Between 5 and 10% of the general population are allergic to dogs and cats, Allergy to cats is more common and generally more severe than allergy to dogs. Allergic people's immune system is hypersensitive to certain, normally harmless, substances called allergens. In the case of dogs and cats, allergy is provoked by some allergens on the skin and in the animal's saliva. Because of the custom of licking their bodies, the allergens end up on the animal's hair. Yet it is not the hair itself which provokes the allergy, as many people believe.
Although dogs which do not lose their hair and cats without hair are famed for being hypoallergenic, meaning they are better tolerated by allergic people, the quantity of allergens produced does not depend on the animal's hair or breed. A person's allergic reaction to different dogs and cats of the same breed may vary, implying there may exist other individual factors beyond breed which influence someone's allergic reaction. Gender may be one of them, since males seem to produce more allergens than females. Moreover, the quantity of allergens grows with the animal's age and may vary in the same animal from moment to moment.
People make direct contact with allergens through touching the animal or touching an object the animal has been licking or biting, but also indirectly via the air. In the latter case the allergens may come in contact with a person's eyes or airways. After an allergic person has been exposed to the allergen for a long time or if they are in a space where the allergen is highly concentrated, the typical symptoms of allergy appear: rhinitis, conjunctivitis, hives, dermatitis, asthma and in serious cases even an anaphylactic reaction with a fall in blood pressure.
So if you have someone at home who is allergic to dogs or cats, it is important to think things through before you make a decision, especially if it concerns a severe case of allergy.
Nevertheless, if you have already taken the decision to have a dog or cat, before you bring it home or once it is with you, you should go through the following list:
- Verify how the allergic person reacts to the chosen animal.
- Contact an allergy specialist and ask for conditions of treatment which can be applied to control allergy symptoms (e.g. antihistamines, immunotherapy with specific vaccines). Ask your practitioner or paediatrician for help with finding an allergist.
- Someone who is not allergic should rub the animal with specific lotions to eliminate the allergen from its skin and hair before it goes through the door.
- Avoid the use of carpets, cushions, upholstered furniture and other surfaces where allergens easily accumulate.
- Make sure the animal can't enter in the bedroom and sleep in the bed of the allergic person, nor on the sofa or other upholstered chairs, and that it doesn't stay in rooms where the allergic person usually spend their time. You can protect pillow and matrass of the allergic person with specially made anti-allergic covers.
- Clean its basket every week, as well as places where the animal often stays.
- Vacuum the floor frequently, using cleaners with HEPA filters (high efficiency filter), and avoid the use of brooms and dusters which only throw up the dust and the allergens instead of eliminating them.
- Use air purifiers and filters in air conditioners and dehumidifiers to help clean the air at home.
- Always avoid contact with its saliva.
- Wash your hands thoroughly after you touched the animal.