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What are Pet Allergies?
Pet allergies are due to an allergic reaction to proteins found in an animal's skin cells. Dead flakes of skin called dander trigger various symptoms. Any animal with fur can cause allergies, but the most common allergic reactions are to cats, dogs and rodents. In addition to dander allergies, pets that spend a lot of time outdoors may also come in contact with pollen and other outdoor allergens that collect in their fur. Some people are also allergic to FELD1, a protein found in cats’ saliva.
Pet Allergy Symptoms
Symptoms vary from person to person and can include sneezing, itchy, watery eyes, skin rash and the triggering of asthma attacks. Some allergies are very mild, allowing the individual to keep pets so long as they are vigilant about cleanliness. Other times symptoms are more severe, requiring the avoidance of animals.
Diagnosing Pet Allergies
Official diagnosis for a pet allergy is typically done through skin testing. A small amount of certain allergens are placed just under the skin surface with a small indentation or prick. If allergies are present, swelling or irritation will occur at the site within fifteen minutes. When skin tests are unsafe or won't work due to the use of certain medications or skin conditions, a blood test may be given as an alternative. Once the presence and severity of the allergy is determined, a treatment plan can be made.
Help for Pet Allergies
Immunotherapy is most often used for long-term treatment of allergies. Allergy shots are given once or twice a week for several months. Shots containing tiny amounts of a customized serum are given under the skin of the upper arm. The dose is gradually increased to a maintenance dose and the time between shots is increased. During that time, allergy symptoms will improve and may even be eliminated completely. If symptoms don't improve over a year, other treatment options will be discussed.
Those who don't have serious pet allergies can get relief by limiting physical contact with their pets. Avoid hugging and kissing them to keep dander away from the face. Wash hands immediately after any contact. Keeping pets out of the bedroom and off of upholstered furniture is also important for reducing exposure. Brushing pets outdoors can help reduce dander. HEPA vacuum and air filters can trap and remove allergens from the environment. Those with pet allergies may also find relief by removing carpets and rugs that can trap dander.
Although there is no such thing as a truly hypoallergenic pet breed, there are some breeds of cats and dogs that produce fewer allergens than others, making them less prone to cause an allergic reaction.