Many people are unable to own pets due to allergies. About 1 in 10 people are allergic to cats and dogs, though cats trigger allergies in twice as many people as dogs do.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the pet’s hair that is the source of the misery. The culprit is actually proteins found in a pet’s saliva and dander (dead skin flakes) that cause the problem.
When the body is exposed to the proteins in the pet dander, it misconstrues them as enemy invaders. To try to fend them off, the body will release chemicals, including histamine. Of course, the histamine doesn’t do anything to neutralize the pet dander. Rather, it just makes the body miserable by triggering symptoms such as itchy eyes, sneezing, hives, a runny or congested nose, wheezing and asthma.
The trick with pet allergies is to desensitize the body to the proteins so that it no longer tries to fight them off. As the body learns to “make peace” with the proteins, it will no longer react with health-depleting chemicals. It will simply ignore the proteins, allowing humans and pets to co-exist healthfully and happily.
The only treatment that has been shown to alter the immune system and its responses is known as immunotherapy. It is available in two forms: sublingual immunotherapy (oral allergy drops) or allergy shots. They achieve comparable results, but the drops are safer and can be taken at home. (Shots must be administered in a physician’s office.) Drops are often a good choice for young children who may be scared of needles or simply too young for allergy shots.
There’s a lot of talk about hypo-allergenic pets. Indeed, certain kinds of pets are easier on allergies than others. The Portuguese Water Dog, for example, sheds less and requires frequent grooming. Thus, it tends to expose its owners to less dander. The Bichon Frise is also less allergenic. Where cats are concerned, the Devon Rex and the Sphynx cat have less hair which translates into less fur licking and less allergy-causing saliva proteins. Note, however, that many people with allergies still react to these furry friends.
For lasting relief from pet allergies, consider immunotherapy, which is available through allergy shots or allergy drops (sublingual immunotherapy). Allergy drops for cat allergies and dog allergies can be taken daily under the tongue at home. Allergy shots must be administered at the physician’s office a couple of times a week (as they pose a greater risk for anaphylactic reaction than drops do). Talk to your doctor about ordering an allergy test kit to help you understand more about the nature and scope of your pet allergies.