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Introduction to Pet Allergy

Allergies to pets, particularly to cats and dogs, are a common cause of allergic disease, including asthma and hay fever.

The main source of cat allergen is in the sebaceous glands in the cat's skin. Cats lick themselves and spread the allergen, which is sticky, and glues itself to hairs, dust particles (forming a persistent aerosol) and all parts of the home. As all cats have sebaceous glands, all cat breeds can potentially cause allergies.

Even after removal of the pet, cat allergen can remain distributed throughout the home for up to 6 months and in the cat's bedding for up to 4 years! The allergen is so pervasive that it can even be measured in the homes of non-pet owners and on the clothing of co-workers who don't have pets. Cat allergen has even been detected in the Antarctic, even though cats have never been there!

In dogs the main source of allergen is saliva rather than dander (shed skin particles) and hair, which both act to spread the allergen. Therefore all breeds of dog can potentially cause allergies, although some may not shed as much hair and dander (and allergen) as others.

Although not as common as cat and dog allergy, allergy to other animals including horses, mice, rats, rabbits, guinea pigs and birds is important. Transmission of these allergens on clothes and other items may be sufficient to trigger hay fever and asthma.

It is important to note that up to 50% of people who are allergic to animals do not get immediate symptoms. If there is some doubt as to whether or a pet (your's or someone else's) is causing your allergy symptoms, your doctor or allergy specialist can confirm your suspicion using skin prick tests.

A negative skin prick test does not, however, mean that a child won't become allergic to pets later.

Some studies have suggested that increased exposure to cats and dogs may be associated with reduced sensitization and allergic disease, whilst other studies have not found this to be the case. However, it should be clarified that in people with established allergic disease who are already sensitized to cats or dogs, avoidance of the animal they are sensitized to, is well documented to prevent or reduce symptoms.

WHAT CAN BE DONE TO PREVENT PET ALLERGY?

Changes that are simple to implement and have been proven to be effective are as follows:
  • do not bring a furred pet into the home;
  • find an existing pet a new home; and
  • do not smoke, as exposure to environmental smoke makes a range of allergies (including pet allergies) more likely to develop. Changes that are difficult to implement or have not yet been proven are as follows:
  • restrict the pet to one area;
  • keep the pet out of the patient's bedroom;
  • use high-efficiency air cleaners, either central or portable;
  • remove carpet or other reservoirs for allergens in the bedroom; and
  • wash the pet weekly.

This article was published by allergy.org.au, copyright 2010. It can be accessed online at the following link.


Allergies to Pets
Introduction to Pet Allergy
Pet Allergy by American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology
Pet Allergies by Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
Pet allergies: When you can't dodge the dander
Pets, Allergy and Respiratory Symptoms in Children
Pet Dander