It can be a tough situation when you or a relative is allergic to the family dog or cat. However, you may be able to ease symptoms with these strategies.
8 December 2019| Last updated on 19 January 2020
All work was contributed by Mrs. Julie Shana Sebban Mannarini and Mrs. Viviana Mastrone Leone from Pearls of the Emirates | @pearlsoftheemirates
If you ever find yourself short of breath or teary-eyed when you encounter an adorable cat or dog, it might not just be from simple excitement
Distinguishing an allergy to animals from a non-allergic condition is not always straightforward, more so when it's flu season and everyone's got their runny nose buried in a handkerchief.
But when you're around a pet and you find yourself with a scratchy throat; itchy, red, or watery eyes; a heavy chest or difficulty breathing; clear nasal discharge, or you're sneezing more often - then you might be dealing with an allergy.
With the help of non-profit animal welfare group, Pearls of the Emirates, find out everything you need to know if you suspect you might be experiencing pet allergy, as well as the most effective ways to prevent allergies to cats and dogs.
Allergies to pets
What is an allergy?
An allergy is the response of the body's immune system to normally harmless substances, such as pollens and foods. Whilst in most people, these substances - allergens - pose no problem, in allergic individuals the immune system identifies them as a 'threat’ and produces an inappropriate response.
What happens when you are allergic?
When a person comes into contact with a particular substance they are allergic to, a bodily reaction occurs. This begins when the allergen enters the body, thus triggering an antibody response. When the allergen gets in touch with the antibodies, these cells respond by releasing certain substances, one of which is called histamine. The substances cause the body to react in different ways.
What are the allergy symptoms?
Allergic symptoms to pets range from mild to severe, depending on the individual's sensitivity and the level of exposure to allergens. These variables may also influence how quickly symptoms develop after exposure. Usually, allergic symptoms are as follows:
- sneezing and a runny or stuffy nose
- facial pain - from nasal congestion
- coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and wheezing
- watery, red or itchy eyes
- skin rash or hives
An allergy test is of vital importance to find out the real triggers, since symptoms may actually be caused by other environmental exposures.
Giving a pet up to prevent allergy symptoms isn’t always necessary. An allergist/immunologist has specialized training and experience to accurately diagnose the symptoms. Subsequently, an adequate treatment plan will be developed to help manage the allergic symptoms and to potentially keep the furry friends.
What are the causes of allergies to cats and dogs?
Both cats and dogs have sebaceous glands that produce allergens, proteins that are the main cause of allergies to pets. These allergens are spread all over the pets' body by saliva, and then released into the air when dry.
As far as cats are concerned, 80% of allergies are due to an allergen called “Fel d 1 Protein”.
Male cats, intact males and dark cats in general, produce more allergens, while kittens secrete fewer. Long-haired cats are preferable to short-haired ones, in this context. The reason is to be found in the fact that most of the allergens they produce remain on the cats’ skin, due to the length of their fur.
Dander is another possible cause of allergy to pets, and even urine contains allergens.
Eventually, dust and pollen in a pet's coat can also trigger allergic symptoms. In these cases, the allergy is due to dust or pollen, and not to the cat or dog.
Are there any hypoallergenic breeds?
No animal is truly allergen free. However, there are breeds or hybrids that may be less likely to stir up sensitivities. This is due to their type of coat or the number of allergens they produce. Hereinafter some recommended breeds:
- Airedale Terrier
- Bedlington Terrier
- Bichon Frise
- Bouvier des Flandre
- Chinese Crested
- Coton de Tulear
- Irish Water Spaniel
- Italian Greyhound
- Kerry Blue Terrier
- Miniature Schnauzer
- Portuguese Water Dog
- Shih Tzu
- Silky Terrier
- Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier
- Yorkshire Terrier
- West Highland White Terrier
- Cornish Rex
- Colorpoint Shortair
- Devon Rex
- Oriental Shorthair
- Russian Blue
How to prevent pet allergies
What can I do to prevent allergies to pets?
There are some environmental measures you can easily adopt, which have proven to be really effective.
1. About the pet:
- Keep the cat or dog out of the bedroom.
- When you pet, hug or kiss it, wash your hands with soap and water.
- For a dog give it a bath at least once a month, for a cat just a wet glove once a week. This reduces the airborne allergen.
- Use a “furminator” brush every day. It decreases the pet shedding.
2. About your home: Do's and don'ts.
We do recommend:
- High-efficiency particulate air cleaners - HEPA. These can dramatically reduce allergen levels.
- High-efficiency vacuum cleaners.
- Good ventilation.
- Room temperature up to 20 degrees Celsius and humidity levels below 50%.
We don't recommend heavy curtains, carpets, tapestry, and wallpaper as they trap pet hairs and dust particles.
What are the possible solutions?
First of all, make sure your allergy is not due to allergens other than your pet's. We advise you to consult your doctor and request an allergy test.
In case the test proves you are allergic to your pet, consider the following solutions before giving your dear furry friend up.
Treatments for pet allergy vary, according to symptoms. Your allergist can help determine what treatment would be best for your particular allergy.
Before taking any sort of medicine, it's worth adopting the following alternative measures, since they are not dangerous to your health or your pet's.
The use of supplements to treat allergies lacks scientific support. Nevertheless, some testimonies from patients show that it is enough to take a few nutritional supplements and herbs to minimize allergic symptoms and strengthen the immune system. These include:
- vitamins A, B6, C, and E
- bioflavonoids such as citrin
- flaxseed oil, which contains omega 3
- MSM - methylsulfonylmethane
- stinging nettles
- grape seed extract
It's best to check with a holistic health-care practitioner for more information.
An Allergen Remover
A product which prevents or, in serious cases, reduces allergens is an allergen remover. Several are on the market. As per their instructions: it reduces allergens by 90% by applying the product directly on the pet, the active ingredients remove allergens from the skin and fur, without affecting the PH value.
Be sure that the product selected is non-toxic, non-irritating and fragrance-free.
More importantly, if it is completely safe for humans and animals, regardless of how frequently the pet leaks its coat, even immediately after having applied it. Don't use any suppressive medication, or you will not be able to determine the treatment effectiveness.
Furthermore, as a result of the treatment, if you are no longer allergic to your pet, you might still be to other ones on which the allergen remover has not been applied. Dander, for example, can be carried on clothes and stick on upholstery.
Allergy shots or immunotherapy are an effective treatment of allergies by building tolerance over time. Increasing doses of an allergen are gradually injected. There are doctors that do it in Dubai and the therapy is actually covered by a lot of health insurance providers.
The following are medications you are recommended to take only on a doctor's advice. Moreover, unlike the above measures, medications only treat, not prevent symptoms. In addition, the body’s response always varies according to the individual. Therefore, medications are to be considered as the last resort.
Depending on symptoms, there are different kinds of medications on the market. Nasal symptoms are often treated with nasal antihistamines, or corticosteroid sprays, asthma with corticosteroids and eye symptoms usually with antihistamine eye drops.
Eventually, there are oral antihistamines you can find on the counter.
About Pearls of the Emirates
Pearls of the Emirates is an innovative children concept that aims at sensitising and educating children about environment protection and animal welfare, while encouraging compassion through special animal mascots drawn from the UAE's environment.
Through a strong educational approach which includes multi-language playbooks (Arabic, English and French), events and shows, Pearls of the Emirates is promising to tip the scale in favour of animal welfare and environmental protection and help to promote the UAE for its natural beauties and environmental affairs.
The non-profit is endorsed by the Alliance Française and is creating animal welfare educational publications for the Dubai Municipality.
This contributed article was medically reviewed by:
- Dr. Michael Loubser – Immunologist & Allergist Doctor / U.A.E.
- Dr. Sylvain Buchert - Generalist Doctor / France
- Dr. Paulina Altrych - Veterinarian Surgeon / U.A.E.