For many of us, our dogs are like a member of the family. So when someone in your home is allergic to the family dog — or if you desperately want to bring home a new furry friend – it can be a struggle. Properly diagnosing and managing a dog allergy is essential in making sure all members of the household are happy.
Are You Allergic to Dogs?
If you experience allergic symptoms after petting or playing with a dog, you may very well be allergic. Dog allergy symptoms can include:
- Sneezing, runny or stuffy nose
- Watery, itchy eyes
- Coughing, shortness of breath, chest tightness or wheezing
- Facial pain from congestion
- Skin rash or hives
Dogs produce multiple proteins (allergens) that can cause allergic symptoms. These allergens are found in dog hair, dander, saliva, and urine. The degree of symptoms is not influenced by the length of the hair, nor the amount of shedding. And although some breeds have a reputation for being hypoallergenic, a truly allergy-free dog does not exist. Studies that compared samples from homes with breeds reported to be “hypoallergenic” to homes with other dogs did not differ in levels of dog allergen.
Diagnosing a Dog Allergy
An allergy skin-prick test is the most reliable way of diagnosing dog allergy. After your board-certified allergist takes a complete history of your symptoms and discusses environmental factors, they will test you to specific allergens. Even if you’re sure your symptoms are caused by the dog, it’s a good idea to be tested. Some people find that their symptoms are caused by additional environmental exposures to allergens like dust, mold or pollens.
Living with a Dog Allergy
Avoidance is the best way to manage dog allergy, but since most of us don’t want to part with our best friends, there are strategies that may help reduce symptoms:
- Keep the dog out of the bedroom and restrict to only a few rooms of the house
- If you do pet/play with the dog, wash your hands with soap and water immediately
- Running HEPA cleaners continuously in a bedroom or living room area can reduce allergens over time
- Use a high-efficiency vacuum cleaner and vacuum as often as possible
- Bathe the dog weekly
- Different medications can treat different allergic symptoms. Nasal symptoms can be treated with nasal steroid sprays and/or oral antihistamines, and eye symptoms with antihistamine drops. Respiratory or asthma symptoms can be treated with inhaled corticosteroids or bronchodilators to prevent, or relieve, symptoms. Your allergist will determine which options are best for you.
- Allergen immunotherapy (allergy shots) is a very effective treatment for pet allergy. Immunotherapy involves giving gradually increasing doses of an allergen, like dog, and building a tolerance over time. This can be a long-term solution for animal lovers. Instead of masking symptoms throughout your lifetime, you can naturally desensitize, and change your immune systems’ response to dog, or cat, allergens over time. They are known as “man’s best friend” and we are here to help you live a happy, symptom-free life with your best friend!