Allergies to pets and other animals
Dr Harry Morrow Brown looks at a problem that can cause great upset within families
When we share a house with any pet there is always a risk that a member of the family will become allergic to it, especially if there is a family history of allergies. Demands from a child for a puppy or a kitten are difficult to refuse. Unfortunately by the time everyone has become fond of the pet a member of the family may have become sensitised, making it much more difficult to part with if necessary. Pets are best avoided in allergic families.
Contact with animals, their feed, their environment, and even their parasites is unavoidable for farmers, vets, jockeys and scientists whose careers depend on experimental animals. Occupational animal allergies can enforce a change of employment or career if severe and difficult to control with drugs.
What causes the allergy?
All animals shed hair and redundant scales of skin as dandruff. These flakes of skin are so light that they float in the air and settle at a rate depending on their weight. Some, especially cat dander and flakes of dried saliva from grooming, are so light that they never settle, explaining why cat allergic people will sneeze, wheeze, or get itchy eyes as soon as they enter a house where there is a cat, even if it is not to be seen or they do not know it is there.
Mice or rats as pets, pests, or used in laboratories cause allergies from airborne particles derived from dried male urine as well as from dander.
Animals can trigger not only rhinitis, conjunctivitis, asthma, and eczema but sensitivity to other environmental allergens.
Not, maybe, as obviously attractive but apparently wonderful pets are Devon Rex cats, ‘the curly-haired pixie of the cat world’ whose fur also appears to cause relatively low allergic reactions. If you have access to the internet, the Rex Cat Association has a comprehensive list of UK breeders.
Because it is the dander or skin scales that cause the most significant allergic reactions, short haired or hairless dogs, such as the Peruvian hairless Inca Orchid, will not help unless you are reacting to the allergens collecting in the dogs fur rather than the dander.
The website AllergyEscape.com gives a good deal of information about low allergen breeds as does Dog Breed Info Center. Both give long lists of relatively low allergen dogs including the Bichon-Frise, a very popular small dog with soft curly hair, the Labradoodle (a cross between a labrador and a poodle), and the Malti-Poo (a cross between a Maltese and a poodle)...
The most exotic allergenic pet in my experience was a kinkajou or sugar bear. For many years nobody including the skin clinic suspected that it was the cause of this teenager’s chronic eczema, which was worst on the hands that touched the animal. When the animal died the eczema cleared up completely!
For further information consult Dr Morrow Brown’s website www.allergiesexplained.com
First published in 2008; revised 2013
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