What Are Pet Allergies

  • Thanvi Buddharaju Bachelor's degree, Biomedical Engineering, University of Reading

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Across the globe, pets hold a treasured spot in many households, infusing life with companionship and delight. Nevertheless, for a significant portion of the population, the aspiration of pet ownership collides head-on with the harsh realities of allergies. Common symptoms, evoking memories of hay fever, such as sneezing and nasal discharge, afflict those with susceptibility to pet-derived allergens. This introduction aims to shed light on the intricate domain of pet allergies, with a particular focus on two prevalent culprits: cats and dogs. Allergens sourced from these animals remain concealed within their skin, saliva, and urine, contributing to the onset of allergic reactions.

The dismissal of misconceptions holds paramount importance. It is crucial to acknowledge that no pet exists as entirely hypoallergenic, and allergens transcend the boundaries of mere fur. The temporary alleviation brought about by frequent pet baths pales in comparison to the effectiveness of pragmatic measures such as allergen-proof covers and scrupulous cleaning routines in symptom management. Equipping individuals with a profound comprehension of the veracity surrounding pet allergies empowers them to warmly embrace their beloved animal companions while efficaciously controlling their allergic sensitivities. In the ensuing discourse, we shall dissect the origins, manifestations, diagnostic procedures, and mitigation strategies of pet allergies, offering our readers the knowledge required to coexist harmoniously with their furry confidants.

Types of pet allergies

Canine allergies

Allergies originating from canines can be incited by proteins present in their dander, saliva, and urine. These allergens have the potential to incite respiratory distress, provoke skin sensitivities, and induce ocular discomfort.

Feline allergies

Cat allergies primarily emanate from allergens nestled within feline dander, saliva, and urine. These allergenic agents can precipitate symptoms like sneezing, congestion, coughing, and cutaneous rashes.

Diverse pet allergies

This category encompasses a heterogeneous array of animals that can also serve as allergen catalysts. Hypersensitivity reactions in these pets usually trace their origins to proteins present in their skin cells, saliva, and urine. Noteworthy exemplars encompass:

Rabbits: Allergens dwelling in rabbit fur, saliva, and epidermal cells can elicit allergic responses featuring cutaneous rashes and respiratory symptoms.

Rodents (e.g., Guinea Pigs, Hamsters): Allergens borne in rodent urine, saliva, and skin cells have the potential to evoke respiratory and dermatological manifestations.

Avian Creatures (e.g., Parrots, Canaries): Bird feathers, droppings, and saliva encompass allergens capable of instigating respiratory symptoms in susceptible individuals.

Equines: Hypersensitivity to horses often ensues from proteins present in their dander, hair, and saliva, giving rise to respiratory ailments.

It is prudent to bear in mind that the intensity and specificity of pet allergies may fluctuate among individuals. Those who suspect harbouring pet allergies should diligently seek consultation with an allergist to procure an accurate diagnosis and proficient counsel regarding the management and alleviation of allergy-related symptoms.1

Causes and symptoms 


If you find yourself experiencing a runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing fits, or even coughing and wheezing after interacting with a cat, it's highly likely that you have a cat allergy. Cat allergies can lead to persistent symptoms, as exposure can occur not only at home but also in various indoor settings like workplaces, schools, or daycare centres, even in the absence of a cat. These allergies are triggered by several allergenic proteins present in a cat's fur, skin, and saliva. It's important to note that all cats produce these allergens, and studies have not yet identified truly hypoallergenic cats. Interestingly, factors like a cat's hair length, gender, or indoor/outdoor lifestyle aren't associated with the levels of cat allergens. Typical cat allergy symptoms encompass sneezing, nasal congestion, facial discomfort, coughing, chest tightness, itchy or red eyes, and skin rashes or hives. Furthermore, some individuals may even develop rashes or hives if scratched by a cat.


Dogs produce a variety of allergenic proteins that can trigger allergies, and these allergens are present in their hair, dander, saliva, and urine. It's important to note that all dogs produce these allergens, and scientific studies have not identified truly hypoallergenic dogs. When dogs live indoors, the levels of dog allergens tend to be higher in the areas where they are allowed.

Dog allergies can manifest through a range of symptoms, including a runny or congested nose, sneezing, facial discomfort due to nasal congestion, and respiratory issues like wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing. Additionally, individuals with dog allergies may experience itchy, watery, or red eyes, as well as itching or hives on the skin. In some cases, direct contact with a dog, such as getting scratched or licked, can lead to the development of a rash or hives.

Management and treatment 

In the olden days, before the advent of modern medicine and our current understanding of allergies, people often had to rely on less effective and sometimes unconventional methods to manage pet allergies. Here are some historical approaches to dealing with pet allergies:

  1. Isolation of Allergic Individuals: In many cases, if someone in a household is found to be allergic to a pet, the pet might be isolated from that person. This could involve keeping the pet in a separate part of the house or even giving the pet away to another family member or friend. Isolation was seen as a way to minimize direct exposure to the allergens.
  2. Regular Cleaning: Keeping a clean environment was a common strategy. People would frequently dust, sweep, and mop to remove pet dander and other allergens from their homes. However, the effectiveness of these efforts was limited, as allergens can be persistent and difficult to completely eliminate.
  3. Herbal Remedies: Some individuals turned to herbal remedies and folk medicine to alleviate allergy symptoms. These remedies varied widely and often lacked scientific validation. Common herbs like chamomile or eucalyptus were sometimes used to ease respiratory discomfort, but their effectiveness was inconsistent.
  4. Limiting Pet Interactions: Allergic individuals might have tried to limit physical contact with their pets. This could include not allowing pets on furniture or beds, washing hands and clothes frequently after interacting with pets, and avoiding close proximity to the pet's living area.
  5. Wearing Masks or Coverings: In extreme cases, individuals with pet allergies might have resorted to wearing masks or coverings over their faces to reduce inhalation of allergens when around their pets. This approach was not practical for daily life and was uncomfortable.
  6. Pet-Free Homes: For those with severe allergies, the only effective solution was often to live in a pet-free home or environment. This could mean not having pets at all or visiting pet-free zones whenever possible.3

It's important to note that these historical methods were often inadequate for providing complete relief from pet allergies. Modern medicine and allergen management techniques have significantly improved our ability to diagnose, treat, and manage pet allergies more effectively. Today, allergists can offer a range of treatments, including medications, immunotherapy (allergy shots), and lifestyle adjustments, to help individuals with pet allergies lead a more comfortable life while still enjoying the companionship of their pets. 

Modern medications:

  • Antihistamines help relieve itching, sneezing, and runny nose by lowering the production of an immune system chemical that is involved in an allergic reaction.4
  • Decongestants can aid in the reduction of swollen nasal tissue, facilitating easier nasal breathing.5
  • Inflammation can be reduced, and hay fever symptoms can be managed with corticosteroids administered as a nasal spray.6

Did you know you can train your immune system not to be sensitive to an allergen? Immunotherapy7 is delivered through a series of allergy shots. One to two weekly shots expose you to very small doses of the allergen, in this case, the animal protein that causes an allergic reaction. The dose is gradually increased, usually over a 4- to 6-month period. Maintenance shots are needed every four weeks for three to five years. Immunotherapy is usually used when other simple treatments aren't satisfactory.

Pet allergy myths and facts

Myth 1: Hypoallergenic pets don't cause allergies

There is no truly hypoallergenic pet. Allergens from pets, such as proteins found in their skin cells, saliva, and urine, can still trigger allergies, even in breeds often labelled as hypoallergenic. Some breeds may produce fewer allergens, but no breed is entirely allergen-free.8

Myth 2: Pet allergies are always caused by fur

While pet fur can carry allergens, the primary sources of pet allergies are proteins found in pet dander (skin flakes), saliva, and urine. These proteins can become airborne and cause allergic reactions. 

Myth 3: Bathing pets frequently reduces allergies

Frequent bathing of pets can help reduce allergen levels temporarily, but it's not a long-term solution. Allergens quickly reaccumulate on the pet's skin and fur. Other measures, like allergen-proof covers and regular cleaning, are more effective.9

Myth 4: Allergies only happen to people who have never had pets before

People can develop allergies to pets, even if they've had them for years. Sensitivity to pet allergens can increase over time, leading to allergy symptoms in individuals who were previously unaffected.11

Myth 5: Pet allergies only affect the respiratory system

Pet allergies can manifest in various ways, including respiratory symptoms (sneezing, wheezing) and skin reactions (itchy skin, hives). Some individuals may experience both types of symptoms.2

Myth 6: Removing the pet will cure allergies

Removing the pet from the home may alleviate symptoms, but it may take months for allergen levels to decrease significantly. Additionally, people may still be exposed to pet allergens in other environments.3


Pet allergies, often reminiscent of hay fever, challenge the dream of pet ownership. This exploration unveiled the complexities of allergies associated with cats and dogs, driven by allergens in their skin, saliva, and urine. Dispelling myths is essential: no pet is entirely hypoallergenic, and allergens extend beyond fur. Practical strategies like allergen-proof covers and meticulous cleaning offer effective symptom management. Understanding the truth empowers individuals to coexist harmoniously with their beloved pets. We discussed causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and modern treatments, including medications and immunotherapy. With knowledge in hand, navigating the world of pet allergies becomes a manageable endeavor, allowing for the joy of pet companionship.


  1. Pet Allergy [Internet]. Allergy UK | National Charity. Available from: https://www.allergyuk.org/resources/pet-allergy-factsheet/
  2. Association AL. Pet Dander [Internet]. www.lung.org. Available from: https://www.lung.org/clean-air/at-home/indoor-air-pollutants/pet-dander#:~:text=Animals%20without%20fur%2C%20like%20reptiles
  3. Pet allergy - Diagnosis and treatment - Mayo Clinic [Internet]. www.mayoclinic.org. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pet-allergy/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20352198
  4. NHS Choices. Antihistamines [Internet]. NHS. 2019. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/antihistamines/
  5. NHS. Decongestants [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2017. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/decongestants/
  6. Corticosteroids [Internet]. www.nhsinform.scot. Available from: https://www.nhsinform.scot/tests-and-treatments/medicines-and-medical-aids/types-of-medicine/corticosteroids#:~:text=Corticosteroids%2C%20often%20known%20as%20steroids
  7. Virtanen T. Immunotherapy for pet allergies. Human Vaccines & Immunotherapeutics [Internet]. 2017 Dec 21;14(4):807–14. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5893203/
  8. Weymouth M. Hypoallergenic Pets for People With Allergies [Internet]. www.petmd.com. Available from: https://www.petmd.com/dog/wellness/evr_multi_hype_of_hypoallergenic_pets
  9. Hodson T, Custovic A, Simpson A, Chapman M, Woodcock A, Green R. Washing the dog reduces dog allergen levels, but the dog needs to be washed twice a week. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology [Internet]. 1999 Apr 1;103(4):581–5. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10200004/#:~:text=Conclusions%3A%20Washing%20the%20dog%20reduces
  10. Adolpho. Pet Allergies [Internet]. ACAAI Patient. Available from: https://acaai.org/allergies/allergic-conditions/pet-allergies/
  11. Is It Possible to Suddenly Develop Allergies? [Internet]. UPMC HealthBeat. 2019. Available from: https://share.upmc.com/2019/01/seasonal-allergies/

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Thanvi Buddharaju

Bachelor's degree, Biomedical Engineering, University of Reading

Thanvi Buddharaju is a second-year Biomedical Engineering student at the University of Reading, currently interning with a focus on improving her medical writing skills. Alongside her interest in research, Thanvi navigates the dynamic field of Biomedical Engineering, merging academic pursuits with practical experiences.

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