Pet Dander: Why Cats and Dogs Cause Allergies


Pet ownership continues to grow, which can be a concern for allergy sufferers everywhere. According to the Humane Society of the United States, in 2016 there were 79 million households with a pet, which is up from 66 million in 2012. Unsurprisingly, dogs and cats make up the majority of pet ownership, with an estimated 163 million households with one or both.

But dogs and cats aren’t the only animals that cause allergies. Birds, reptiles, hamsters, horses, pigs, and other animals that are kept on the property or inside the home can produce dander. When an animal sheds its skin, dried saliva, fur, or any other material, that is considered dander.

Once pet dander escapes into the air, it can stay afloat for a significant amount of time or settle in carpets, blankets, pillows, and other similar surfaces. When inhaled, pet dander can trigger a new allergic reaction or worsen existing respiratory problems.

Why Does Pet Dander Cause Allergies

Allergies are the body’s response to a substance such as pollen, dust, smoke and other airborne pollutants. None of these particles are considered harmful on their own, but when they make contact with cells in the body, the immune system might overreact and stimulate cells to release histamines. For some people, this means a runny nose or watery eyes, but others, this can mean swelling of the throat, severe headaches, or worse.

This allergic response is meant to protect the body, but there is no clear explanation as to why one person might experience no allergic reaction, and someone else would suffer a life-threatening condition. We do know that one cause of allergic reactions in humans is the result of proteins.

Proteins are one of five major compounds in the body and are essential to forming collagen that binds cells together. When we interact with pets or share a space with an animal, we may be in contact with their skin flakes, hair, and saliva, which are all made with proteins that can trigger an allergic reaction.

The second reason for pet allergies is the dust mites that feed on the proteins in skin cells and dried saliva. When inhaled, dust mites excrete enzymes that increase the shedding of cells in the respiratory system that serve as a food source. This causes respiratory irritation and can lead to more serious problems.

Pets also cause allergies in other ways. When animals go outside, their hairs pick up dust, pollen, and other airborne pollutants. When they come back inside, they transfer those particles into the carpet or fabric on couches or bedding. When inhaled or touched, these pollutants can cause an allergic reaction in the same way as pet dander.

5 Easy Steps to Minimize Pet Allergens

Before bringing a pet into your home, you should get tested to determine your sensitivity to pet allergens If you are allergic, there are some steps you can take to reduce the impact on your respiratory system. Depending on the severity of your sensitivity to allergens, some of these steps might not provide enough relief, and you’ll need to talk with a doctor about allergy medication or shots.

  1. Anti-dander Shampoo – Overwashing your pet can dry out skin and increase skin flaking. Anti-dander shampoo will help to moisturize skin and remove excess hair and skin flakes.
  2. Healthy Diet – Animals sometimes react to processed food just like humans. When eating food of poor quality, gastrointestinal problems can cause skin conditions. Adding probiotics, fish oil, or switching to moist food may help address dry skin problems.
  3. Grooming – Daily brushing will help remove excess animal hair and skin, plus reduce the amount of pollen, dust and other pollutants that might be trapped in their hairs.
  4. Trim Long Hairs – Many people prefer long-haired dogs, but long hair requires a lot more care. Cutting hair keeps dander and other particles out and makes washing and daily grooming easier.
  5. Maintain A Clean Home – Read our blog on the use of natural cleaning products for the home and how to create a monthly plan to rid your home of potentially harmful pollutants. Being proactive about home cleaning is a good way to limit the amount of allergens in the home and helps to keep you healthy.

As we wrote about on the blog of our sister site, pet ownership can be an exceptionally rewarding experience. There is no cure-all for allergies, but there are ways to minimize exposure so you can spend more time and enjoy your pets.


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