READING: Pet allergies: What to do if you have a reaction to your best friend

Managing My HayFever

Pet allergies:
What to do if you have a
reaction to your best friend

Having an allergy to pets can be distressing, especially if it is your own animal that triggers your symptoms.

Two min read

Pets such as cats, dogs, guinea pigs, horses, rabbits and mice can trigger hayfever symptoms.

Cats and dogs are a main cause of allergic reactions in the home. While some may be less problematic than others, there is no breed that is completely allergy-free.

The allergen, or substance that causes your reaction, is released by the sweat glands of cats and the saliva glands of dogs and makes its way to the fur of the animal. The allergen is spread around in the air when the animal sheds its hair and can also cling to clothing and furniture.

It can be difficult to clear your home of allergens left by a cat. These allergens can also be carried into your home or place of work on people’s clothing, which means you can experience symptoms in a place that has never been inhabited by a cat.

Choosing a pet

Having an allergy does not mean your only choice for a pet is a goldfish. With other animals, it is best to test your reaction before making a decision about a long-term relationship.

Many websites claim that certain dog breeds, such as schnauzers, poodles and “oodles” (breeds crossed with a poodle) may be a good choice for people with allergies. However, there is little scientific evidence to back this up.1

Pet allergy symptoms

If you have an animal allergy, you may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Runny nose
  • Itchy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Congested nose
  • Snoring

Complications include:

  • Sleep disturbance
  • Daytime tiredness
  • Headaches
  • Poor concentration
  • Recurrent ear infections in children
  • Recurrent sinus infections in adults
  • Asthma that is more difficult to control

Note: that your symptoms may not appear immediately after contact with an animal.

Five ways to protect yourself

  1. Do your best to avoid contact with animals that trigger your allergies. This may mean asking people to keep their pets outside or in another room when you visit.
  2. Remember to wash your hands if you touch a pet that triggers your allergies.
  3. If your symptoms are interfering with your day-to-day activities, you may consider parting company with your pet. However, this can be an emotional decision, and your GP can help you to confirm that your pet is definitely the cause before you take action.
  4. If pets cause only minor problems, it may be possible to reduce your symptoms by keeping them out of bedrooms and other living areas. Remember that it may take several months for allergen levels in your home to be reduced.
  5. Dogs, guinea pigs, mice, rabbits and birds are less likely to trigger your symptoms than cats and are easier to keep outside or away from bedrooms.

Warning: Horse allergy is serious. Even hair on clothes may trigger asthma in a person who is allergic to horses. If you have been in contact with a horse, it is best to shower and put on fresh clothing before entering the home of a person who is allergic to horses.


  1. 1. Nicholas CE, Wegienka GR, Havstad SL et al. Dog allergen levels in homes with hypoallergenic compared with nonhypoallergenic dogs. Am J Rhinol Allergy [Internet] 2011 Jul-Aug [cited 2019 Oct 14] ; 25(4): 252–256.
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