Pets are an important part of many households. Unfortunately, a lot of the animals we keep as pets can cause trouble with allergy, sinus problems, and asthma. People often ask whether different types of fur or hair on their pet makes a difference in terms of whether their pet is either “highly allergenic” or “hypoallergenic”. The truth is, the fur or hair on pets, particularly cats and dogs, probably has little to do with whether or not the animal causes allergy. The protein responsible for allergy in cats and dogs is primarily found in the skin and the saliva of the pet. It is true that the protein allergen from cats and dogs will end up on the animal’s fur in the form of dander (dried, flaked-off skin), or from the animal’s dried saliva. However, the fur or hair itself is really not responsible for your pet allergies.

Other factors will play a role in whether or not a specific dog or cat causes more allergies. One of these factors is how much dander is produced. This can be impacted by frequency of bathing and by how dry or oily the skin is. Also, how often the pet licks their fur might make a difference. Alternatively, how “slobbery” the pet is may play a role. In rodents, the protein allergen is found in the animal’s urine. Because of this, the allergen tends to be found throughout the litter at the bottom of the rodent’s cage. Once the animal’s protein allergen becomes airborne, it will usually remain airborne for a long time. Because of this, pets can cause allergy, even without direct contact.

Treatment of Pet Allergies

The good news is that with proper treatment of your allergies, it can be possible to be allergic to animals and still keep them as pets. Antihistamines may help relieve symptoms, but are usually only adequate when symptoms are mild. People often find better benefit with nasal steroid sprays or nasal antihistamine sprays.

Another treatment option is allergen immunotherapy (allergy shots). Allergen immunotherapy is a treatment option that allows an individual to become less allergic, providing good long-term benefit for most who undergo this treatment. For more information on ways to minimize your pet allergies, please talk with your doctor or contact an allergist.