Despite being a nation of pet lovers – over 46% of UK households own a pet – 1 in 4 of people suffer from allergies, with pet dander being one of the main allergens. Luckily, there are many practical techniques and remedies available to help you manage your pet allergy. Here are our top tips…
What is a pet allergy?
A pet allergy is an allergic reaction to the proteins or allergens from your pet. These usually attack the eyes and airways often resulting in asthmatic symptoms, allergic rhinitis (inflammation of the inside of the nose), eczema or urticarial (hives).
Cat allergies are twice as common as allergies to dogs (Editor’s note: further proof that cats are conspiring to take over the world by making humans ill), however allergies to rabbits, small rodents, pet birds and even horses can develop.
We still don’t know exactly why some people develop allergies to animals, however the tendency towards allergic reactions is often hereditary and occurs in those with over-sensitive immune systems.
The primary cause of pet allergies are the proteins or allergens from pets, which include skin cells (dander), saliva, sweat and urine. The hair or fur on an animal is surprisingly not an allergen, however it will often trap outside allergens, such as dust, pollen, mould and spores which can lead to allergic reactions.
Allergens are typically very ‘sticky’ and will collect on furniture, clothes and even shoes so can be found in places where pets have never been! Allergens can also stay suspended in the air for long periods; this can occur when an animal is petted or groomed, and during household activities such as dusting or vacuuming.
Much to sufferers’ dismay, allergens do not lose their strength for a long time. Even if a home, for example, has housed no pets for a few years, old allergens can still cause allergic reactions.
The extremity of symptoms for pet allergies will differ from person to person, but the majority will experience one or more of the following:
– Allergic rhinitis – sneezing and a running or blocked nose.
– Itchy and watering eyes.
– Asthma – coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness.
– Worsening of eczema, urticarial (hives) or a general skin rash.
To relieve symptoms antihistamines, decongestants, emollients and steroids are all good as short-term treatments.
However, if you’re seeking something for the long-term, immunotherapy is the closest thing to a cure for allergies. This involves injecting increasing doses of an allergen into the body and building up a tolerance over time.
Ultimately, the best treatment for pet allergies is to avoid contact with cats or dogs, however if you’re a pet lover, that is simply unrealistic!
Our top tips
Although by no means a cure for pet allergies, these tips can help minimise and manage yours and others symptoms, making life more bearable when around our wonderful furry friends:
– If you know you’re going to come into contact with a pet or a person who has pets, take medication in advance or have it to hand to relieve any symptoms you may experience. Hand sanitizer and tissues are also essential!
– Keep pets out of your bedroom and limit the number of rooms they can enter to reduce the spread of allergens – this is especially important when friends or family members with allergies coming to visit or stay. If you can, create a living space for your pet outdoors, however we do appreciate this is a pipedream with the unpredictable UK weather!
– Vacuum and wash floors regularly to keep allergens at bay, and if possible, remove all carpets and rugs from rooms where pets are kept as these trap pet dander and other allergens. You can also buy allergy control solutions to spray onto carpets and other soft furnishings.
– Bathe and groom your pet regularly, and always do this outside. There are shampoos that have been specially formulated to reduce the amount of allergens released from your pet’s fur. With dog’s in particular, always wipe them down after a walk during the spring and summer to reduce outside allergens from entering your home.
– Always wash your hands thoroughly with an antibacterial soap after an encounter with your pet or someone else’s. If coming into contact with a pet outside your home, we recommend changing and washing your clothes and shoes as soon as you get home, as well as showering your hair and body.
– Set up an air filter in rooms you and your pet use the most to reduce allergen levels in the air. Covering air vents with cheesecloth and cleaning them regularly will also help.
– If allergic to dogs or cats, avoid letting them lick your hands or face and try to not hug or kiss them either. When visiting a friend or family member with a pet, ensure they are aware of your allergy so they can prevent their cat or dog from coming to near or jumping on your lap, and vice versa.
– For those with an allergy but also a penchant for their own four-legged friend, there are breeds of dogs and cats that are hypoallergenic – ones that produce fewer allergens than others. Bichon Frises and Schnauzers are both examples of hypoallergenic dog breeds, and for cats, breeds include the Bengal and Russian Blue. The best thing to do however, is to spend time around the breed of cat or dog you desire and see how you react.