You love them and they love you back. You take care of them. They are part of the family. We’re talking about cats and dogs.
An estimated 85 million families, or 67% of U.S. households, own a pet, according to 2019-2020 data. However, many people experience allergies to pets, 15% of the population to be exact. Pet allergies are often triggered by pet dander, which are dead flakes of the skin. Other proteins found in animal’s saliva or urine can cause reactions as well.
The immune system reacts to these allergens by making antibodies. These antibodies identify specific allergens as harmful, even if most people do not react to them. When you inhale allergens, the immune system causes an inflammatory response, which triggers allergy symptoms. These symptoms include inflamed nasal passages and swollen, watery eyes. Long exposure to a pet allergen can create chronic inflammation of the airways and worsen asthma.
Many animals can cause allergies, but they mostly come from cats and dogs.
Pet Allergy Symptoms
The most common symptoms include runny, itchy, stuffy nose, sneezing, coughing, and postnasal drip. The eyes become itchy, red, watery, and swollen. Some people may experience facial pressure and pain. Allergies can also cause sleeping problems with frequent awakening and daytime fatigue.
Allergies are commonly associated with asthma and eczema. If a person has asthma, the symptoms may worsen. They could lead to tightness of the chest or pain, wheezing, difficulty breathing, coughing, and shortness of breath.
If a person has eczema, pet allergies may aggravate skin rashes, itchy skin, and hives (urticaria). Direct contact with an allergen from the pet triggers allergic dermatitis.
Do “Hypoallergenic” Pets Exist?
About 1 in 10 Americans are allergic to dogs. Some online articles claim that certain pets are “allergy-free” pets. However, this is not true.
You can call them “hypoallergenic” if you wish, although this term may not be so accurate. Even pets that have a small quantity of allergens can cause allergies if you’re exposed to it. According to experts from Pets WebMD, there are no 100% allergen-free pets. There are some breeds that shed less and seem to cause fewer allergic reactions than others.
Some dog breeds that don’t cause as many allergic reactions include:
American Hairless Terrier
Coton de Tulea
Irish Water Spaniel
Kerry Blue Terrier
Peruvian Inca Orchid (hairless)
Portuguese Water Dog
Soft-coated Wheaten Terrier
Spanish Water Dog
When it comes to choosing a “hypoallergenic cat”, you may want to consider Siberian cats or the short-haired Devon Rex and Cornish Rex cats. People believe these breeds are less allergenic because they shed less fur. However, there is no research to support these claims.
In fact, in 2006 a company Allerca faced allegations of fraud when it claimed they had the first hypoallergenic cat. The price for a cat was between $6,000-$22,000. There were also complaints from customers that they didn’t receive the cat or a refund.
Tips to Manage Pet Allergies
The best way to manage pet allergies is to reduce exposure to the pet. Create pet-free zones, such as your bedroom or home office where you do not allow your pet to enter. You will have many hours of less exposure to the pet dander.
Work with your doctor. Get an allergy (skin) test to see if you have other allergies that may contribute to your symptoms. Explore all the treatment options. Look at medications like antihistamines, nasal corticosteroids, decongestants, leukotriene inhibitors, and allergy shots. Home remedies like Neti pott and natural supplements can also help manage symptoms.
Eliminate or at least reduce the use of carpets and fluffy throws that collect allergens. Choose instead choose hardwood surfaces and clean them regularly.
Use high-quality air cleaners at home. You can add HEPA filter air cleaners to your central heating and air conditioner. Use them for at least 4 hours daily to effectively remove allergens from the air.
Separate clothes that you wear only for when you play with your pet. Change your clothes and wash your hands and face when you’re finished.
Wash your pet weekly. This will reduce the amount of pet dander released into the air.
Don’t give up on your furry pet if you have mild symptoms that are easy to manage. Try to limit exposure and get advice from your doctor.
There are also plenty of health benefits when you own a pet. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are many health benefits for the pet owner. These include increased opportunities to get outside, exercise, and socialize. Owning a pet also contributes to decreasing blood pressure, decreasing cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and reduce feelings of loneliness and depression.