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4 things you need to know about pets and your allergies

They’re cute and oh-so-cuddly, but your sneezes, watering eyes and headache are anything but adorable.

Pet allergies, including those to cats and dogs, are among the most common allergies. While an animal can be a wonderful addition to any home, talking with your allergist before introducing a new pet is an important step to integrating them safely into your family.

If you suffer from pet allergies or believe you might be affected, consider the following:

Cats cause more allergies than dogs

Cats tend to be more allergenic than dogs, although individual tolerance can vary.

Allergic to animals? Blame your genes

People can become allergic if they have the genetic capability, and then have exposure to common substances in the environment such as pet dander. An allergy is an overresponse, or inappropriate response, to an environmental exposure. We don’t have a firm understanding of why this happens in some people with the genetic potential, and not others.

Sorry, there’s no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog

All animals produce skin cells, saliva and other substances that can cause allergic reactions. Therefore, any cat or dog could cause symptoms regardless of whether they are designated as hypoallergenic. Even within individual “hypoallergenic breeds,” studies still find variable dander production levels. The American Academy of Asthma Allergy and Immunology does not have a breed it recommends as a best choice.

Growing up with lots of pets, or on a farm, may decrease allergy risk

There is some evidence that early exposure in the first three months of life may reduce the development of future pet allergy. Because exposure cannot be reliably controlled, the outcome will vary between homes. There is better evidence of the protective nature of farm exposure in reducing rates of allergy.

Finally, before you blame your pet, be sure that’s the cause. Many patients mistakenly believe they are reacting to their animal, when instead they are reacting to pollens brought into the home on their pet.

It’s important to test family members for allergies before bringing a pet home, especially if that person has a history of allergy symptoms to animals. Testing can confirm an allergy to a cat or dog, as well as allergies to other animals. If you are allergic, shots are a great option and work by desensitizing people to the animal.

There are also things you can around the house to minimize any allergy symptoms you experience. Limiting close contact, washing your hands after petting your furry friend and keeping them out of the bedroom and off upholstered furniture can help minimize symptoms. Microfilter vacuum bags are great for pet owners with allergies, and don’t forget the power of a bath. Bathing your pet regularly and brushing its coat before bringing it into the house can decrease dander and your symptoms.

If your allergy symptoms continue despite these efforts, then it might not be your pet’s fault after all. Consult with a physician to determine if there might be other factors contributing to your allergies.

Need help controlling your allergies? Find a physician near you.

About the author

Rhiannon Ringo, PA-C

Rhiannon Ringo, PA-C, is a physician assistant for allergy, asthma and immunology at Baylor Scott & White Clinic – Austin North Burnet.

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4 things you need to know about pets and your allergies