Allergy Myths 101: Animal Allergies

There are many old wives tales or popular myths about how a person can treat their allergies.  Here at Intermountain Allergy and Asthma, we have heard them all!  As a way to help dispel allergy myths, we’ve invited Dr. Harris to share a few his thoughts in our “Allergy Myths 101” blog posts.

Two popular animal allergy myths that we hear frequently are:

  1. “The new dog couldn’t be causing my current problems because it doesn’t shed”
  2. “I grew up with animals, so I won’t be allergic to them now”

Animal allergies are a significant part of what the typical allergist deals with on a daily basis.  Here are some facts about animal allergies and suggestions to help keep symptoms under control.

Animal Allergy Fact 1: Shedding – the vast majority of the time, the animal allergens that cause problems are from the dander (tiny skin particles or flakes – think dandruff in humans), or in the animal’s saliva.  The hair or fur has little or nothing to do with it.  It may be true that a long haired cat or dog could ‘hold – on’ to more dander in the fur than a short haired animal, but whether the fur stays on the pet or is shed doesn’t matter.  All furry/haired pets have dander because they all have skin.

Animal Allergy Fact 2: Pet Saliva There are proteins in pet saliva that can cause allergies.  Some people first know that they are allergic to dogs when they get hives (welts) after being licked by the animal.  Also, cats groom themselves by licking their fur.  When you pet a cat, then rub your eyes ……  cat ‘spit’ in the eye.  Yech! 

Animal Allergy Fact 3: Exposure to animals in the past:  People develop allergies to new things all the time — including animals, plants, and foods — that they weren’t sensitive to in the past.   Tolerating pets in the past doesn’t mean that you are ‘immune’ now.

More importantly, studies have shown that some people can develop a modest amount of clinical tolerance to an animal that they are around all the time.  The allergy skin tests are still positive, but the patient’s symptoms are subdued somewhat.  In many other cases, patients become accustomed to their allergy symptoms and just ignore them, even though they are as bad as ever.  These patients can then be miserable if they leave home for a while (school, marriage, work, world travel), and then return home, or if they decide to get a new pet after years of having none.  

Animal Allergy Solutions

There are some things you can do to decrease an animal’s potential to cause allergies:  Studies have shown that frequent washing, or rinsing an animal can, in some cases, lessen the dander that is deposited around the house.  Also, keeping an indoor animal out of the bedroom, off of the bed and off any fabric-covered furniture could help as well.

Measures that can actually decrease animal allergy problems:

  • Keep furry or feathered pets outside 24/7 when conditions allow (Nobody wants to do this!)
  • If indoors, keep pets off the beds and furniture
  • Wash/rinse pets weekly
  • Get a small animal. Toy poodles should produce less dander than Great Danes
  • Keep the animal’s pelt in good condition. Treat any eczema
  • Use a HEPA air filter in your personal room – or just use good furnace filters and change them frequently (less expensive and probably just as effective)

Animal fact: Cat dander can remain suspended in the air for long periods of time after the cat has left the room.  Cat allergic people can often tell that a cat lives in a home without ever seeing the pet.

Duane J. Harris M.D.
Intermountain Allergy and Asthma of Draper

New to Intermountain Allergy and Asthma?

If you suffer from allergies and have never seen an allergist, now is a great time to consider starting professional allergy treatment.  Dr. Harris and Dr. Anderson accept new allergy patients of all ages and most insurance plans.  If you have questions about insurance coverage, please contact Intermountain Allergy and Asthma at (801) 553-1900 (Dr. Harris) or (801) 476-0052 (Dr. Anderson) and we will be happy to assist you.

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