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Animal allergies

Household pets are the most common source of allergic reactions to animals. Many people think that pet allergy is provoked by the fur of cats and dogs. Researchers have found, however, that the more important major allergens are proteins in the saliva. These proteins stick to the fur when the animal licks itself. Urine is also a source of allergy-causing proteins, as is the skin. When the substance carrying the proteins dries, the proteins can then float into the air. Cats may be more likely than dogs to cause allergic reactions because they lick themselves more and spend more time in the house, close to humans.

Some rodents, such as guinea pigs and gerbils, have become increasingly popular as household pets. They, too, can cause allergic reactions in some people, as can mice and rats. Urine is the major source of allergens from these animals.

Allergies to animals can take 2 years or more to develop and may not subside until 3 months or more after ending contact with the animal. Carpet and furniture are a reservoir for pet allergens, and the allergens can remain in them for several months. In addition, these allergens can stay in household air for months after the animal has been removed. Therefore, it is wise for people with an animal allergy to check with the landlord or previous owner to find out if furry pets had lived previously on the premises.

Care Guides

"My wife would love to get a dog, but I am very allergic. She keeps hoping that one day I'll tell her I was just kidding, or faking it."

-- Richard, age 31

Preventive strategies

  • Remove pets from your home if possible.
  • If pet removal is not possible, keep them out of bedrooms and confined to areas without carpets or upholstered furniture.
  • Wear a dust mask and gloves when near rodents.
  • After playing with your pet, wash your hands and clean your clothes to remove pet allergens.
  • If your children play at the house of a friend who has pets, have your children change clothes whey they come home.
  • Avoid contact with soiled litter cages.
  • Dust often with a damp cloth.

Created by the National Institutes of Health. Image copyright A.D.A.M., Inc.


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