Dog Allergy: An Overview
Dogs are the sweetest pets and man’s most loyal companions. But what if you are allergic to your little furry friend?
Pet allergies are common worldwide, and most people are allergic to cats and dogs.
Dog allergy may take a while to be diagnosed but is extremely easy to manage and prevent.
What Are The Types of Dog Allergens?
While most people presume dog hair or fur is responsible for triggering an allergic reaction, dog allergens are found in:
- Dead skin cells
One can develop an allergy to dogs of any breed, regardless of the hair or fur on them.
What Causes Dog Allergy?
Dogs secrete proteins found in their dead skin cells, saliva, or urine.
When people with sensitive immune systems come in contact with dog dander, their immune system reacts abnormally and triggers an allergic reaction.
You may be allergic to two dogs of the same breed due to the difference in their secretions or droppings.
The exact cause of dog allergy is unknown, but genetics and the immune system's sensitivity are said to play a role.
What Are The Symptoms of Dog Allergy?
In people with low sensitivity to dog allergens, symptoms may not appear for several days after exposure.
Symptoms of dog allergy can be mild, moderate, or severe.
Common symptoms include:
- Itching and swelling of the membranes in the nose and eyes
- Redness on the part of the skin licked by a dog
- Coughing and wheezing within 10 to 15 minutes of exposure to allergens
- Shortness of breath
- Skin rash on the face, neck, or chest
- A severe attack of asthma in individuals with the condition
- Eczema in children
Contrary to popular belief, a study published in the Journal of the British Society for Allergy and Clinical immunology states that exposing newborn babies to dogs does not increase their risk of developing an allergy.
Genetics of Dog Allergy
Though still under study, genetics may play an essential role in developing dog allergies.
The Human Leucocyte Antigen or HLA gene system present on chromosome 6 provides instructions to produce proteins that regulate the body’s immune system.
Three classes of HLA gene exist– HLA-DR, HLA-DQ, and HLA-DP.
rs7775228 is a single nucleotide polymorphism or SNP in the HLA-DQ region.
According to a genome-wide association study (GWAS), people with the C allele are more sensitive to dog allergens than those with the T allele.
Can You Be Allergic To Dogs But Not Cats?
Since allergy to pets is due to the proteins in their droppings or secretions, a person who is allergic to dogs may or may not be allergic to cats.
This is because though allergy to cats and dogs is due to their dander, the composition of proteins in them varies.
Testing and Diagnosis of Dog Allergy
If you own a pet and show frequent signs and symptoms of allergy, your doctor will perform a thorough physical examination, take a medical history and recommend a skin-prick test (a type of allergy test).
During this test, your doctor or allergist will put a small sample of dog protein on your skin and allow the proteins to enter your skin.
If you are allergic to your dog, you will show signs or symptoms of the allergy within 15 to 30 minutes.
Though an allergy test is helpful, it is not always conclusive.
Treatment and Management of Dog Allergy
The best way to manage dog allergies is to avoid contact with them by keeping them out of your home or avoiding visiting homes and indoor places with dogs.
If you have to visit a friend or family member with a pet dog, you can speak to your doctor about medications to prevent allergy symptoms.
Some medications that can help you manage your symptoms include:
- Nasal corticosteroids
- Cromolyn sodium available as an OTC nasal spray
- Allergic shots
- Leukotriene modifiers for people who cannot tolerate corticosteroids or nasal antihistamines
Some people may find a nasal lavage (nasal saline rinse) effective in clearing allergens in their nasal passages.
You can also use OTC nasal sprays and lavage kits to help you manage allergy symptoms.
Some lifestyle changes that you can make to reduce dog allergens around your home are:
- Bathe your dog once or twice a week
- Remove furnishings like carpets that can attract pet dander
- HEPA filters are effective in reducing airborne allergens at home
Can You Build Up Immunity To Dog Allergy?
People who live in households with pets may be allergic to their dogs.
Most dog allergies are mild, and people can continue coexisting with their dogs under the same roof.
Though there is no conclusive proof, allergy shots can help build immunity to dog allergies.
These shots are a form of immunotherapy wherein increasing doses of allergy triggers are administered to the individual to build their tolerance level over time.
Some studies also state that infantile exposure to dogs substantially reduces the risk of allergy and asthma in childhood.
This has been attributed to a more diverse community of microbes at home.
How To Live With Your Dog Even If You Have Dog Allergy?
You can establish dog-free zones in your home, i.e., specific rooms where dogs are not allowed.
Always wash your hands after playing with your dog and only handle their litter with gloved hands.
- Pet allergy is widespread and affects 10% to 20% of the population.
- Allergy to dogs is usually half as common to cats but more severe.
- Dog allergy results from exposure to specific proteins found in their dander and fluids like saliva, blood, and urine.
- Dog allergy symptoms are similar to other allergies and include itching, skin rash, coughing, shortness of breath, and eczema.
- Genes of the HLA-DQ region of the HLA family play a role in immune response and dog allergy development.
- Since the proteins secreted by dogs and cats is different, you can be allergic to dogs but may or may not be allergic to cats.
- A skin prick test can confirm if you are allergic to dogs.
- Antihistamines, nasal corticosteroids, decongestants, allergy shots, and leukotriene modifiers may be used to manage symptoms of dog allergy.
- Lifestyle changes like bathing your dog more often and maintaining dog-free zones at home can help reduce allergies.
- Allergy shots may be effective in building immunity to prevent dog allergies.