What Causes Animal Allergies?

What Causes Animal Allergies? | Dr. Ali Ghahary

People can be allergic to almost anything, although the most common allergies that individuals tend to suffer from are ones that are associated with pollen (also known as hay fever, which usually happens during the spring season) or foods (such as shellfish, nuts, and dairy.) However, you can also be allergic to animals – cats and dogs, most commonly – although it’s also possible to be allergic to birds (feathers), rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, mice, rats, horses, and more. While you’re not necessarily allergic to the animal itself, you are allergic to proteins found in the animal’s saliva, urine, feces, or dead skin cells – also known as dander. While some people often believe they are allergic to pet hair, this isn’t the case. Pet hair can, however, also carry other common allergens that may trigger an allergic response in individuals (even without having an animal allergy) such as dust and pollen.

Our immune system is responsible for finding and getting rid of foreign substances. This type of response protects us from developing dangerous diseases, which is a good thing. However, some individuals may have over-sensitive immune systems, which is what causes them to develop an allergy to an animal. This is also known as hypersensitivity. As for how the allergy occurs, you don’t just have to be in direct contact with the animal (such as petting it.) Animal dander particles can also travel through the air, and if you’re somewhere where an animal has been present and have a known allergy, then you can react just as you would if you were in direct contact with it, and the allergic response can be just as severe. Animal allergens can also stick to surfaces for months at a time, such as bedding, furniture, and clothing. Having animals groomed can also cause an increase in the amount of animal dander that gets released into the air, thus triggering an allergic response.

When it comes to the way the body reacts to animal allergens, it varies from person to person, and are usually the result of allergens landing on the membranes that line the eyes and nose, which can result in the following symptoms:

• Sneezing
• Itchy, red, watery or swollen eyes
• Hives
• Rash
• Coughing
• Nasal Congestion
• Wheezing
• Shortness of breath

These symptoms can be mild or severe, and typically occur as little as 30 minutes after being exposed to an animal’s allergens. Though in some cases they may take 1 to 2 hours to develop. Contact with animal allergens can also lead to asthma attacks, and in some cases may even result in a diagnosis of chronic asthma. This is especially common for individuals who are allergic to cats. As for how allergies are treated, this also varies from person to person. In cases where the allergies are mild, they are generally quite easy to treat with over-the-counter antihistamine tablets or syrup, antihistamine eyedrops, or steroid nasal sprays. In some cases, allergy shots – also known as immunotherapy – can eradicate pet allergies by as much as 80%. If you’ve been around an animal, you should also make sure to wash your clothing. If you live in an apartment and the previous tenant had a pet, it is recommended to have carpeting replaced. However, the best way to ensure that you won’t develop an allergic reaction from being around an animal is to avoid contact with them all together if possible.