If you think someone is experiencing anaphylaxis, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance and start anaphylaxis first aid.
- Allergies to cats and dogs are common.
- Pet allergies may trigger symptoms of hay fever, asthma or hives.
- Treatment can help you manage your contact with cats and dogs.
What is pet allergy?
- dander — dead skin cells
- urine (wee) or faeces (poo)
About 1 in 5 people have a pet allergy. Most people with pet allergies are allergic to cats or dogs. But you can also be allergic to:
- guinea pigs and rabbits
- mice and rats
Allergies are particularly common in people who handle pets as part of their job. Some people are allergic to more than one animal.
Pet allergies can develop at any time during your life. Some people will grow out of childhood allergies.
What causes pet allergy?
Pet allergens (the substances that cause the allergic reaction) are most concentrated in homes with pets. But they are also found in buildings and public spaces without pets, including the Antarctic.
Cat allergy is the second most common cause of indoor breathing allergies after dust mites. Cat allergens mainly come from glands in their skin. The allergens are spread through licking and grooming.
The main source of dog allergen is saliva. Dander (skin, hair or fur particles) can spread the allergen. Some breeds of dog do not shed as much dander as others.
Pet allergens are sticky and can remain for months or years after a pet has gone. They can become airborne and attach to your clothes and hair.
What are the symptoms of pet allergy?
Pet allergy can cause:
Up to 1 in 2 people with a pet allergy do not get symptoms straight away. Pet allergies are rarely life-threatening.
If you think someone is having a severe reaction such as anaphylaxis, and their breathing is affected, call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.
How is pet allergy diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and what makes them better or worse. They will also do a physical examination.
Your doctor might refer you to an allergy specialist for a skin-prick test or blood test to confirm your allergy.
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Living with a pet allergy
The best solution to pet allergies is to avoid exposure as much as possible.
If you have a pet allergy, always:
- wash your hands after touching animals
- never let your pets into your bedroom
You can also try to:
- have someone else regularly brush your pet
- restrict your pet to one area of your home
- use a vacuum with a HEPA filter
- remove carpet from your home
Often, the best way to improve your allergies is to find your pet a new home. Your local pet rescue group can help you to do this.
You should also avoid smoking, as this makes you more likely to develop allergies.
How is pet allergy treated?
If you can’t avoid exposure to pets, you may be able to treat your symptoms with medicines, such as:
- nasal (nose) steroid sprays
Another option is allergen immunotherapy (also called desensitisation). It's offered by immunologists (doctors who specialise in treating allergies) and takes 3 to 5 years to complete.
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Last reviewed: October 2023