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What are pet allergies?
Pet allergies are certain proteins — called allergens — on your pet that cause your allergic immune system to overreact. These allergens are in animal fur, skin, urine (pee) and saliva (spit). It’s also in pet dander, which is tiny scales from your pets’ skin, hair or feathers.
Usually, these proteins are harmless. However, your allergic immune system views them as harmful “invaders,” like bacteria or viruses.
What are the most common pet allergies?
Any pet can produce allergens, though cats and dogs are the most common source of pet allergens.
Other pets that cause allergies include:
- Rodents (rats, mice, hamsters, gerbils and guinea pigs).
Are there hypoallergenic pets?
Some people believe that certain breeds of furry pets are hypoallergenic (won’t cause allergic reactions) because they shed less fur. However, studies show that there aren’t any hypoallergenic furry animals, especially since pet allergens are more than fur alone.
Your body is unique. If you have pet allergies, certain breeds of furry pets may cause minor symptoms or no symptoms. However, healthcare providers and researchers can’t accurately predict which breeds will be the least irritating.
Animals that don’t have fur or feathers are the least likely to cause pet allergies. These include:
- Amphibians (frogs, toads and salamanders).
- Reptiles (lizards, snakes and turtles).
Who do pet allergies affect?
Pet allergies can affect anyone.
You’re more likely to have or develop pet allergies if your biological parents have pet allergies.
How common are pet allergies?
Pet allergies are common. Up to 30% of people in the U.S. are allergic to cats and dogs. You’re more than twice as likely to be allergic to a cat than a dog.
How do pet allergies affect my body?
Pet allergies cause an allergic reaction. An allergic reaction is your body’s response to an allergen.
If you have allergies, the first time you encounter a pet allergen, your body responds by creating immunoglobulin E (IgE). IgE is an antibody that your immune system makes. Each type of IgE is sensitive to a specific kind of pet allergen and other allergens.
You may only have IgE antibodies that are sensitive to one particular animal. Or you may have many IgE antibodies that are sensitive to many different types of allergens.
The antibodies find the allergens in your body and help remove them by taking them to the mast cell (the allergy cell), where they attach to a special receptor. This causes the allergy cell to release histamine. Histamine is what causes your allergy symptoms.
Symptoms and Causes
What are the symptoms of pet allergies?
Pet allergy symptoms include:
- Nasal passage inflammation (runny nose, stuffy nose, itchy eyes, watery eyes, shortness of breath).
- Itchy skin.
- Scratchy throat or mouth.
- Worsening asthma symptoms.
Pet allergies share many of the same symptoms as other illnesses, including influenza (flu) and the common cold. If you’re not sure whether your symptoms result from pet allergies or an illness, reach out to your healthcare provider. They can help you determine the cause of your symptoms.
Can pet allergies cause fatigue?
Yes, pet allergies can cause fatigue (tiredness). When IgE and histamine cause nasal passage inflammation, you may feel tired.
Some pet allergy symptoms, including nasal congestion and coughing, can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Interrupted or restless sleep can contribute to your fatigue.
How long after being around pets do symptoms appear?
It depends on the severity of your pet allergies.
If you have severe pet allergies, symptoms may appear within 15-30 minutes of encountering a pet.
If you have mild pet allergies, symptoms may appear a few hours to a few days after encountering a pet.
Are pet allergies contagious?
No, pet allergies aren’t contagious. You can’t spread pet allergies to another person.
Diagnosis and Tests
How do I know if I am allergic to my pets?
If you notice you have allergy symptoms after being around pets, it’s a good idea to see your healthcare provider. They may refer you to an allergist. An allergist is a healthcare provider who specializes in allergies. They can help diagnose your pet allergies through specific tests.
Before conducting pet allergy tests, they may ask you questions, including:
- Do you have a family history of pet allergies?
- Have you ever been diagnosed with allergies before?
- What are your symptoms?
- Do you take any over-the-counter (OTC) medications to treat your symptoms?
- What kinds of animals are you around when your allergies start to act up?
What tests will be done to diagnose pet allergies?
Your healthcare provider may use different allergy tests to help diagnose your pet allergies based on your symptoms. These tests may include:
Skin prick (scratch) test
This test exposes your body to small amounts of different pet allergens.
Your healthcare provider will first clean a test area of your skin with iodine or alcohol. The test area is usually on your forearm or upper back.
Your allergist will place droplets of possible pet allergens on your skin. They then use a thin needle (lancet) to scratch your skin lightly. The droplets will enter your skin through the scratch. You’ll only feel slight discomfort, and you likely won’t bleed.
Allergic reactions typically occur within 15 minutes of exposure to possible pet allergens. Reactions may include skin discoloration (red, gray or white) or raised, round spots called wheals (a hive) that look like bug bites.
Your allergist will measure the size of your wheal and record what allergen caused the reaction.
A skin prick test takes less than an hour.
Blood (IgE) test
During a blood test, your healthcare provider will use a thin needle (21 gauge, slightly smaller than the size of a standard earring) to withdraw a small amount of blood from a vein in your arm. The blood sample goes to a laboratory. The lab will spin your blood down and use the plasma (yellow portion), which has the IgE, and places it in a testing plate coated with allergens. They’ll then place another chemical, which measures the amount of IgE present for that allergen. If you have high levels of IgE antibodies in your blood sample, you may have pet allergies.
It may take a week or longer to have the results from the blood test sent to a lab.
Management and Treatment
Can you get rid of pet allergies?
You can’t get rid of pet allergies. However, you can take OTC antihistamine pills, nasal corticosteroids and nasal antihistamines to treat your symptoms.
For some people, allergy shots (immunotherapy) offer a long-term solution to managing pet allergies. Each time you get an allergy shot, your body responds by lowering your sensitivity to the allergen. In some people, allergy shots may help prevent pet allergy symptoms even after they have stopped receiving treatment.
Talk to your healthcare provider about what treatment options are best for you.
What are the side effects of antihistamines?
Antihistamine side effects may include:
- Dry mouth.
- Nausea and vomiting.
One study reported increased depression in people who took the antihistamines cetirizine and hydroxyzine. However, studies haven’t explored the effects of all antihistamines on mood disorders.
What are the side effects of nasal corticosteroids?
Nasal corticosteroid side effects may include:
- Nasal discomfort (stinging or burning).
- Throat discomfort.
What are the side effects of allergy shots?
Usually, the only side effects of allergy shots are discoloration, irritation or swelling at your injection site.
In rare cases, allergy shots may cause serious reactions, including anaphylaxis. Severe reactions usually occur within 15-30 minutes after receiving an allergy shot. You should wait at your healthcare provider’s office for at least 30 minutes after receiving an allergy shot in case you need emergency medical attention.
How long do pet allergies last?
Once you’re no longer around pet allergens, your symptoms usually go away after a few hours. However, if you have severe pet allergies, your symptoms may last for several days. If you have pet allergies, showering and washing your clothes can speed your recovery from allergy exposure.
How soon after treatment will I feel better?
Antihistamines start to work about 30 minutes after you take them. They’re most effective within the first few hours.
Nasal antihistamines may start working as fast as 15 to 30 minutes.
Nasal corticosteroids may take at least two weeks for you to start feeling better.
If you’re around animals a lot, your healthcare provider may recommend that you take antihistamines every day to prevent symptoms.
How can I prevent pet allergies?
The best way to prevent pet allergies is to avoid animals that trigger allergic reactions. You can also take antihistamines daily to help control your pet allergy symptoms and reduce your allergic reaction.
If avoiding pets isn’t possible, the following tips can help prevent symptoms or reduce the severity of your symptoms.
- Avoid petting, hugging and kissing pets. Try not to let them rub against you. Don’t allow them in your bedroom or on your furniture.
- Regularly brush and bathe your pets. Brush your pets outdoors. If possible, have someone who doesn’t have pet allergies brush and bathe them. Use a shampoo specifically designed for pets.
- Vacuum rugs, carpets and other surfaces regularly. It’s a good idea to vacuum at least twice a week. Use a microfilter vacuum bag to prevent pet dander from escaping. If possible, remove rugs and carpets. They can trap pet allergens in the fibers.
- Filter the air in your home. Use a high-efficiency particulate (HEPA) air filter to remove as many pet allergens as possible.
In severe cases, you may need to find a new home for your pet.
Outlook / Prognosis
What can I expect if I have pet allergies?
Living with a pet allergy can be challenging. Most symptoms are mild, but some may cause breathing problems. Most people can control their pet allergies with medications.
How do I take care of myself if I have pet allergies?
You can’t cure pet allergies, but you can control your symptoms by avoiding pets that have known allergens and taking medications.
When should I see my healthcare provider?
See your healthcare provider if you regularly have pet allergy symptoms, especially if they affect your day-to-day quality of life.
What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?
- How can you tell that I have pet allergies?
- What specific pets or pet allergens are causing my allergy symptoms?
- What allergy medications do you recommend?
- What’s the complete list of side effects of your recommended allergy medication?
- Should I take allergy medications every day or only when I develop symptoms?
- Are there any pets I can be around?
- Should I rehome my pet?
- How do I know when I have pet allergy symptoms or cold and flu symptoms?
- Should I see an allergist?
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Pet allergies can be frustrating, especially if you don’t know what animals trigger your immune system response. If you have symptoms of pet allergies, reach out to your healthcare provider. They can work with you to determine if your symptoms are from a common illness or pet allergies. They can also refer you to an allergist to help you figure out which animals cause the most significant allergic reaction.
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