Are You Allergic to Your Dog?

How to Know if Your Furry Best Friend Is Making You Sneeze

It’s been said that dogs are man’s best friend and are amazing companions. Owning a dog decreases anxiety and loneliness, makes people more social and less isolated, and may even improve cognitive function and cardiovascular health. But what about allergies? If you’re allergic to your dog, does it mean you have to give up your best friend?

Let’s look at some statistics about dog allergies. Data from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America indicates that between 15 and 30 percent of Americans are affected by pet allergies. You’re more likely to be allergic to cats than dogs because cat allergies are about twice as common. However, dog allergies typically cause more severe allergic reactions, particularly in people with asthma.

So how do you know if you have a dog allergy? The symptoms run the gamut from mild to severe, and people who are only mildly sensitive may not exhibit symptoms for several days after exposure to a dog. Symptoms include:

  • There may be itching and swelling of the membranes inside the nose or around the eyes.
  • Skin may redden after being licked by a dog.
  • You may start coughing, wheezing, and feeling short of breath within 15 to 30 minutes of exposure to a dog.
  • A rash may appear on the chest, neck, or face.
  • A person with asthma may have a severe asthma attack.
  • Children may also develop eczema due to a dog allergy.

Common wisdom used to be that exposing a newborn to the family dog would make the child more likely to develop an allergy. The good news is that this is the opposite of what actually happens. Many recent studies have determined that exposing babies to pets doesn’t increase their risk of allergies and asthma and can protect the child from developing these conditions.

To understand dog allergies and how to manage them, it is essential first to grasp what causes pet allergies. You’ve probably heard the term “pet dander,” which refers to the dead skin that animals shed. Dogs secrete certain proteins that end up in that dander and their saliva and urine. When a sensitive person’s immune system comes into contact with these usually harmless proteins, it causes an allergic reaction. Because different breeds produce different proteins, you can be allergic to one dog breed and not another. In addition, pet hair can hold onto dust and pet dander, spreading allergens as it collects in carpets, on clothing, on the walls, and the furniture. Pet dander can also remain airborne for a long time, eventually reaching your eyes and lungs.

Does this mean you have to rehome your dog if you have dog allergies? Not necessarily. While removing the pet from your home is the only way to eliminate the allergens, there are steps you can take to minimize exposure and lessen your symptoms without giving away the family pet.

1) You can set up dog-free zones. We recommend keeping dogs out of the bedrooms, for example, or off of furniture where allergens can collect. If you live in a climate that lends itself to keeping your dog outside- in a well-contained, comfortable, humanely arranged area- you could entirely keep your dog out of the house.

2) Keep your dog clean. A weekly bath with a pet-friendly shampoo, performed by a person who is not allergic to the dog, will help keep dander under control.

3) Get rid of things that attract and hold onto dander. This includes carpeting, upholstered furniture, horizontal blinds, and curtains.

4) Up your clean air game. A high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter in your HVAC can help, and a HEPA air purifier is even better at minimizing airborne allergens.

5) Consider a hypoallergenic breed. No dog breed is 100 percent hypoallergenic, but several breeds produce less dander than others or have a non-shedding coat.

6) Try out the dog before you get attached. Having a trial period to assess family members’ reactions can help you determine if a dog is the right choice for your family.

You can also manage allergies and asthma using medications. Antihistamines, nasal corticosteroids, decongestants, and cromolyn sodium are all available over the counter and can help respiratory symptoms. Immunotherapy (allergy shots) exposes the body to the animal protein causing the reaction to reduce sensitivity and symptoms. Prescription medications called leukotriene modifiers may be recommended for people who can’t use antihistamines or corticosteroids. However, there are some risks, so it’s important to see a board-certified allergist to determine which treatment is right for you.

Whenever you suspect you’re suffering from an allergy, contact Allergy & Asthma Specialists. We’ll help you determine what you’re dealing with and how to manage it. When you enlist the help of an experienced, board-certified allergist, you can be confident that your doctor will help you find the solutions you need to manage your allergies. At Allergy & Asthma Specialists, all physicians are board-certified in allergy and immunology and can help you identify triggers and learn to control your symptoms. Call (866) 966-0583 or schedule appointment online or to learn more about the services available to help you with your allergies