The prevalence of human allergy to pets has increased over the past several decades, with most individuals being sensitive to cats and dogs. The United States has the highest percentage (62%) of household pets in the world – approximately 78.2 million household dogs and 86.4 million household cats. Environmental allergens derived from animals may contribute to illness, particularly for those individuals with a diagnosis of asthma, seasonal allergies or eczema/atopic dermatitis.

How can cats or dogs affect our health?

Pet allergens are everywhere!! They are capable of being transferred by everyday items (i.e. clothing, stuffed animals), as well as airborne particles. These may stay in undisturbed air for days. It is well known that even when cats or dogs are removed from a house, it may take up to four to six months before the pet allergen levels become sufficiently low so as to not cause “allergic” symptoms. Direct or indirect exposure to pet dander may sensitize individuals resulting in the progression of “allergic” symptoms, such as itchy and watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion, cough, shortness of breath or wheezing.

What should we do to protect our health? Are “Hypoallergenic” Pets for real?

The most effective way to treat pet allergy is to remove the pet from the home. Most pet owners refuse to do so because pets are perceived as part of family – as our children. More recently, an alternative approach involves purchasing a “hypoallergenic”pet. Several U.S.-based companies sell “hypoallergenic” animals and claim to help millions of people with allergies enjoy their household pets without suffering from allergic symptoms. These pets are costly and some sold for up to $22,950. Some companies market their “hypoallergenic” pets by claiming they breed only those which produce lower quantities of pet dander. Others state they breed those with “hypoallergenic fur.” Regardless of the proposed rationale, professional organizations including the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, as well as the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, do not support these claims. Scientific evidence does not support the concept of “hypoallergenic” pets. Hence, we recommend the utilization of established practices in preventing or controlling pet dander allergy should be considered.

How can an Allergist help me?

The positive news is that the majority of animal lovers can keep their pet without suffering from health decline under proper medical care. A thorough history and evaluation by a board certified allergist may help diagnose the cause of your symptoms. Allergic symptoms (i.e. runny nose, shortness of breath and sinus congestion) may be attributed to various airborne environmental allergens (i.e. pets, trees, grasses, dust mites). Skin scratch testing performed at an allergist’s office to assess environmental sensitivities can be accomplished in a single visit. A correct diagnosis followed by personalized specific therapy tailored to treat the underlying cause of your symptoms will allow you to live a healthier life alongside your beloved pet.