German Dog

What is a pet allergy?

The proteins from the hair, saliva or urine of household pets cause an allergic reaction that attacks the eyes and the airways, like hay fever, and can result in asthmatic symptoms. It may also cause atopic dermatitis or a nettle rash.

It is often difficult to avoid the allergens that can come from other people's pets or be transported by people who have been in contact with animals. School classes can be overloaded with pet allergens.

Most often the allergies are to cats or dogs, but rats, mice, guinea pigs, hamsters, pet birds, horses, cows or poultry can be involved.

Why are we allergic to pets?

Pet allergens are proteins, which when in contact with the skin or breathed in, cause an allergic reaction that provokes the body into producing histamine. The histamine produces swelling and irritation of the upper airways and causes typical hay fever and asthmatic symptoms. The tendency toward allergic reactions is often hereditary.

People who have had asthmatic bronchitis as children in a household with pets, especially a cat, are at a high risk of developing allergies towards cats as they get older.

Pets are very important in modern life. When moving house or flat, the chances of the former owners having had a pet are high. It may take months, and in a modern insulated flat years, before the level of allergens are so low that an allergic reaction is not a possibility.

If pet allergies are suspected, the new house owner should try to stay away from home for a fortnight to see whether the symptoms disappear. A doctor or specialist could be asked to conduct an allergy test to confirm the diagnosis.

What are the signs of pet allergy?

When touching the fur or feathers of pets; objects containing pet allergens; or breathing in pet allergens; the following reactions may result:
? hay fever (seasonal allergic rhinitis). Sneezing and a running or blocked nose.
? eye symptoms such as itching and watering eyes.
? asthma. Coughing and wheezing. (Children with asthma).
? children’s eczema. Itchy skin disease with red patches.
? nettle rash. An itchy reddish rash.

What makes the symptoms worse?

? Polluted air, tobacco smoke and car fumes may precipitate asthma.
? Any other allergens in the environment (eg pollens).

How does the doctor make the diagnosis?

Often it is enough for the doctor to know when and where the patient got their symptoms. Skin tests and blood samples can confirm the diagnosis.

What should I do?

If you have allergic symptoms, you should avoid things that provoke them and it is advisable to ensure that in your house:
? there are no pets.
? there are as few pieces of furniture as possible.
? the walls, wood and floors are as clean as possible. The floor should be polished. If necessary clean the walls, woodwork and floors regularly.
? only carpets that can be cleaned every week are used.
? only sheets that can be washed regularly, like cotton sheets, washable mattresses and synthetic blankets and pillows should be used. Do not use woolen or cotton blankets.
? only plastic or wooden chairs should be used . Do not have upholstered furniture.
? hang plastic curtains if possible. Dust them every day.
? use moist rags and a vacuum cleaner that has a vortex with no bag and an allergen filter to clean the house thoroughly, at least twice a week.
? avoid objects that attract dust like teddy bears, pillows, dried flowers, bric-a-brac and toys.

What else can I do?

? Do not touch objects that are very dusty, such as books and old clothes.
? If you are exposed to allergy provoking elements you should wear a mask. Even better, make people without allergies do the cleaning!
? Do not allow smoking in your house.

But what if I still want pets?

You have to be aware that there is a huge possibility that you may have to find another home for your pet. If you are in this situation, you should contact the RSPCA and ask them for advice.

There are low allergen producing animals, such as furless cats, which may sometimes be OK. (But you may be allergic to cat spit and not cat fur? If you want a black and white cat to stroke, how much fun is a cat without fur?)

You should still decorate your house as mentioned above. Even if the animal is only visiting you so that you can check if you are able to live with it, it may still take half a year or more before you develop symptoms.

Dogs and cats should be bathed at least once a month in plain water. Remember to dry the animals properly afterwards. It has been proved that a monthly ‘cat wash’ lowers the level of allergens in the house.

But what about fish or turtles? This may sometimes work but then you may be allergic to the food they eat.

Rabbits and guinea pigs do not produce so much hair but their urine may cause trouble. They should not live in the house but outside and be cared for by a person without allergies.

It is possible to buy anti-allergen filters and special air filtering systems (HEPA). Talk to your doctor or an organization for patients with asthma or allergies before you buy these devices.

Keep animals out of bedrooms and public rooms. It would be preferable to keep them outside of the house.

Every time you touch a pet, wash your hands thoroughly.

What complications are possible?

? Greater susceptibility to other illnesses of the airways.
? Ear infections.
? Difficulties sleeping and insomnia.
? Worsening of asthma, and maybe even the possibility of a severe asthma attack.

What are my prospects?

Pet owners should know it is important to avoid their allergens because of the increase in the risk of developing, or worsening, asthma. The symptoms can be controlled with medication but the allergy itself cannot be removed.

For people who have only one allergy, it may be possible to have a tolerance treatment. This desensitisation treatment is a vaccination against the allergen. Exposure to the allergens several times in a period of up to five years will be necessary.

What medication is given?

? Antihistamine tablets or syrup (eg loratidine, cetirizine). These lessen the allergic reaction by blocking the actions of histamine. They relieve hayfever type symptoms.
? Nasal sprays or drops containing sodium cromoglicate, corticosteroids (eg beclometasone) or antihistamines (eg levocabastine) can be used to reduce nasal inflammation and control symptoms in the nose.
? Eye drops containing sodium cromoglicate, nedocromil, or antihistamines (eg azelastine) reduce eye inflammation and can be used if eye symptoms are a particular problem.