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Six out of 10 people in the United States are in contact with cats or dogs. Thus pets, by way of their close daily contact with humans at home, may provoke allergies. These allergies are commonly developed to cats and dog.

Cat and dog allergies

Pet allergens are proteins, which when in contact with the skin, cause an allergic reaction that results in the production of histamine. The histamine produces swelling and irritation of the upper airways and causes typical hay fever and asthmatic symptoms.

A glycoprotein, Fel d-I, secreted by the sebaceous glands, is the major cat allergen. This allergen is found in the fur, pelt, saliva, serum, urine, mucous, salivary glands, and hair roots of the cat. The main sources of the allergen, however, are the skin and saliva. Cat allergen is so small it can remain airborne for months. It is about 10 times smaller than pollen or dust particles.

Dog allergens are also small and sticky and can stay airborne for a long time. No dog is considered non-allergenic because all dogs produce offending allergens, which include dander, saliva, and urine. There is a strong genetic correlation in developing allergies; so you are likely to have these allergies if your parents suffer from them.

Signs and symptoms of cat and dog allergies

These allergies may cause a variety of symptoms including:

•    Itching, running or congestion of the nose. 
•    Red, itchy, watery, or swollen eyes.
•    Plugged or itchy ears.

•    The throat may have post-nasal drip, frequent throat clearing, scratchy sore throat, itching and hoarseness. 

•    Headache, fatigue.

•    Coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and frequent bronchitis. 

•    Itchy skin rashes or hives.

Most people who suffer from cat and dog allergies often have other mild or moderate allergies to pollens, moulds, feathers and dust.

Diagnosis of cat and dog allergies

If a cat or dog allergy is suspected, the doctor may diagnose it by taking a medical history and testing the blood of the patient. After moving the pet out of your home, it may take several months for the allergen levels in the home to fall sufficiently enough so as not to set off allergic reactions. It may therefore be wise to remove the allergic person from the pet's environment for a trial period of time (1 to 2 weeks) to see if the allergic symptoms improve and thus to confirm a pet allergy.

To diagnose pet-induced asthma:

•    Look for asthma symptoms when on exposing the patient to a pet allergen.
•    Scratch tests involve applying suspected allergens and then scratching the skin to introduce the substances into the skin. These tests are usually performed on the forearm, upper arm, or upper back, and they allow several allergens to be tested at the same time. Allergic reaction to these tests usually occurs within 20 minutes.

•    An allergic reaction to a skin test or to a blood test called RAST (radioallergosorbent test). To make sure the diagnosis is correct; the doctor observes the changes that occur when a cat is added then removed from the patient's environment several times.

Complications associated with pet allergy

•    Greater susceptibility to other illnesses of the airways.
•    Ear infections.

•    Difficulty in sleeping and insomnia.

•    Worsening of asthma, and the possibility of a severe asthmatic attack.

What to do if you are allergic?

If you have allergic symptoms, you should avoid the provoking factors and it is advised to take the following steps:

•    No pets and limited furniture in your house.

•    Clean walls, wood and floors.

•    Carpets that can be cleaned on a weekly basis and sheets that can be washed regularly in your house.

•    No upholstered furniture in your house.

•   Moist rags and a vacuum cleaner that has a vortex with no bag and an allergen filter to clean the house thoroughly, at least twice a week.

If you or a family member's allergies are not life-threatening, you may consider these steps to reduce the symptoms:


•    Create an allergy free zone in your house, preferably the bedroom and strictly prohibit the pet's access to it. Use a high-efficiency HEPA air in the bedroom and the rest of the house.

•    Bath your pet on a weekly basis to reduce the level of allergens on fur by as much as 84 percent. Use the allergy relief pet treatment, a shampoo and conditioner, which removes pet dander.
•    Always wear a 3M mask and protective gloves while grooming your pet. 

•    Remove clothing worn after grooming or playing with pets. 
•    Many allergy sufferers are sensitive to more than one allergen. So if you are allergic to dust, insecticides, pollen, cigarette smoke, and cat dander, you should try to reduce the overall allergen level in your environment by concentrating on all the causes, not just the pet allergy.   

Management of cat and dog allergies

Immunotherapy or allergy vaccine therapy can improve symptoms but cannot eliminate them entirely. It works by gradually desensitizing a person's immune system to the pet allergens by giving regular (usually once or twice weekly) injections of small doses of the allergen. These allergens trigger the body to produce antibodies which block the pet allergen from causing a reaction. In most cases, it takes several months for allergy vaccine therapy to be effective and treatment must be continued for a long period of time (2 to 5 years or more).

Medications


Treatment for dog, cat, and other animal allergies may include over-the-counter or prescription medications such as antihistamines and decongestants. First generation antihistamines (such as Benadryl®) may cause drowsiness, but newer medications (such as Allegra®, Claritin®, Zyrtec®) have fewer side effects. First generation antihistamines may cause irritability and restlessness in children.

Antihistamine tablets or syrup such as loratadine, cetirizine, and chlorphenamine relieve symptoms such as hay fever. Antihistamines such as levocabastine can be used to reduce nasal inflammation and control symptoms in the nose. Antihistamines (e.g. azelastine) reduce eye inflammation and can be used if eye symptoms are a particular problem.

Oral decongestants may be used in combination with antihistamines to reduce allergy symptoms. Side effects of these medications include nervousness, difficulty sleeping, and increased heart rate and high blood pressure. Topical and nasal decongestants are not suitable for long-term treatment because routine use causes rebound nasal congestion when the medication is discontinued. Nasal corticosteroids and nasal antihistamine sprays provide relief of symptoms and can be used indefinitely.

Pet allergies that trigger asthma may be treated with the following medications:

Relievers (bronchodilators) are quick-acting medicines that relieve shortness of breath. Types of relievers include:


•    Beta-2 agonists cause the airways to relax and widen. Short-acting beta-2 agonists such as salbutamol and terbutaline are inhaled from a variety of delivery devices, the most familiar being the pressurized metered-dose-inhaler (MDI). On inhalation, these medicines open the airways in minutes, making breathing easier. Longer-acting beta-2 agonists include salmeterol and formoterol are suitable for twice daily dosage to keep the airways open.

•    Anticholinergics such as ipratropium bromide allow the airways to open.

•    Theophylline and aminophylline are more likely to produce side effects than inhaled treatment. All three types of bronchodilator can be combined if necessary.

There are three main groups of preventers:


•    Corticosteroids work to reduce the amount of inflammation within the airways, reducing their tendency to contract. They are usually given as inhaled treatment, although sometimes oral steroid tablets may be required for severe attacks. 

•    Cromones include two medicine groups: sodium cromoglycate and nedocromil. They also act to reduce inflammation of the airways. They tend to be best for mild asthma symptoms and are more effective in children than adults. The medicines are given by inhalation and are usually very well tolerated.

•    Leukotriene receptor antagonists include montelukast and zafirlukast.
  • www.netdoctor.co.uk/health_advice/facts/allergypets.htm
  • www.hsus.org/pets/pet_care/allergies_to_pets/
  • www.animalhealthchannel.com/animalallergy/diagnosis.shtml

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