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Allergies Health Center

Survival Guide for Pet Allergies

Do you have pet allergies? Setting boundaries and making a few changes can make all the difference.
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WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

It’s an all-too-common scenario: Your five-year-old begs and pleads for a dog or cat every chance she gets. She even promises to care for the new pet every day. You know, though, that’s not going to happen. It’s clear that task is going to fall on your shoulders. But that’s not even the biggest problem. The biggest problem is someone in your household has pet allergies.

Not even Barack Obama’s family is immune to such issues. Eldest daughter Malia has pet allergies. So when they launched their search for a new first pet for the White House, they set out to find a hypoallergenic dog.

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There may not be such a thing as a hypoallergenic pet. But experts say that by observing certain precautions, millions of people who have pet allergies -- including Malia Obama -- can avoid allergy triggers and have a dog or cat of their very own.

Anatomy of Pet Allergies

“There is some debate in this area,” says Rohit Katial, MD, an allergist at National Jewish Health in Denver. “Most allergists will tell you that there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog or cat,” Katial says. “That’s because the allergens are produced in saliva, skin glands, and urine. The hair is just a carrier.”

Your beloved pet sheds flakes of dead skin called dander. It’s in these flakes, not the fur, that the proteins people with allergies react to lurk. Katial tells WebMD that it’s possible someone could be allergic to even a bald cat. It is the dander that triggers the most significant allergic reactions.

But there’s more. Your dog or cat’s saliva gets on its fur when it cleans itself. It also clings to your skin after those loving, but slobbery kisses. Coming in touch with the saliva triggers the pet allergy -- the sniffling, sneezing, and watery itchy eyes that someone with an allergic reaction experiences.

8 Tips for Coping With Pet Allergies

There is good news. Neither you, your child -- nor the first family -- has to watch longingly from the sidelines as others cuddle with cocker spaniels, play Frisbee with golden retrievers, or snuggle on the couch with tabby cats. “The fact there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog doesn’t mean that people with pet allergies can’t have pets,” Katial says.

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