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Pet allergy: what are pet allergies?

Pet cat having its head gently stroked
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Pet allergies are a frustrating problem when trying to enjoy time with family and friends. Even if you’re not in the presence of a cat or a dog, your symptoms can flare up if you’re in a room that a dog or cat has recently been in.

You can manage these allergies by taking steps to prevent contact with pets. You can also treat allergic symptoms using over-the-counter products so that they don’t interfere with your day.

In this guide, we’ll discuss:

  • What causes a pet allergy?
  • Symptoms of a pet allergy
  • Can pet allergies impact asthma?
  • Can a pet ever be completely hypo-allergenic?
  • Treatment for pet allergies

What causes a pet allergy?

A pet allergy is caused by your immune system overreacting to an allergen. An allergen is a substance that triggers an allergic reaction.

The allergen itself is usually harmless. An oversensitive immune system will detect this allergen as harmful, triggering the histamine response. This can lead to symptoms like sneezing, coughing and watery eyes.

Pet allergens can be found in their saliva, fur and urine. Allergens can also be carried in dander. Pet dander are microscopic flakes of dead skin cells. Dander can build up on your furniture and carpet if not cleaned properly.

You won’t be allergic to a dog or cat’s fur directly, but pet fur traps these allergens and can spread the allergens over your home. Pet fur can also trap dust and pollen. While this means you’re not allergic to your pet, you should limit your contact with them if they’ve been outside.

A pet allergy usually happens with animals that have fur or feathers. These can include cats, dogs, rabbits, birds and rodents like hamsters.

Symptoms of a pet allergy

The symptoms of a pet allergy will usually be triggered when you’ve been around pets with fur. They can also occur if you’re in a room where a pet has recently been in. Symptoms of a pet allergy include:

  • Runny nose
  • Itchy mouth, throat or nose
  • Cough
  • Watery or itchy eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Facial pressure or pain
  • Skin rash

If you have an allergic condition like eczema, a pet allergy can trigger a flare-up of symptoms. You can treat skin inflammation using a short course of steroid creams like hydrocortisone.

A severe pet allergy can also trigger an anaphylactic reaction. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction that requires emergency treatment.

Symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Feeling faint
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Wheezing
  • Losing consciousness
  • Feeling sick
  • Rash

Contact 999 immediately if you feel any of these symptoms, even if you’re unsure what caused them.

Can pet allergies impact asthma?

Pet allergies can flare up asthma symptoms and potentially trigger an asthma attack.

Asthma symptoms can occur when your immune system overreacts to an allergen. When this happens, your airways narrow which makes it difficult to breathe. You can treat your symptoms by using your prescribed inhalers.

The best way to prevent asthma flare-ups from pet allergies is to keep your home pet-free. If you already have a pet, try to limit the rooms they are allowed in.

Can a pet ever be completely hypo-allergenic?

No pet can be completely hypo-allergenic. Hypo-allergenic means that something is unlikely to give you an allergic reaction. There’s no guarantee that anything is entirely allergy-free. If you know you’re allergic to something specific, like pets, it’s better to avoid being around them.

Pets with fur or feathers are most likely to trigger an allergic reaction. You can opt for pets that don’t have these features, like fish, turtles or reptiles. Even if you’re near a cat or dog with short fur, there’s still a chance you can have an allergic reaction around them. Remember, it’s not the fur that causes allergies but the proteins in their saliva.

Treatment for pet allergies

You can treat the symptoms of a pet allergy using medications, natural remedies and making some lifestyle changes. However, the best treatment is prevention, so try to avoid being near pets that cause your allergies.

Medication

There are many medications you can use to treat allergic symptoms. Most of these can be bought over the counter. Medicines for pet allergy symptoms include:

If you take other regular medication or over-the-counter treatment, speak to your pharmacist to make sure you can safely use an allergy medication.

Natural remedies

Natural remedies are an alternative way of managing allergic symptoms. You can use natural remedies alongside medication.

Natural remedies include using saline nasal sprays to clear allergens from the nose. Fusion allergy products can be used as a natural, drug-free method to keep your allergy symptoms at bay.

Fusion products contain ectoin, a molecule produced by bacteria that live in harsh environments. Ectoin creates a shield across the mucus membranes inside your nose and your mouth and throat lining. This shield is rich in water and blocks allergens from triggering a histamine reaction.

Lifestyle changes

Aside from treatment options, lifestyle changes are the most effective way to manage pet allergies. The most obvious change would be to avoid being in the presence of animals you are allergic to, even if it’s a room they’ve recently been in.

Some other lifestyle changes include:

  • Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to clean your home
  • Limit the rooms your pet is allowed in and keep certain rooms completely pet-free, such as your bedroom
  • Give your pet a weekly bath to eliminate any allergens in their fur (ask someone to assist you!)
  • Regularly clean your home thoroughly to remove allergens

Having a pet allergy can be miserable, even more so if it limits your contact with friends and family or a pet you love. Educating your relations about your allergy can help them understand your situation and adjust accordingly.

Your pre-existing conditions may flare up with a pet allergy, such as asthma. In this case, it’s even more important for your friends and family to understand how to help you manage and prevent symptoms.

There are many products you can buy over the counter to treat allergies without making an appointment with a doctor. At LloydsPharmacy, we have a wide selection of allergy relief treatments available.

For more advice and support on managing allergic symptoms, including hayfever or indoor allergies, check out our asthma and allergy advice.

References

www.allergyuk.org/resources/pet-allergy-factsheet
www.nhs.uk/conditions/anaphylaxis
www.asthma.org.uk/advice/triggers/animals-and-pets