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Cat and dog allergy

5-minute read

If you think someone is experiencing anaphylaxis, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance and start anaphylaxis first aid.

Key facts

  • 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?

Pet allergies occur when your immune system reacts to allergens from your pet. These can be from their:

  • saliva
  • 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:

  • birds
  • guinea pigs and rabbits
  • horses
  • 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.

People with a pet allergy are also likely to have other allergies — for example, to pollen and dust mites. You are also more likely to have asthma, eczema and hay fever.

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.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

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:

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.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

Resources and support

Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia (A&AA) gives guidance and advice to Australians living with allergic disease. You can call them on 1300 728 000.

You can also call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2023

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