Cat and dog sitting next to each other on blankets.

Pet Allergies: Symptoms and Prevention

Did you know that in the United States alone, as many as three in ten people have allergic reactions to cats and dogs? Pet allergies can cause a range of symptoms from mild sneezing and a runny nose to more severe reactions like rashes and difficulty breathing.

Understanding what causes dog and cat allergies can better help you understand how to prevent and manage them better. Aside from removing pets completely from your home, there are many strategies one can take to reduce exposure to pet dander and better prevent allergic reactions.

What Causes Pet Allergies?

Dander–skin flakes in an animal’s fur or hair–is the primary cause of pet allergies, but proteins found in pet’s saliva or urine can also cause reactions.

There is a common myth that certain breeds of dogs or cats with short hair trigger pet allergies, while pets with longer hair don’t. But because the allergic reaction is to the dander itself, any dog or cat can potentially cause allergy symptoms.

Pet Allergy Symptoms

Pet allergies can show in varying degrees of severity depending on the person, but in general many symptoms include the following:

3 In 10 people have allergic reactions to cats and dogs.

Allergic Reactions to Dogs:

  • Coughing and wheezing
  • Red, watery, and itchy eyes
  • Runny, itchy, congested nose
  • Sneezing

Allergic Reactions to Cats:

  • Coughing and wheezing
  • Red, watery, and itchy eyes
  • Rashes on the chest or face
  • Redness on the skin where a cat has had contact
  • Sneezing

Symptoms of pet allergic reactions can develop in a matter of minutes or as much as a few hours from exposure. Immune reactions can also last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours depending on how long you were around allergens and what contact you had with a pet.

Testing For Pet Allergies

If you ever experience severe allergic reactions to pets, including difficulty breathing, sleeping, or wheezing, it may be time to visit your doctor. 

At an appointment, your doctor may examine your nose to see if there is any swelling or discoloration. If your doctor does suspect a pet allergy, they may refer you to an allergy specialist to determine exactly what type of animal you are allergic to. This could be done using a skin test where a small amount of purified allergen extract is applied to your skin to see if there is a reaction. Or, in some cases, your doctor may perform a blood test to see if there are any specific allergy-causing antibodies present.

How To Prevent Pet Allergies

Limiting contact with dogs and cats is the best way to avoid allergic reactions. Keeping them out of your home and being aware of visiting homes that do have pets is important and could be enough for you to not need antihistamines or other medications.

If you do live in a household with pets, there are a few ways to reduce and manage pet allergens in your home:

  • Limit areas of your house your pet can be to keep them away from places you spend the most time, such as your bedroom.
  • Keep surfaces clean of pet hair. Frequently clean your pet’s favorite chair, rugs, and walls.
  • Wash and groom your pet once a week to remove dander. This can be done by someone without allergies or a professional groomer.
  • Get an air purifier to help filter the air in a room and remove allergens.
  • Wash your hands and skin after contact with pets and avoid touching your face to reduce flare ups.
  • Speak with an allergy specialist about possible medications you can take to help manage your pet allergies.

Portland Primary Care Physicians Supporting Your Allergy Needs

NWPC has been providing onsite care to  the Southeast Portland, Milwaukie, and Clackamas communities for more than 30 years. We now also provide telehealth services to bring treatment where it is most convenient for you.

Contact NWPC today to schedule an appointment or learn more about how you can continue to improve and manage your pet allergy treatment.

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