Man’s best friend may not be the best friend for you if allergies run in the family. Scientists think around 5-10% of the world’s adult population is allergic to dogs. Contact with a dog and the traces it leaves behind may cause symptoms that range from mild to severe. Either way, dog allergies can have an impact on everyday life.
Have you stopped visiting someone because you always sneeze at their house and think it might be their pet? Do the kids come home with the sniffles or a blocked nose after playing with a friend’s new puppy? And still pester you to get a puppy too? If so, this article is for you. Read on to find out more about dog allergies: what causes it, the symptoms and how to reduce your allergic reactions.
It might feel as if your dog allergy starts in your eyes or nose but it’s actually your immune system. The immune system is there to protect your body from bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. Sometimes it overreacts and mistakes a harmless substance like dead skin shed by a pet for a threat. It produces antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE) ready to fight back the next time you meet the allergen. When you do, the antibodies trigger the release of chemicals including histamine, leaving you with allergy symptoms.
Cats and dogs may not get along but they’ve got a lot in common in the way they cause pet allergy symptoms. As with cats, the main trigger for dog allergies is protein in their dander; that is, particles of shed skin. If you’re allergic to dogs, their hair can give you a reaction too and so can saliva. These allergens get caught in the dog’s coat and are released when it grooms itself or molts. Once in the air the particles float around and get stuck in your hair, and on clothes and furniture.
All dogs make and shed allergens. The quantity can vary between individual dogs. But there’s no hypoallergenic breed you can count on not to give you allergic reactions.
Three in 10 people with allergies in the US have allergic reactions to dogs and cats. Of those people, twice as many are allergic to cats, even though dog ownership is higher. This could be because cat allergens are particularly good at triggering a reaction and at lingering in the environment.
You might have heard people talk about non-allergic dogs and wondered if that could be an option for you. But all dogs make and shed allergens. The quantity can vary between individual dogs so you could be lucky. But there’s no hypoallergenic breed you can count on not to give you allergic reactions. Scientists have even checked out homes with supposedly hypoallergenic dogs and found the same allergen load as in those with ordinary breeds.
The short answer is anywhere. Pet allergens linger in places long after the animal is gone; for instance, homes where there used to be a dog. Four in 10 US households have a dog but research has found traces of dog allergens in almost all American homes. In communities where pet ownership is high, especially pets with fur such as dogs, you’ll find high levels of pet allergens in public spaces like schools. Owners carry traces of their pets with them on their clothes without realizing it.
All this can make managing dog allergies a challenge. How well do you feel your symptoms are under control? Our simple questionnaire can help you find out if it might be time to update your routine, maybe with advice from an allergy specialist.
What is allergy
Your dog allergy symptoms might feel like yet another cold. One that doesn’t disappear after a week or so. It’s called perennial or persistent allergic rhinitis. Breathing in dog allergens causes inflammation in the lining of your eyes and nose. This is what it could feel like:
People with allergies may find a blocked nose disrupts sleep. That can leave you low on energy and struggling to focus at work or school.
But you might have a different experience to someone else who is also allergic to dogs. It may not take much to trigger an allergic reaction. A simple scratch from a dog or a lick could cause skin rashes. You may get itchy eyes after petting a dog and then touching your eyes. Symptoms might appear very quickly or a few days later, depending on allergen levels and how sensitive you are.
A diagnosis from your healthcare provider is the first step in managing your condition and getting those symptoms under control. It’s important to find out if you’re allergic to dogs or could be reacting to something else. Dogs can be efficient collectors of other allergens too; it could be pollen or mold in their fur that’s making you feel miserable.
Your healthcare provider could suggest allergy testing, either a skin prick test or a blood test, to help identify your triggers. They’ll also ask you for details about your dog allergy symptoms; when, where and how badly you get them and how often you’re in contact with a dog. Your medical history and whether allergies run in your family are also important factors in making a diagnosis.
If it turns out you are allergic to dogs, your healthcare provider will discuss with you what to do next. This might be:
Symptom-relieving medications may be enough to stop dog allergy becoming a real nuisance. These could include antihistamines, corticosteroids or decongestants – singly or a combination. These allergy meds come in several forms, such as tablets, eye drops and nasal sprays, and different strengths. Many are available over the counter so ask your pharmacist for advice. Or talk to your healthcare provider about which might work better for you than others.
There is no cure for people who are allergic to dogs but immunotherapy may offer long-term relief by targeting the underlying cause. Controlled repeated doses of your trigger reprograms your immune system to stop seeing the dog protein as a threat. This can stop or greatly reduce your allergy symptoms.
Your healthcare provider or allergist will be able to tell you if dog allergy immunotherapy is right for you and help you through the whole process.
Avoiding allergens is one simple way you can take charge of your own allergy.
We’ve left the big question to last. In the US about 10 million pet owners do have pet allergies. Whether you choose to live with a dog – or rehome yours if you have one – will depend on several factors. For instance, how severe your allergy symptoms are and whether your treatment is successful, now and in the future. Because allergies evolve over time.
If you don’t have a dog yet, but are thinking seriously about it, why not have a trial period – borrow a dog. That way you can monitor how you and your family react before you commit. And talk to your healthcare provider or your allergist if you have one.