Allergies to Pets and Animals

Millions of Americans own dogs and/or cats with many of these pet owners being allergic to their own animal. Most often, people have an allergic reaction to the animal’s saliva, dander (flakes of skin) or urine.

Woman with her dog

Pet allergy symptoms:

  • Watery, red and/or itchy eyes
  • Nasal and sinus congestion
  • Sneezing or runny nose
  • Skin rashes
  • Asthma

Although cats and dogs trigger the most allergic responses, hamsters, gerbils and rabbits are also becoming popular pets. Mice or rats used in research can also be an occupational exposure. Cattle, horses, chickens, hogs — especially when in confined spaces — can also be responsible for breathing and skin symptoms.

Sublingual immunotherapy treatment for animal allergies involves giving the same FDA approved antigens used in allergy shots, but delivering it in liquid form under the tongue. Most pet allergies respond well to allergy drop treatment.

The decision about whether to keep a pet in the home depends on the severity of reaction when exposed. In most cases, people can be successfully treated with the animal in the home, though it often requires a longer course of treatment than if the animal was not in the home. Before getting an indoor pet, allergy testing should be considered. A mild to moderate animal allergy tends to respond more quickly if it is treated before the animal is brought into the home.

If the animal stays in the home, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America makes the following recommendations:

  • Use a vacuum with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter and wear a dust mask while vacuuming.
  • Add an air cleaner (e.g., HEPA filter) to central heating and air conditioning and use the filter for at least four hours each day.
  • Bare floors (e.g., hardwood, tile) and walls are best. If carpeting is necessary, choose those with low pile and steam clean them often.
  • Use an electrostatic filter in rooms to remove particles the size of animal allergens from the air.
  • Cover bedroom vents with a filtering material (e.g., cheesecloth).
  • Have the pet brushed thoroughly outside to remove dander. Washing your pet weekly is of questionable value in reducing symptoms.
  • Keep the animal out of the bedroom of the allergic person and clean the bedroom thoroughly.

Pets Can Have Allergies Too!
Most people think of allergies as primarily a problem for humans. Animals — especially dogs — also suffer from allergies. Skin allergies are the most common manifestation. Similar to eczema in humans, proper diagnosis and treatment is important. Veterinary Dermatologists do skin and blood tests for diagnosis. In addition to medications, allergy shots are used to treat dogs’ allergies.

In 2007, an employee asked Dr. Mary Morris, an author of the La Crosse Method Protocol, to use allergy drops to treat his dog. Rusty had been tested, but had not responded to allergy shots. Reluctantly she agreed to try using the same protocol used in humans. Rusty’s response to treatment was dramatic.

Dr. Mary Morris then approached Dr. Doug DeBoer, a dermatology veterinary specialist at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine. Together they designed a study funded by the Morris Family. Dr. DeBoer and Dr. Maria Verbrugge completed a pilot study that showed a significant benefit of sublingual immunotherapy for canine atopic dermatitis. Today, treatment is widely available for pets using that protocol.