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Am I allergic to my pet? Dog & cat hair dander allergy

TGIF folks! Welcome back to Dr Euan's Blogposts.

Today we are looking at our pets (cats 🐈 & dogs 🐩 ) and how their fur / dander may provoke an allergic response in us!

Q: What is a pet allergy?

Do you have a pet at home? Do you start sneezing or itching when you play with your pet?

Pet allergy is an allergic reaction to proteins found in an animal's skin cells, saliva or urine. Signs of pet allergy include those common to hay fever, such as sneezing and runny nose. Some people may also experience signs of asthma, such as wheezing and difficulty breathing.

Most often, pet allergy is triggered by exposure to the dead flakes of skin (dander) a pet sheds. Any animal with fur can be a source of pet allergy, but pet allergies are most commonly associated with cats and dogs.

If you have a pet allergy, the best strategy is to avoid or reduce exposure to the animal as much as possible. Medications or other treatments may be necessary to relieve symptoms and manage asthma.

Q: What are the symptoms of a pet allergy?

Pet allergy signs and symptoms caused by inflammation of nasal passages include:

  • Sneezing

  • Runny nose

  • Itchy, red or watery eyes

  • Nasal congestion

  • Itchy nose, roof of mouth or throat

  • Postnasal drip

  • Cough

  • Facial pressure and pain

  • Frequent awakening

  • Swollen, blue-coloured skin under your eyes (allergy shiners)

  • In a child, frequent upward rubbing of the nose

If your pet allergy contributes to asthma, you may also experience:

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Chest tightness or pain

  • Audible whistling or wheezing sound when exhaling

  • Trouble sleeping caused by shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing

Skin symptoms

Some people with pet allergy may also experience skin symptoms, a pattern known as allergic dermatitis. This type of dermatitis is an immune system reaction that causes skin inflammation. Direct contact with an allergy-causing pet may trigger allergic dermatitis, causing signs and symptoms, such as:

  • Raised, red patches of skin (hives)

  • Eczema

  • Itchy skin

Q: When you should see a doctor

Some signs and symptoms of pet allergy, such as a runny nose or sneezing, are similar to those of the common cold. Sometimes it's difficult to know whether you have a cold or an allergy. If symptoms persist for more than two weeks, you might have an allergy.

If your signs and symptoms are severe — with nasal passages feeling completely blocked and difficulty sleeping or wheezing — call your doctor. Seek emergency care if wheezing or shortness of breath rapidly worsens or if you are short of breath with minimal activity.

Cats and dogs

Allergens from cats and dogs are found in skin cells the animals shed (dander), as well as in their saliva, urine and sweat and on their fur. Dander is a particular problem because it is very small and can remain airborne for long periods of time with the slightest bit of air circulation. It also collects easily in upholstered furniture and sticks to your clothes. Pet saliva can stick to carpets, bedding, furniture and clothing. Dried saliva can become airborne. So-called hypoallergenic cats and dogs may shed less fur than shedding types, but no breed is truly hypoallergenic.

Risk factors

Pet allergies are common. However, you're more likely to develop a pet allergy if allergies or asthma runs in your family.

Being exposed to pets at an early age may help you avoid pet allergies. Some studies have found that children who live with a dog in the first year of life may have better resistance to upper respiratory infections during childhood than kids who don't have a dog at that age.


Sinus infections

Ongoing (chronic) inflammation of tissues in the nasal passages caused by pet allergy can obstruct the hollow cavities connected to your nasal passages (sinuses). These obstructions may make you more likely to develop bacterial infections of the sinuses, such as sinusitis.


People with asthma and pet allergy often have difficulty managing asthma symptoms. They may be at risk of asthma attacks that require immediate medical treatment or emergency care.


If you don't have a pet but are considering adopting or buying one, make sure you don't have pet allergies before making the commitment.

Q: How to test for pet dander allergy? Allergy skin test

Your doctor may suggest an allergy skin test to determine exactly what you're allergic to. You may be referred to an allergy specialist (allergist) for this test.

In this test, tiny amounts of purified allergen extracts — including extracts with animal proteins — are pricked into your skin's surface. This is usually carried out on the forearm, but it may be done on the upper back.

Your doctor or nurse observes your skin for signs of allergic reactions after 15 minutes. If you're allergic to cats, for example, you'll develop a red, itchy bump where the cat extract was pricked into your skin. The most common side effects of these skin tests are itching and redness. These side effects usually go away within 30 minutes.

Blood test

In some cases, a skin test can't be performed because of the presence of a skin condition or because of interactions with certain medications. As an alternative, your doctor may order a blood test that screens your blood for specific allergy-causing antibodies to various common allergens, including various animals. This test may also indicate how sensitive you are to an allergen.

Q: what can be done to manage my pet allergies?

Current recommendations for controlling clinical symptoms caused by dog and cat allergens primarily includes avoidance to exposures. Bathing animals at least twice per week reduces allergens and can eliminate reactions. Immediate removal of the pet from the household will not alleviate symptoms particularly if the owner has carpeting in their home. Mammalian allergens are very stable and persist in house dust up to 6 months.

Symptomatic management with the use of anti-histamines and localised (intra nasal) steroids are used when avoidance strategies have been utilised but symptoms still continue. Data on dog allergen subcutaneous immunotherapy (SCIT) show evidence of effectiveness, but is clinically less effective than for cats.

The treatment of dog and cat allergies with immunotherapy depends on reliable and consistent allergen extracts. Unlike cat allergen extracts, differences in the manufacturing of dog allergen extracts exist even today. In the United States, allergens are typically manufactured in an aqueous solution. In Europe, products used for SCIT are usually prepared with aluminum hydroxide which forms a complex with the active allergens and is thought to act as a depot thereby releasing the allergens more slowly.

Without adequate standardisation, the amounts of different specific protein allergens vary enormously, thus making assessment of therapeutic improvement impossible. Safety of SCIT is also an issue, if a patient is highly sensitive, different manufactured lots even from the same manufacturer with different amounts of component allergen proteins can lead to adverse reactions when those individuals are suddenly exposed to high levels.

So dear friends, if you are troubled by pet allergies, do contact us today for a review, and further recommendations. Have a restful weekend 😊

Here are some updated references for those who are keen to read more.


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