Pets account for the majority of household allergies in humans. The majority of individuals with pet allergies suffer from other allergies or have preexisting respiratory conditions and sensitivities such as asthma. Between 15% and 30% of individuals with other sensitivities find that they are also allergic to cats and dogs.
Allergic SymptomsSymptoms vary between individuals and levels of exposure. Sensitive individuals will develop inflammations in the mucus membranes and histamine release (causing itchiness) in the affected areas. These symptoms are especially severe if the dander or saliva protein particles land on the membranes on the eyelid or the membranes of the nose.
Severely allergic individuals, especially those with asthma and other breathing problems, may suffer from coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath within 15 to 30 minutes of exposure to the pet or contaminated individual. Because the allergens are so small, they can become airborne, adhering to dust and dander particles in the air. When a sensitive individual breathes in these particles, the allergens go to the lungs and the individual suffers symptoms related to breathing. Sometimes these same individuals might develop a rash on the face, neck, or chest.
For less sensitive allergic individuals, the reaction may be slower and not appearing until hours or even days after exposure or contact with the pet.
DiagnosisDoctors usually recommend that individuals suffering from allergies remove themselves from the pet's environment in order to determine the source of the allergy. Since allergens can remain in an animal's environment long after they are gone, allergy sufferers must remove themselves from the contaminated surroundings.
Cat-induced asthma is diagnosed by determining if asthma symptoms are present during exposure to cats or cat saliva proteins and by a skin or blood test. Doctors usually use a RAST (radioallergosorbent) test to determine the cause.
Preventing Pet AllergiesAllergic and sensitive individuals have options. The first, and most effective option is removal of the animal from the residence and finding it a new home. This is also referred to as source control. Although this is seldom the most desirable option, it is the most effective and permanent allergy prevention.
Sensitive individuals also need to refrain from contact with any other animals and avoid visits to locations frequented by animals.
If the allergic person wishes to own animals, he or she may want to consider owning an animal that is free of fur or feathers. Fish, reptiles, snakes, and turtles are popular alternatives to cats and dogs.
Just because a cat or dog does not have fur (the hairless cat or dog) does not mean it is free from allergens. These breeds still shed contaminated skin cells. Hairless and non-shedding breeds, however, such as schnauzers and Airedales help keep dander and hair to a minimum and help prevent the spread of the allergens to furniture and clothing.
Some individuals find that, after a period of a few weeks or months, their sensitivities decrease and they are able to cohabitate with the furry individual with little or no symptoms. Other measures include: