If you are a dog lover and are diagnosed with an dog allergy, it can be heart-breaking. Especially if you already own a much loved pet. The good news is that being allergic to dogs doesn’t necessarily mean you need to start looking for a new home for your dog. We look at some of the practical things you can try to manage your dog allergy symptoms.
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What causes dog allergies?
When someone is allergic to dogs, the usual culprit is the dog’s saliva. Dander (the material dogs shed from their skin and fur) can also worsen allergies, spreading the allergens in the air and settling in furnishings at home. Proteins in dog urine can also cause allergic symptoms.
This was certainly our experience. When directly licked by a dog, our allergic child develops hives right where the salvia contacts the skin. If licked on the face, this can also causing swelling, especially around the eyes.
If like us you also have food allergies, people may tell you that it must be something in the dog food causing allergy symptoms. While it’s definitely worth checking pet foods for any of your allergens, it could well be the dog’s saliva instead.
So called “hypo-allergenic” dog breeds may shed less dander, but they can still cause allergy symptoms because of their saliva. Certain breeds of dog can be very ‘dribbly’ and produce a lot of saliva, which can be a problem for dog allergy sufferers.
Symptoms of dog allergy
Dog allergies can cause be a cause of allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and asthma.
Symptoms can include:
- red, itchy, or watery eyes;
- runny nose and sneezing;
- hives or itchy skin; and
- coughing, chest tightness, difficulty breathing or wheezing.
In our experience, licking on the face can also cause local swelling, especially of the eyes.
While it is rare, some people can experience life threatening allergy symptoms (anaphylaxis) if they are extremely allergic to dogs.
Testing for dog allergies
If you are unsure if your dog is causing your allergy symptoms, try removing your dog from your home for a few days. You can see if your allergy symptoms improve while the dog isn’t there and if they worsen when your dog returns.
An allergist can also test for dog allergy through skin prick tests and/or blood tests. You can find out more about the allergy testing in our post about allergy testing.
How to manage an allergy to dogs
Unfortunately the best way to prevent dog allergy symptoms is avoidance. If you are allergic to dogs, it’s best not to get one as a pet if you don’t already have a dog.
But what if you already have a much loved dog as a pet? Your allergy specialist may well suggest that you remove the dog from your home to improve your allergies. For some people, that might be an easy decision. However, for those of use who consider our dogs as part of the family, it may not be so easy.
Minimising dog allergies at home
Before you panic about needing to rehome your dog, there are some practical things to try to minimise to minimise symptoms.
The main recommendations from allergists are:
- don’t let your dog inside your home; and
- don’t smoke, as smoking can make allergies worse.
There are lots of other practical steps to try before considering rehoming your dog. These measures are not proven to help everyone, but we found that they helped our family. Other families we have spoken to agree that they can help reduce dog allergy symptoms too:
- wash your hands after patting your dog and avoiding touching your face or eyes afterwards;
- wash your dog regularly;
- wash any dog bedding regularly to remove allergens;
- if your dog is allowed inside, restrict this just to certain areas of the home (such as a living room, especially if doesn’t have carpet);
- don’t let your dog into bedrooms or on the beds;
- use air filters and change any air conditioning filters regularly;
- consider removing carpets and soft furnishings that can trap dog allergens, especially in bedrooms; and
- vacuum any carpets, rugs and soft furnishings regularly with a good vacuum with a HEPA filter. We love our Dyson vacuum for removing dust, dander and fur.
Other people’s dogs
Avoiding reactions to other people’s dogs can be tricky. If you are out in a public place, most dogs will usually be restrained on a lead. Unless you are approaching other people’s dogs and patting them, you should be able to avoid contact or getting licked.
If you are visiting friends or family who have a dog, it can be more difficult to avoid allergens. If they usually let their dog inside, ask politely if they can leave them outside while you are visiting. Most people will be understanding. Take some antihistamines with you in case you develop symptoms while you are there (and your asthma medication if applicable).
Treating dog allergies
If you can’t avoid contact with dogs, or if you don’t want to rehome your pet despite your allergies, there are medical treatments available to help with symptoms. These include antihistamines and corticosteroid nasal sprays. If dogs trigger your asthma, you should always carry your asthma reliever medication and follow your asthma management plan. You could also consider undergoing desensitisation to dogs through allergen immunotherapy (“allergy shots“). Speak to your doctor or allergist about which treatment is right for you.
We managed to keep our beautiful, very furry dog for another 10 years after our child’s dog allergy diagnosis. This was in part due to the practical steps to minimise allergens inside our home and also allergy medication (which we were using anyway for other allergies). The amazing thing was that our dog seemed to understand not to lick our child, and they managed to share lots of pats and cuddles despite the allergies. Some people eve say that they become desensitised to their own dogs over time.
Most people will be able to keep their pet dogs with some adjustments. However if you are unlucky enough to have serious reactions to dogs, such as asthma flares or trouble breathing, unfortunately you may have to give serious consideration to rehoming your pet. For very serious allergy symptoms, rehoming may be the safest choice. It’s important to be guided by your treating doctor or allergist about your own symptoms and risks.
References and more information about pet allergies
For more general information about allergy to dogs, see these useful resources we’ve referred in this post:
- Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy, Pet Allergy
- American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, Pet Allergies
Dogs and cats aren’t the only pets that can cause allergies. Two members of our family are also allergic to our pet guinea pigs: find out how we manage our guinea pig allergies.
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*Disclaimer: Allergy Spot does not provide medical advice. You should always consult a suitably qualified medical practitioner in respect of your own medical conditions, symptoms or concerns. See our Website Terms for more details.