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It is estimated that 13 million households in the UK have at least one pet. Animals are one of the main causes of allergy symptoms, with 50% of asthmatic children sensitive to cat allergens and 40% to dog allergens.
The severity of pet allergy can range from a mild case of the sniffles to a debilitating condition that can even be triggered by entering a house where a pet used to live.
Many people think that it is the hair of cats and dogs that cause the problem. However, this is not the case. It is actually a protein allergen that is present in the animal’s sweat saliva and urine.
Animals clean themselves regularly, leading to these allergens coating the hair and skin cells. The tiny flakes shed from dead skin, fur or feathers are called dander. Dogs and cats with eczema or other dry skin conditions shed more skin, and hence produce more dander.
If you have a pet allergy, your immune system reacts to the harmless protein found in this dander.
In cats the potent allergen is Fel d 1 and in dogs the potent allergen is Can f 1. Cats produce by far the most allergen. Although the dog allergen seems to be less potent, both allergens are small and light-weight, remaining airborne for many hours.
The production of allergens increases as the pet matures. Some people find that they are able to tolerate kittens and puppies, but not more mature cats and dogs.
Pet allergens can linger in a home for long periods of time, even after the pet has been removed. It is thought that the allergens can remain potent for 6 months or more.
The dander can collect in dusty areas or upholstery, and can be present in urine contamination from being soaked into carpets and floors. For this reason, low levels of allergens can remain for years. The cat allergen has particularly ‘sticky’ properties, making it more likely to linger.
Pet allergens can also be transported into the home or office on the clothes, shoes or hair of another pet owner, or via central heating and air conditioning systems.
Rabbits, rodents and other pets
With smaller pets such as hamsters and mice the allergen is normally present in the urine and becomes airborne. Reptiles shed skin scales that contain allergen and these again can become airborne.
The most common symptoms of pet allergy tend to be:
If you do suffer from pet allergy you may not be able to have a pet at home or you may have had to give your pet away. We know how miserable that can be.
We also know that having a pet allergy can restrict where you can go. We have found that the allergy sprays and the pet allergy sprays make a huge difference to the severity of the symptoms both from inhalant and contact allergies.
Sometimes one person's pet allergy will prevent the rest of the household from having a pet. If you suffer from pet allergy yourself this can make you feel quite guilty. The rest of the family may feel resentful because your condition prevents them from having a pet!
Pet allergy can be one of the hardest allergies to deal with because it involves an emotional attachment to the pet. If there are allergic people in the family we do not recommend that you introduce a new pet. Living with the disappointment of not having a pet is preferable to having to remove the pet or living for many years with the consequences of having a pet in an allergic household.
Ideally the pet should be removed but, for obvious reasons, many people are very reluctant to do this. If you decide to take this route then even after the pet has been moved to a new home the allergen can remain.
If parting with your pet is just unbearable then other more stringent measures need to be taken.emain on soft furnishings, in sofas and bedding and even on shelves and walls. Ideally the house should be thoroughly cleaned and anything that can be washed should be washed; this should include duvets and pillows if the cat has been sleeping on your bed (always check that these are washable). A high efficiency vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter should be used to vacuum floors, sofas and beds.