All Animals Magazine
Humane Society of the United States
By Stephanie Stephens
Are you one of the 15 percent of Americans who are allergic to dogs and cats, or suspect you might be? Here is expert advice to help you identify allergy symptoms and keep them under control—so you can enjoy your animal companion in your home with less sneezing and wheezing.
These symptoms may be a reaction to the allergens present in the animal's saliva, urine, or dander, the skin cells that flake off your pet. If your allergies make you uncomfortable but aren't life-threatening, you can take steps to reduce your symptoms and be more comfortable in your environment, says James M. Seltzer, MD chairman of the Indoor Allergy Committee of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
Your pet may not be the only cause of your reactions though. Dust, insects, pollen, cigarette smoke and mold are also allergens and irritants. Symptoms can be cumulative—you could be sensitive to more than one allergen—so get tested for specific allergies by a doctor who is sensitive to your animal bond.
While some dogs love time outdoors, keeping your animal out of the house is not a solution for most pets on most days. “Keeping pets outside for long periods exposes them to extreme temperatures, predators, isolation, and outdoor allergens, which they can bring inside,” says Nancy Peterson, an HSUS companion animal issues specialist. Bathing pets on a weekly basis can reduce the level of allergens on their fur by as much as 84 percent.
Seltzer suggests working with your doctor to find the right medication to reduce symptoms. Antihistamines, decongestants, anti-inflammatories, and drying agents come in various forms, such as nose spray inhalers, eye drops, and oral medications.
Immunotheraphy or “allergy shots” can reduce symptoms in approximately 65 percent of cat owners and almost 20 percent of dog owners, notes Seltzer, and are given for up to three to five years. Some people become relatively symptom-free after receiving weekly then ultimately monthly injections. As a vaccine, your body responds to the injected allergen, given in gradually increasing doses, by developing an immunity or tolerance to the allergen(s).
If your allergies seriously endanger your health, see The HSUS's guidelines for finding a responsible home for your pet at www.hsus.org/pets .