Pet Allergy

1 What is Pet Allergy?

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, dogs, rodents and horses.

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.

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2 Symptoms

Common symptoms of pet allergy include:

In some cases pets trigger asthmatic symptoms including

  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty in sleeping

In some cases, people may develop allergic dermatitis characterized by hives, eczema, and itching. As compared to common cold, the symptoms of allergy persist for more than a week.

3 Causes

The main cause of pet allergy is an over-reactive immune system which produces an abnormal response to a protein.

Immune system, which actually protects the body against foreign substances and disease-causing organisms, produces antibodies against the proteins from the pet’s body.

These antibodies consider allergens as foreign bodies. On exposure to allergens, the antibodies activate the production of histamines, the chemicals responsible for allergic symptoms. The response is in the form of inflammation of nasal cavities and lungs. Exposure for a longer duration may result in chronic inflammation.

Pet allergy is mostly caused by furry pets like cats, dogs, rats, and rodents. Hair of the pet is not an allergen in itself.

The allergens that cause inflammatory response are the proteins present in dead skin cells, urine, and saliva of the pet. The dead skin cells shed from the body remains airborne for a long time and can also stick to furnishings and clothes, increasing chances of exposure. Saliva from the pet sticks and dries up on furniture, cloth, and carpets.

Rodents and rabbits spend much of the time in their cage and the dust collected under the cage is a main source of allergens from the pet.

The amount of dander and other allergens produced by the pets may vary with breeds.

4 Making a Diagnosis

Several methods are used to diagnose pet allergy.

Symptoms are the best indicators of pet allergy.

Physical examination reveals inflammation of the nasal cavities. The skin color of the nasal chambers may show color change to bluish.

Two other methods that are commonly used to diagnose pet allergy are:

  • Skin test – In this test, a patch of skin is exposed to small amounts of allergen extract. To allow the allergen to go inside, the test patch is slightly pricked with a probe. Inflammation of the skin in the test region within 15 minutes is a sign of pet allergy. The skin prick is usually done in upper arm or upper back.
  • Blood test – This test is recommended if skin test cannot be performed due to some reason like drug interaction. Blood test is used to measure the amount of specific antibodies against the suspected allergen. Increased levels of antibodies indicate pet allergy. It also gives a measure of sensitivity to the allergen.

5 Treatment

As it is difficult to avoid having a pet at home, several treatments help to reduce the symptoms of pet allergy.

Allergic reaction may also happen if someone has an accidental exposure to pets. Some common medications used are:

  • Antihistamines – this medication block the production of histamines, the chemicals responsible for the allergic symptoms. They are available as nasal sprays, syrups, and oral tablets. Azelastine, Olopatadine, fexofenadine, loratadine, cetirizine, levocetirizine, desloratadine are some common antihistamines prescribed for controlling the symptoms.
  • Cortiosteroids – are used to reduce inflammation in nasal cavities. Mometasone furoate, triamcinolone ciclesonide, and fluticasone are usually given as nasal sprays.
  • Decongestants – as name suggests, it helps in nasal decongestion. This makes breathing easier. Decongestants may be used alone or in combination with antihistamines.
  • Cromolyn sodium – this drug is also used to control the symptoms of allergy. It is used as a nasal spray, mostly before the signs and symptoms develop.
  • Leukotriene modifiers – these drugs prevent the action of certain chemicals that trigger symptoms of allergy. 

Immunotherapy is a method of desensitization in which a series of shots of small doses of allergic protein is given.

The dose of the shot is gradually increased over a period of time. Immunotherapy is usually suggested when a person does not respond well to conventional treatment methods.

6 Prevention

Ensure that none of the family members have pet allergy before getting a pet home to prevent allergic reaction.

If one is particular about having a pet at home, opt for non-furry pets that does not cause allergy. 

7 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

Herbal remedies are usually suggested for controlling respiratory symptoms of pet allergy.

Bringham tea and nettles tincture are used for decongestion and to open up the respiratory tract.

Schizandra helps in breathing better. Nat mur, Nat sulph, apis mellifica, arsenicum album, lodium, merc vivus, rhus tox, and Silicea are prescribed in homeopathy to relieve symptoms. 

8 Lifestyle and Coping

A thorough cleaning of the house helps to clear the allergens.

Avoid carpets and soft furnishings, if possible, to prevent the collection of dander and other allergens.

Try to get allergen-blocking covers in bedding. High-efficiency filters help to trap the allergens and reduce airborne dander. 

9 Risk and Complications

Inflammation of nasal cavities increases the risk of sinus infections.

Asthma symptoms may worsen with pet allergy.