Allergy Causes & Symptoms

Pets in Your Life? Here's How to Treat Those Allergies

Photo of a dog lying on a carpet in a sunlit room.
Photo by Allie Lehman via Death to Stock

If you’re an animal lover, there are few things worse than being allergic to them. Not being able to give a dog or cat a good scratch behind the ears without worrying about itchy eyes or a stuffy nose is pure torture!

Of course, if you suffer from pet allergies, you’re far from alone—according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, around 1/3 of Americans with allergies are allergic to dogs and cats. You might think cat and dog allergies mean you won’t be able to have a pet, but that’s not necessarily the case! Plenty of people with pet allergies still have pets in their homes.

I have allergies—could I be allergic to my pet?

If you notice your allergies are at their worst when you’re around your pet, there’s a good chance you’re allergic to them. That said, don’t worry! There are plenty of ways to treat your allergy symptoms. But first, let’s take a look at some of those symptoms.

What are the symptoms of pet allergies?

There’s no shortage of symptoms that can result from pet allergies, including:

  • coughing
  • eye irritation
  • facial pain caused by nasal congestion
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • shortness of breath
  • skin rash or hives
  • sneezing
  • tightness in your chest

An important thing to keep in mind is these symptoms are common with other allergies, including drug, food, pollen, and mold allergies. Before you self-diagnose, you can talk to your doctor about running some allergy tests.

How do I treat my pet allergies?

The easiest way to avoid the symptoms is by avoiding the animals that trigger them, but that’s not always feasible (or fun). If this isn’t an option, there are a handful of ways to go about tackling your allergies.

If you have eye allergies from cats or dogs, for example, keep a bottle of eye drops handy. Nasal sprays, meanwhile, are great for a runny or stuffy nose. If you experience both, an antihistamine that tackles multiple symptoms might be your best bet. Allergy shots are another great option for more severe allergies, especially if you want a pet of your own.

What about hypoallergenic pets?

We know what you’re thinking: What about pets that don’t shed? For example, many people say certain cats, like Sphinxes, are hypoallergenic because they don’t have hair, but pet hair itself is not the true culprit when it comes to pet allergies. Since all animals produce dander, urine, and saliva, truly hypoallergenic pets don’t really exist.

Is it a bad idea to get a pet if I’m allergic?

Not necessarily! It really depends on how allergic you are, and what steps you’re willing and able to take to treat your symptoms. If keeping your pet allergies at bay is just a matter of daily eye drops or an antihistamine, there’s no reason not to welcome a fuzzy new member of the family into your home. As we mentioned before, more extreme symptoms might call for an allergy shot.

We definitely recommend figuring out if your allergy symptoms are treatable before you bring a pet home. You could also try fostering a pet for a month or so while you experiment with treatments, to see how your immune system stacks up against continuous exposure to the pet.

We know how important having a furry friend can be, so we asked Picnic Medical Director Dr. Amina Abdeldaim what expert advice she has for people with pet allergies who still want a dog (or cat!).

“There are two potential approaches,” Dr. Amina explains. “Hang out with a dog that’s the same breed you’d like to get and see if you have any symptoms (you’ll need to spend a good amount of time with them to tell). Or, you could see an allergist to get tested for pet allergies—at the same time, you could discuss your treatment options with them."

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How do I get rid of pet dander in my house if I already have a pet?

Pet dander can be tricky to get rid of, and even the deepest of cleans might not remove it altogether. There are steps you can take, though, to significantly reduce the amount of it in your home.

  • Clean often and thoroughly. If you’ve ever had a pet who sheds, you know their hair ends up everywhere. Make sure to invest in a good vacuum cleaner for any rugs or carpeted areas, and stock up on lint rollers for your furniture. Also try to keep the amount of clutter in your home to a minimum, as it will make it easier to find and remove pet hair.
  • Get an air purifier. And make sure to replace the HEPA filter before it gets too dirty, as it won’t work as effectively.
  • Brush your pet on a daily or weekly basis. If you’re allergic to your pet’s dander, getting up close and personal with their fur might not sound ideal, but brushing them regularly will help keep their shedding under control.
  • Keep your pet out of certain rooms. As much as you might want to give your furry pal the run of the house, limiting the areas they can hang out in ultimately means limiting the areas they can shed in.
  • Clean the air ducts. Depending on what kind of home you live in (a house vs. an apartment), this might be easier said than done. If you’re able to, though, hire a professional to come in and rid the ducts of all the pollutants—including pet dander—that've accumulated in there.

What can I do to avoid my allergies if I can’t avoid pets in someone else’s home?

Before you arrive at a home with a pet you know you’re allergic to, take your allergy treatments, and make sure you keep them with you in case you need another dose later on. You could also request that the pet’s owner keep them in another room while you’re there, and maybe even ask them if they can remove any pet hair from any furniture you might sit on. You can do your part by washing your hands often and not touching your eyes (which are good habits to get into anyway).

Remember: Your allergies don’t need to get in the way of having a pet!

You don’t have to choose between symptoms and pets! Pet allergies can be managed with a proper diagnosis and treatments. It might take a little bit of time to figure out the best regimen to keep your symptoms in check, but it’ll be well worth it!

ARTICLE REVIEWED BYAmina H. Abdeldaim, MD MPHPicnic Medical Director
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