works similar to vaccinations. The therapy exposes the body to trace amounts of the offending agents—in this case allergens—and the body develops an immunity to them.
So how does that look for pet allergies? For starters, a physician starts with an allergy test. Once it is determined that a patient has pet allergies, a physician will prescribe a regimen of gradually increasing amounts of pet protein antigen. The antigen can be injected into the skin (subcutaneous immunotherapy or allergy shots). As an alternative, it can also be dispensed under the tongue through liquid drops (sublingual immunotherapy). These sublingual allergy drops for dog and cat allergies are safer than shots and can be dosed at home.
Your physician will be able to help you determine whether allergy shots or allergy drops are better for you and will also help you learn more about the cost of shots vs. the cost of allergy drops. Whichever type of immunotherapy you choose, the end results should be the same: The body can gradually become accustomed to pet proteins and stop overreacting to furry friends.