Pets produce dander (microscopic skin flakes that they shed), and the protein in it can cause severe allergic reactions for some people.
Pet dander is a little like dandruff flakes, only smaller; at around 2-3 microns in size it easily becomes airborne and can be inhaled.
Dander can cause allergic reactions for a long period and may persist for many months after the pet has left the house.
The origin of the allergens is in the pet’s urine, sweat and saliva. These excretions adhere to their skin, for example when they clean themselves, and become of the dander they shed.
Cat dander is the most commonly inhaled allergen after house dust mite and pollen. Other types of pet, such as dogs, mice and guinea pigs, may similarly cause allergic reactions.
Because they are so light, pet allergens are widely distributed in the air, remaining airborne for several hours before settling, only to be easily stirred up into the air again.
Clearly, the best way of avoiding pet dander is to not have a pet! However, many of us love our pets too much to do without them! In that case, there are various measures you can take to reduce your exposure, including controlling the pet’s access to certain rooms, and using an effective air purifier to neutralise the dander.
Pet allergies and your health
Pet allergies are known to play a role in:
People with a tendency to allergy (known as atopy), should avoid owning pets if possible. Unfortunately, some people who don’t initially exhibit allergic reactions, can nevertheless develop symptoms after continued exposure.
Why pet dander causes an allergic reaction
Allergens usually enter the respiratory system through the nose. Mast cells in the airways release mediators, which trigger the allergy attack. This attack is an overreaction of the body’s immune system to the invading allergens that have bonded with antibodies. Mast cells are one of the human body’s principal defences against allergens and are found in connective tissue and mucous membranes. One of its biological functions is innate immunity including involvement in host defence mechanisms against parasitic infestations, tissue repair, etc.
Pet dander is very ‘sticky’ and can stay in your hair, clothes and other belongings for long periods of time. This is why you can still suffer symptoms when you are away from the pet causing those symptoms.
The major cat related allergens are found in the cat’s sweat and saliva and the major dog related allergen is found in its saliva.
What animals cause allergy problems?
A wide range of animals can cause allergic reactions including cats, dogs, birds, mice, rats, guinea pigs, rabbits, parrots and hamsters.
Male cats shed more allergen than females, and cats shed more allergen than dogs. Horses produce very powerful allergens and old mattresses stuffed with horsehair can produce symptoms. Snakes, lizards and other reptiles, and even insects, may shed dander-like skin particles into the air.
Perhaps the best pets for a pet allergy sufferer are fish, as they are not associated with allergy!
What about hypoallergenic dogs?
Avoiding pet allergens
Before turning to technological or other solutions, careful allergen avoidance / environmental allergen control is important. For example:
And don't forget - Are you sure pet allergen is really the cause of your allergy? It could be that house dust mite, mould or pollen is the real culprit. An allergy specialist will be able to offer an allergy test to pinpoint the true allergen.
Can an air cleaner help?
While numerous manufacturers of ‘air cleaners’ / ‘air filters’ claim to be able to clear pet dander from the air, they can only reduce, not eliminate, the problem, because:
Dr Wyatt blogs on his lifetime's experience of Indoor Air Quality Issues.