Allergies To Pets

July 3rd, 2008
Allergies To Pets

What do you do when you or your child is allergic to a much-loved family member the dog? Rachel Belshaw investigates ways to overcome problems and allergies to pets associated with children and asthma so that you and your pooch can live in sneeze-free harmony.

Are you or your family allergic to your dog? Before you consider surrendering your beloved pooch to an animal shelter or start looking for a new home, don’t fret Dogs Life discovers how you can make lifestyle changes to ensure your dog can stay with you.

Causes of allergies

To overcome the difficulties of living with an allergy to a pet, its important to understand the root of the problem and its causes. Most people who are allergic to dogs are actually allergic to the dogs dander dead skin scales and flakes. Some people are also allergic to the constituents of dogs saliva, sweat, hair and urine.

Associate Professor Jo Douglass, head of the Allergy and Asthma Service at Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, told Dogs Life the way that pets cause asthma is through allergies. According to Douglass, Allergies are an immune response to a particular substance, such as dog dander.

People have different allergic reactions to dogs, including hayfever, a blocked or runny nose, and even, in extreme cases, hives. No evidence shows that particular breeds dog are hypoallergenic, but the amount of allergen released can vary between breeds due to the amount of hair they shed. These allergens remain in the air for some time and can be easily transferred from person to person and from the home to other environments. In this way, it is possible for people who do not have a pet at home to come in contact with the allergen anyway.

Interestingly, Douglass notes that dogs are not the most common trigger for allergies and asthma; rather house dust, mites and cats are most often to blame.

How to keep pooch and family together

Rebecca Allatt, now 26, was seven years old when she had to give up her two-year-old German Shepherd, Hayley.

She was a good family pet, great with children, friendly with all people and enjoyed playing with me and my siblings, Allatt told Dogs Life. Diagnosed with asthma at only 18 months old, Allatt found that contact with dogs would set off her coughing, followed later by difficulty breathing, tightness in the chest, lack of energy and, at times, dizziness.

My initial symptom was coughing and some of the other symptoms would present themselves hours after my contact usually that night or the following morning, she explained.

After various environmental tests, her family was forced to reconsider dog ownership and seek a new home for Hayley. In this case, Allatts dog was rehomed with a new family who lived on a farm with other German Shepherds. Fortunately for Allatt, she outgrew her allergies during adolescence and now owns a five-year-old Poodle, Sophie, and one-year-old Kelpie, Reg.

While rehoming may be the only solution for some families, adjustments can be trialled to find out whether a family member suffering from asthma triggered by dogs can live in harmony with a canine. Douglass suggested getting an asthma specialist to test for allergies in the home environment to ensure it is the animal causing the problem. If it is, you can try making easy lifestyle changes before rehoming your beloved pooch, she said.

Veterinarian Dr Mark Allison from Balgownie Veterinary Hospital in New South Wales advised that if a house member develops allergies to the family dog, it is important to keep the pets sleeping area clean. Regularly vacuum the dogs sleeping areas, dispose of the dogs old bedding and regularly wash any new bedding, he told Dogs Life.

Allison also recommended washing hands immediately after any interaction with a dog. Some people find that contact through the hands is fine, but after bringing the hands up to the face, they break out with an allergy, he said.

According to the Petcare Information and Advisory Service (PIAS), if your dog spends a lot of time indoors, keeping it on hard surfaces rather than on carpets and furniture is a good idea as it reduces allergens. Keeping clean any indoor area where the dog interacts is important and PIAS advises that vacuum cleaners with filters are best as vacuum cleaners can stir up any dander in the air. It is also imperative that the dog does not spend time in the bedroom of the allergy sufferer.

Allison also advised that it is important to keep your dog well groomed. Regularly groom and wash your dog to remove loose hairs, he said.

Research has proven that if a dog is washed once a week, airborne allergens are cut substantially. However, Dogs Life advises you discuss this with your vet, pet groomer or naturopath to make sure washing weekly is safe for your breed. The allergy sufferer should not do any of the grooming and all grooming should be done outdoors to reduce the spread of allergens, Allison added.

You can also control allergies through a course of injections or drugs taken orally. Associate Professor Jo Douglass says this process is called desensitisation. This can be in the form of an injection or taken orally to make asthma sufferers more tolerant to animals, improving their overall wellbeing and protecting them from symptoms, she says. The injection method involves a course of 12 to 16 injections at weekly intervals, followed by monthly injections for two to three years. However, desensitisation can only be prescribed by an asthma specialist and it is not always a cure.


Some people believe that young children who are exposed to two or more dogs (and, indeed cats) in their first year of life actually have less chance of developing allergies. Douglass could not confirm this, stating At the current time, for people contemplating starting a family, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence supporting getting rid of or getting a pet.

Can dogs develop asthma?

Dogs can also become asthmatic, says Balgownie Vet Hospitals Dr Allison. The difference between asthma in dogs and humans, however, is that instead of asthma targeting the lungs, it targets dogs skin. Things that dogs are allergic to include pollens, house dust mites, trees, weeds and mould spores. When dogs breathe in, or come in contact with these allergens, they break out in a very itchy skin rash, he said.

This can mean that the dog becomes extremely uncomfortable and itchy all over. If you notice that your dog frequently rubs its face, is losing hair around the eyes, is constantly scratching and skin lesions appear all over its body, seek veterinary advice as these may be symptoms of atopy asthma in dogs.

Reducing allergen exposure for dogs with asthma

Allison advises washing your dog with a hypoallergenic shampoo to remove pollen and mould from the coat. This is only a temporary remedy, but is important. Pets that are not bathed regularly will carry pollen indoors, shake it everywhere and will be constantly re-exposed, he said.

Other ways to reduce the likelihood of your dog becoming exposed to allergen is to keep it outdoors and avoid exercise on windy days. Keep it away from wet grass, piles of leaves, grass cuttings, rubbish, fields and any plants in the garden that may trigger allergies.

Allison stressed the importance of keeping your pets bedding and surrounding area clean. Dusty rooms favour the living conditions of mites, so thorough vacuuming of beds, bedcovers, all carpets and other belongings in the room should be done regularly every day, if possible. Wash bedding in hot water and dry completely, he said.

Using a disinfectant is a good idea, as is using a dehumidifier and air-conditioner. Allison also warned to steer clear of dusty cans and bags of dog food, and to keep windows closed on windy days.

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