What Causes a Pet Allergy?
The job of our immune system is to find any foreign substances that have planted themselves in our airways, substances such as viruses and bacteria, and to get rid of them. That would be the ‘normal’ response from our system – and this normally would suffice to protect us from dangerous diseases and/or infections.
However, we are not all born with the same protective level of immunity – those people who suffer from pet allergies are known to have over-sensitive immune systems. The most common cause is usually thought to be dander, however, they can also react to harmless proteins in the pet’s urine or saliva, not just dander (which consists of dead skin cells). The symptoms that result are what we call an allergic reaction. These substances which cause allergic reactions, whether from dander or proteins, are known as allergens.
Because of the closed environment found in our homes, where very little fresh is cycled through, these pet allergens will collect on furniture upholstery, blankets and other surfaces such as the carpet. The allergens usually hang around for a long time, not losing their strength and ability to irritate, for a long time. If air circulation is very poor in your indoor environment, these allergens may even remain at high levels for several months – clinging to walls, furniture, clothing, and other surfaces.
To clarify, pet hair in itself is NOT an allergen. Rather, it can collect and hold dander, urine proteins and saliva in suspension. It also can carry other allergens like dust/dust mites and pollens.
Due to their extreme light weight and ability to float on the wind, pet allergens can show up even in homes and other places that have never housed pets. This is also because people can carry pet allergens on their clothing.
Allergens often float up into the air when an animal is petted or groomed. If your home has been invaded by these allergens, any movement can cause those pet allergens to be stirred up into the air again wherever the allergens have settled.
They are also often stirred up during any dusting, vacuuming or other household cleaning activities. Once airborne, the particles can stay suspended in the air for long periods of time, or carried from room to room as people come and go in their home.
Symptoms of a Pet Allergy
The most irritation arises when cat and dog allergens land on the sensitive membranes that line the eyes and nose. Reactions to these allergens can include swelling and itching of the membranes, stuffy nose and inflamed eyes.
While a pet scratch – such as that from your cat, afflicted to an arm or hand during play – or even a lick from the pet, can cause the skin area to become red and irritated. One of the more common ways to get itchy eyes comes from petting an animal then touching your eyes before washing the hands in order to remove the allergens.
In some cases, if the allergen levels are low enough, or sensitivity is minor, those symptoms may not appear until after several days of contact with the pet.
One of the more bothersome symptoms that can appear, if the airborne particles are small enough to get into the lungs, is that of difficulty in breathing.
For some, even light exposure can cause severe breathing problems if the lungs are affected. Some of the symptoms that highly sensitive people can begin showing are coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. Sometimes these symptoms appear after only 15 to 30 minutes of inhaling allergens. Another symptom that overly sensitive people might experience is an intense rash on the face, neck and upper chest.
Asthma is not something to be treated lightly as they can develop over time into true chronic issues. For example, contact with a cat can trigger a severe asthma episode (an asthma attack) in up to three in ten people who suffer from asthma. Cat allergies may also lead to chronic asthma.