Dog Allergies

A dog is man's best friend—that is, unless the man is allergic to his dog.

Pet allergies are common in the U.S. Fifteen to 30 percent of all Americans are affected and, although allergies to cats are around twice as common, allergic reactions to dogs tend to be more severe, especially in those with asthma.

An individual with this type of allergy may be allergic to all dogs or just certain breeds. Often, a dog-allergic person is so attached to her pet she will refuse to accept that Rover is responsible for her symptoms, making diagnosis and treatment all the more difficult.

Symptoms of Dog Allergies

The symptoms of a dog allergy may range from mild to severe. In those with low sensitivity, symptoms may not appear for several days after exposure.

Some clues a person may be allergic to his dog include:

  • swelling and itching in the membranes of the nose or around the eyes
  • redness of the skin after being licked by a dog
  • coughing, shortness of breath, or wheezing within 15 to 30 minutes of exposure to allergens
  • rash on the face, neck, or chest
  • a severe asthma attack (in a person with asthma)

In Children

In addition to the above symptoms, children with dog allergies will often develop eczema, a painful inflammation of the skin. Conventional wisdom used to have it that exposing a newborn to the family dog could cause the child to develop a pet allergy.

Thankfully for dog owners, the opposite appears to be true. Several studies in the past few years—including one published in the journal Clinical & Experimental Allergy in 2011—have found that exposing a baby to a pet actually protects the child from developing allergies in the future.

Dog Allergies Treatment

Often, an individual with an allergy to dogs will get so used to his symptoms, he may not realize how much his pet is affecting his quality of life. In those cases, it may be prudent to remove the dog from the home for a couple of months if possible.

Once the animal is away from the home, the house should be thoroughly cleaned at least once a week to measure a person's symptoms. If the allergic individual decides to bring Spot back in the house, the next best treatment is avoidance.

Minimizing exposure to pet allergens will often result in fewer and less severe symptoms. Complete avoidance is nearly impossible.

For those with serious allergic reactions, the following may be useful:

  • antihistamines can help relieve the itching, sneezing, and runny nose (over-?the-counter medications such as Benadryl or Claritin and prescription drugs such as Allegra or Clarinex)
  • nasal corticosteroids such as Flonase or Nasonex may reduce inflammation and control symptoms
  • cromolyn sodium is an over-the-counter nasal spray that may help reduce symptoms, especially if it is used before symptoms develop
  • decongestants make it easier to breathe by shrinking swollen tissues in the nasal passage (either oral or nasal)
  • immunotherapy consists of a series of allergy shots which expose patients to the animal protein (allergen) that that is causing their symptoms and is often used in more severe cases
  • leukotriene modifiers, such as the prescription tablet Singulair, may be recommended if a person is unable to tolerate nasal antihistamines or corticosteroids

Natural Remedies for Dog Allergies

The use of a saline (salt water) rinse daily to clear nasal passages of allergens may help some people with dog allergies. A "nasal lavage" can control symptoms such as congestion and postnasal drip.

Over-the-counter saline sprays and nasal lavage kits are readily available or a person can make her own by mixing 1/8 teaspoon of table salt with distilled water and administering with a syringe ball or neti pot.

What Causes Dog Allergies?

Dogs secrete proteins that end up in their dander (dead skin), saliva, and urine. An allergic reaction occurs when a sensitive person's immune system reacts abnormally to the usually harmless proteins.

The allergen eventually finds its way into the animal's fur and, from there, collects in carpets, on clothing, and between couch cushions. It is important to note that the pet hair itself is not an allergen. Pet dander can remain airborne for long periods of time as well, eventually finding its way into human lungs.

How to Deal with Dog Allergies

There are several things dog owners can do around the home to reduce allergens including:

  • setting up dog-free zones around the house (certain rooms, such as a bedroom, where the dog is not allowed)
  • bathing the dog weekly (done by a non-allergic individual)
  • removing carpeting, upholstered furniture, horizontal blinds, curtains, and any other items that may attract dander, including flooring with wood, tile, or vinyl if possible
  • purchasing high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) air purifiers to reduce airborne allergens in the home
  • banning the dog from the house if possible (only in certain climates and under humane conditions)

How to Prevent Dog Allergies

The only way to prevent dog allergies is for a person to avoid all contact with both dogs and their dander.