I have an allergy to my pet, should I give it up?

In recent years there has been an increase in the prevalence of allergies to animals, an increase motivated above all because more and more people have a pet at home. It is estimated that more than half of European households live with at least one pet, especially dogs, which, together with cats, are the animals that most reside in the home.

Although the animals most associated with cases of asthma are dogs and cats, allergies to others such as hamsters or rabbits, and even to exotic animals such as iguanas or reptiles, have also been described. They usually appear in most cases in the form of mild symptoms such as mild eye and nasal discomfort or more serious signs such as asthmatic episodes.

Why am I allergic to my pet?

There is a false belief that hair is the main culprit of our allergy to an animal. However, this is not so. The cause must be found in a harmless protein found in the skin, saliva and urine of a pet.

This protein attaches itself to the dry, dead flakes of pet skin, dander. These are tiny particles that can stay in the air for a long time, even with little air circulation, and can accumulate anywhere. Dogs, cats, and other furry or feathered pets produce dander, or microscopic dandruff-like flakes of skin.

It is common to notice itchy eyes after petting an animal and then touching our eyes. These symptoms occur when some people’s immune systems mistakenly recognize pet dander as a harmful substance (allergen) and, as a result, produce IgE antibodies as a defense mechanism.

The hair of any pet can also act as a carrier for other airborne allergens: pollen, house dust mites, and mold. It should also be taken into account that having an allergy to cats or dogs is a risk factor for the development of allergic rhinitis or asthma.

How to minimize pet allergies

This type of allergy will hardly kill the animal away from home (many times it is one of the family and this option is not even considered). Although it may take a bit of effort to get things working, we can reduce the risk with measures such as:

1-Minimize contact: do not let the animal enter the rooms where people with allergies or asthma sleep, avoid caressing or touching them and, if you do, wash your hands well.

2-Avoid rugs: Keep pets off rugs and beds to reduce dander exposure. Any fabric or material that pets come in contact with should be vacuumed or laundered frequently, especially pet bedding.

3-Clean, Clean, and Clean: Dusting frequently will keep dander, dust mites, and other allergens to a minimum; vacuum regularly and air the house every day.

4-Wash the animal regularly, at least once a week: frequent bathing of pets reduces the allergens found in their dander.

5-Clean cages: Although hamsters, rabbits, and other pets confined in a cage tend to cause fewer problems for allergy sufferers, the dander and urine they produce can still trigger allergic reactions and asthma attacks. Their cages should be cleaned at least once a week, as well as the cat litter boxes.

6-Use the medication prescribed by the specialist if we notice any symptoms.

It is always an individualized decision, based on the severity of the allergy symptoms and how they can be controlled, whether or not to have a pet if you have an allergy. Pharmacological treatment in these cases usually includes an oral, nasal or eye drop antihistamine for symptoms of allergic rhinitis or conjunctivitis; and a nasal corticosteroid to reduce inflammation of the nasal mucosa.

In the case of allergic asthma, treatment includes corticosteroid inhalers combined with inhaled bronchodilators, which will help reduce bronchial inflammation.

It may also be advisable to use vaccines, always under the supervision of an allergist. This treatment is indicated above all for people with allergies who, due to their work, have to be in daily contact with animals, such as veterinarians. The vaccines that are available are effective for animals such as dogs, cats or horses.

Are there hypoallergenic breeds?

All dogs and cats can cause allergy symptoms, and some breeds more than others. But there are no hypoallergenic ones, they all have different proteins to which our immune system can react.

Research published in the American Journal of Rhinology and Allergy looked at 190 households with one dog and found no difference in allergen concentration in households with hypoallergenic breeds compared to other dog breeds. This occurs because coat length, shedding, and other similar variables do not affect the amount of dander a pet has.

It can help to reduce allergies by choosing a smaller breed of animal because they shed less hair and therefore produce less dander. This does not mean that we can not also suffer allergies to these animals.

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