Allergies are a serious problem for many people, with reactions ranging from flu and cold-like sniffling and sneezing to severe illness and even death. Unfortunately, the word “allergy” has been greatly bastardized over the years. People claim they’re “allergic” to everything from guacamole to chocolate and cigarette smoke when, in reality, they simply dislike those things or have a physical or psychological intolerance to them — and intolerance does not equate to genuine allergies.
Pet allergies are among the most abused claims. If you simply don’t like dogs, cats, horses, gerbils, etc., you can easily claim an allergy, or worse yet, claim your child is allergic to them. Not only does this emotional reaction disrespect those with true allergies, but it also reinforces myths about pet allergies and how to manage them.
Without further ado, we give you the truth behind some of the world’s most common pet allergy myths.
Fur and Hair Allergies
The fur and hair of pets are not considered noteworthy allergens, which means long-haired cats and dogs pose no more of an allergy risk than their short-haired counterparts. If you sneeze or suffer from congestion in the company of these animals, it’s most likely their dander that’s the culprit…or that you just don’t like cats and dogs and manifest physical symptoms to support your psychologically-based claim. All animals with hair, fur, or feathers have dander — even hairless breeds. Of course, those with longer hair attract more airborne allergens like dust, sand, pollen, and mold spores, so they may bring out more intense reactions in people with hay fever or other common allergies. Note that if you have a partner or child with long hair, they could just as easily cause these reactions.
This fairytale is promoted by breeders of hairless dogs and cats and even seems logical at first glance. These animals obviously don’t have the traditional coats of more common breeds, but their bodies still produce dander, the culprit at the root of genuine pet allergies. However, since the dander they generate is so minimal, hairless breeds are still ideal for allergic people who can withstand scant amounts of the stuff. Before you commit to one of these generally-expensive pets, consider arranging a trial period to see how the allergic party reacts to them for the first couple of weeks.
Dogs and cats have always borne the weight of being the most prone to cause allergic reactions in humans. But that burden is based mostly on the fact that they are the most common animals kept as pets, not because they have the most potent or abundant dander.
Guinea pigs, gerbils, hamsters, mice, and rats can all set off allergic reactions based on their dander, which not only clings to hands that handle them but also pollutes their own cages. You can also trigger allergic responses if you interact with farm animals such as chickens, cows, ducks, geese, goats, or horses. In fact, horses are often more allergenic than their barnyard friends, especially if they eat hay that develops mold spores in enclosed stables or lofts.
Birds are frequently chosen as pets based on the assumption that they rarely elicit allergic reactions. In reality, feathers are dust magnets, birds also carry dander, and their droppings contain dust, fungi, bacteria, and mold, all of which makes their cages and surrounding areas hot beds for allergens.
Pets Have Allergies, Too
You’ve probably heard of an occasional dog or cat that suffers an allergic reaction now and then to something in their food. This problem is usually solved by isolating the offending ingredient and eliminating it from their diet. Still, our furry friends can suffer from other allergies, too, many of which bear symptoms that are akin to our own.
Dogs that develop red or itchy skin or that incessantly lick their paws may have allergies similar to hay fever in humans. Instead of sneezing, however, their primary symptom is uncontrollable itching. Although most common during spring and summer when pollen counts are elevated, dogs can suffer from this malady any time of year. Luckily, vets can usually alleviate their agony with a change in diet, anti-allergy injections, or by prescribing omega fatty acids/antihistamines.
If you notice your cat constantly scratching its face to the point of injury, it may be a symptom of a condition similar to human asthma. It’s often a reaction to cigarette smoke or other environmental pollutants in the home. Leaving this issue untreated could lead to grave consequences, including death, so a trip to the vet is essential if you spot it in your feline friend.
Ironically, horses, the biggest fans of hay, can be highly allergic to their own favorite food. It’s not the grain itself that makes them sick, but the aforementioned mold spores in the hay. In these cases, the equines exhibit symptoms similar to asthma attacks in humans that are commonly referred to as “heaves.” The good news is that they can be treated with analgesics comparable to those ingested by humans via handheld inhalers. The process even requires facemasks with attached inhalers that are activated by humans each time the horse inhales.
Pets have been proven to improve the mental and psychological health of humans in a number of ways. It may take a while to find one that’s compatible with you on all levels, but that’s no reason to let something as manageable as allergies stop you from finding your perfect companion.