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Does your puppy make you sneeze, or your cat make your eyes burn? If so, you may be allergic to your pet. Even worse, if being around your pet makes it harder to breathe, you may have allergic asthma. Almost half of all households in the U.S. have at least one pet. There are about 4 pets for every 10 people in this country, which adds up to over 100 million pets. At the same time, approximately 10 percent of all people are allergic to animals. If you have asthma, the odds go up to between 20 and 30 percent. And when it comes to the age-old battle of which is better – dogs or cats – dogs win because cat allergies are twice as common as dog allergies.
What causes pet allergies?
An allergy is a reaction by your body’s immune system. Normally, the body produces antibodies to fight off foreign substances that might be harmful, such as a virus or bacteria. When you are allergic to something, your body sees that substance (your allergen) as something harmful. When you breathe in particles of your allergen or get it on your skin, your immune system jumps into action to create antibodies to fight it off. These antibodies are the cause of common allergy symptoms including sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, and nasal congestion.
For people with asthma that is triggered by allergies, the symptoms can be much more severe and may include narrowing of the airways that can be life threatening. For some people who are severely allergic to cats, repeated exposure to cats can cause chronic inflammation of the airways that can lead to asthma.
Common pet allergens
In the case of pet allergies, the most common allergens are dander (flakes of dead skin), urine, and saliva. Contrary to common belief, pet hair is not an allergen. But pet hair can be a carrier for dander and for saliva, especially in cats due to their grooming habits. Pet hair can also be a carrier for other allergens such as dust or plant pollens and other particles that come inside with your pet.
In addition to dogs and cats, rodents such as mice, guinea pigs, and hamsters also shed dander that can be an allergen. Birds can also cause allergy symptoms.