Pet Dander and Allergies


Cat Allergies and Dog Allergies

Almost half of US households have one or more pets. While dogs, rabbits, birds, and other pets are a common cause of allergic reactions, cats are the most allergenic, or allergy-causing, pet. Almost 28% of the homes in the US have at least one cat.

The cause of the allergic reaction is not the animal's fur but the proteins secreted in its saliva and oil glands that it sheds as dead skin cells called dander. These same allergy symptom-producing proteins are also in animal urine and feces. Dander is so small that it becomes airborne and finds its way into sensitive noses and airways, causing an allergic reaction. To get rid of animal dander, follow these steps.

Check with new landlords or real estate agents. Before renting or buying property, find out if furry pets or birds have lived on the premises.

Get a nonfurry friend. Any furry pet, including dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, ferrets, guinea pigs, and even horses, can cause an allergic reaction if you're sensitive to pet allergens. That doesn't mean you have to go without a pet. Try a turtle, fish, snake, hermit crab, or other animal without fur or feathers.

Dust-proof your home. House dust contains a number of allergens, including animal proteins.

In extreme cases, you may need to remove your pet from your home. Be sure to confirm through allergy testing that you are allergic to your pet. Removing the pet can be heartbreaking, but it may be the most effective way to avoid allergy symptoms. Keeping the dog or cat out of your bedroom or outdoors is only a partial solution. Place the pet with a caring friend or relative who is not allergic. After removing your pet, thoroughly clean to remove pet proteins. It may take as long as 2 months before your allergy symptoms disappear. Follow these steps to help.

  • If you allowed it to sleep on your bed, you'll probably need to replace your bedding. Otherwise, it may take weeks or months to remove all pet allergens from certain fabrics.
  • Either replace floor coverings or have floor coverings and upholstery thoroughly cleaned to remove pet proteins.

Keeping a Pet to Which You're Allergic

Getting rid of a pet is not an option for some people. If you choose to keep your pet, take these steps to try and reduce your allergy symptoms.

Pet-proof your bedroom. Make your sleeping area pet-free. Replace bedding and carpets or floor covering if your pet has been in this area.

Clean your pet regularly. Bathe and brush your pet weekly. Check with the veterinarian about products to use to avoid drying out your pet's skin. Have a nonallergic person groom your pet outside to remove loose hair, dander, and saliva. If there's no one else to bathe or brush your pet, wear a face mask and vinyl gloves when grooming your pet. Wash your hands thoroughly afterward. If you keep a caged animal, such as a gerbil, hamster, or bird, ask a nonallergic person to clean the cage regularly.

Keep your pet outside as much as possible. When indoors, keep your pet in areas that can be easily washed, such as on linoleum or vinyl floors. Also, keep pets off the furniture, completely out of the area where you sleep, and out of your car so their dander doesn't settle into the upholstery. This means all the time, not just when you are in the area. Pets leave their dander behind.

Wash your hands. Always wash your hands and change your clothing to reduce exposure to dander after handling or holding your pet.

Cover bedroom vents with allergen-proof filters. Even if you keep your pet out of your sleeping area, it can become contaminated via air ducts in the house. Cover the bedroom vents with allergen-proof filters. Ask your doctor where you can buy these, or close the vents and use an electric heater or room air conditioner.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Written by Karen Serrano, MD Emergency Medicine resident at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Reviewed by Lisa V. Suffian, MD Instructor of Clinical Pediatrics in the Division of Allergy and Pulmonary Medicine at Saint Louis Children's Hospital, Washington University School of Medicine Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital, Saint Louis University Board certified in Allergy and Immunology Last updated June 2008