When it comes to pet allergies, dogs are one of the most prevalent triggers. This is largely because dogs are the most popular pet in the U.S., with the most recent statistics showing that over 69 million households have a dog. According to WebMD, that’s approximately 37-47% of American households that have a dog!
If you suspect you have a dog allergy, keep reading for our full breakdown of the causes, common symptoms, treatment options and information on allergy testing.
How common are dog allergies?
A large study found that allergies to dogs affect between 10 and 20% of the global population1 and rates continue to rise.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), an estimated 15 to 30% of individuals with allergies have a reaction to cats or dogs. Interestingly, cat allergies are twice as common as dog allergies, despite dogs being the most popular household pet in the US.
Studies in other parts of the world further underscore the alarming nature of dog-related allergies. In Europe, it’s estimated that 27% of adults seeking clinic care for suspected allergy to inhalants are allergic to dogs.2
Beyond the sheer popularity of dogs as pets, allergies to animals with fur are quite common. But contrary to popular belief, it’s not the actual fur coat of these animals that triggers the allergic reaction.
What Causes Dog Allergies?
When you have a dog allergy, it’s not the pet’s hair or fur that you’re allergic to. Rather, dog allergies are caused by the protein that is found in the animal’s dander (dead skin cells) as well as its saliva and urine.
Dogs are furry animals that are notorious for collecting dander. But beyond pet dander allergies, their fur coats can also carry other common allergens like mold, pollen, and dust mites. This can make pinpointing and treating a pet-related allergy a challenge.
Allergic reaction occurs when the body’s natural immune system defenses overreact to a foreign substance, which we call an allergen. In the case of a true dog allergy, that allergen is the protein found in dogs’ dander. When those proteins come into contact with your skin, eyes, nose, mouth, and airways, it triggers a reaction.
The allergens themselves are harmless; it’s the body’s extreme reaction to them that causes unpleasant, and in some cases extremely dangerous, allergy symptoms.
Dog Allergy Symptoms
A common misconception surrounding dog allergies is that the onset of aches, pains, and fever symptoms is all part of the normal allergic response. That is not true. Dog allergy symptoms are typically focused around the skin, nose, mouth, eyes, and respiratory system, such as the lungs and throat.
Dog allergy symptoms can take many shapes, but below are some of the most common:
- Dry, itchy skin
- Skin redness, rashes
- Raised bumps, hives
Nose and eye symptoms:
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Red, itchy, or watery eyes
- Itchy nose, throat, or roof of the mouth
For those whose dog allergies trigger allergic asthma or bronchitis, they may also develop the following respiratory symptoms:
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
Even when the symptoms of dog allergies are mild, they may lead to a diminished quality of life, including difficulty sleeping, low energy, and problems breathing.
In severe cases of dog allergies, extreme reactions (anaphylaxis) can occur. Anaphylaxis, which is characterized by the swelling and closing of the throat, can be life-threatening. Always consult your physician if you are worried you may have severe allergies.
Can you reduce symptoms?
In general, allergy symptoms will continue to worsen when an allergic individual is exposed to greater amounts of their trigger allergen(s). For this reason, reducing exposure to allergens is the natural solution to minimize the severity of the symptoms of dog allergy.
In short, that means the most effective way to reduce or prevent dog allergy symptoms is to avoid exposure to and contact with dogs.
However, avoiding allergen exposure completely can be difficult. A dog’s dander can linger on furniture, clothing, or in the air. So even if you’re not around the animal, you can still experience symptoms by inadvertently coming into contact with dander.
If you have known pet allergies, regular vacuuming, dusting, washing your clothes, and showering can help reduce your allergy trigger.
How Long Do Dog Allergy Symptoms Last?
The symptoms of dog allergy typically go away after a few hours, once you’re no longer in the presence of the allergens. However, if you have severe allergies to dogs, your symptoms may last for several days.
What Does a Dog Allergy Look Like in Children?
Because children may be less able to communicate any allergic symptoms that they’re experiencing, recognizing dog and pet-related allergies may be more difficult.
If you have a dog and your child seems to have ongoing symptoms that persist year-round, such as runny nose, nasal congestion, skin rashes, itchy or watery eyes, and frequent sneezing, then these are all signs of potential allergy.
This is especially the case if symptoms are persistent and occur indoors versus only occurring when outdoors or during certain times of the year. In this case, your child should be tested for allergies related to pets, dust mites, mold, or other common allergens.
Dog Allergy Management and Treatment
Living with a dog allergy can be difficult. Most symptoms are mild, but some may cause skin conditions, eye and throat irritation, and breathing complications. Fortunately, there are many ways to help treat, manage, and prevent such allergy symptoms.
Dog Allergy Treatment
While you can’t eliminate dog allergies altogether, you can take over-the-counter antihistamine pills, nasal corticosteroids, and nasal antihistamines to treat your symptoms. These medications are often the most accessible and effective treatments for people with dog allergies.
For some people, immunotherapy injections or allergy shots offer an effective long-term solution to managing dog allergies. Each time you receive an immunotherapy shot, your body responds by acclimating and reducing your sensitivity to the triggering allergen. In some cases, these allergy shots can help prevent symptoms long after the person stopped receiving them.
Dog Allergy Prevention and Management
Reducing the amount of allergens in your home can dramatically reduce symptoms triggered by dog allergies. The most obvious yet effective way to achieve this is to avoid having dogs in your living space altogether.
But if avoiding dogs isn’t possible, there are a few strategies that can help prevent symptoms or reduce the severity of your symptoms. When combined with medication and treatment, this may be enough to ward off any major allergic reactions.
- Avoid petting, holding, and hugging dogs. While it may be difficult to refrain from showing your love for your pet, minimizing contact is the best defense to prevent allergy symptoms.
- Do not allow dogs in your bedroom, workspace, or other areas of the home where you spend a lot of time. This includes not allowing dogs on your furniture whenever possible
- Have your dog(s) regularly bathed and brushed. If possible, recruit the help of someone who doesn’t have pet allergies to brush and bathe them for you and use a pet shampoo specifically designed for dogs
- Regularly vacuum the carpet, rugs, and other surfaces of your home. While it may seem frequent, vacuuming at least twice a week is a good practice. Also, use a microfilter vacuum bag to better prevent dander from escaping.
- If possible, replace the carpet and rugs with alternative flooring options. Rugs and carpets are notorious for trapping pet dander in the fibers.
- Invest in a high-efficiency particulate (HEPA) air filter and use it consistently to remove as many pet allergens in the air as possible.
There are many options for controlling and reducing dog allergies, whether through the treatment of symptoms and/or the reduction of allergen exposure. So long as allergy symptoms are not overly severe, most people are able to keep their pets while managing their allergies.
Dog Allergy Testing and Diagnosis
The best way to properly diagnose a dog allergy is through testing. It’s not uncommon for pet allergies to be confused with other allergic reactions to mold, pollen, dust mite, and ragweed – especially when these substances can get trapped in the fur of our pets. In turn, proper dog allergy testing is advised.
With all forms of allergy testing, the objective in diagnosing a dog allergy is to detect an IgE (Immunoglobulin E) reaction in the presence of the allergen. In simple terms, releasing the IgE antibody is the body’s immune system response to a given protein, whether it be from food, drugs, or pet dander. As such, IgE detection via blood testing can effectively confirm a dog allergy. And if an allergy is present, this information can help you find the best form of treatment or lifestyle modifications needed to manage your condition.
The most common testing methods to determine if you have a dog allergy is to use either a skin prick test or a blood test.
Skin prick tests are typically administered by a doctor in a clinical setting in which a small amount of the suspected allergen is pricked onto the skin. If a minor skin reaction ensues, then a true allergy can be confirmed.
Blood tests require a small sample of blood which is tested across various potential allergies. When conducted by a certified lab, blood tests are a dependable method that’s sometimes easier for most people to take. They can be administered in a clinical setting, however, at-home allergy tests have made it convenient for individuals to test for dog allergies from the comfort of their own homes.
Pet and dog allergies are increasingly common but oftentimes difficult to detect. If you or someone you love suspects an allergic reaction is causing unpleasant symptoms – whether it be from pet dander or other potential allergens – it’s important to get tested. While we offer many different at-home test options here at YorkTest, we recommend consulting with an allergist or doctor to best treat and manage any allergies that you might have.
1. Chan, Sanny K, and Donald Y M Leung. “Dog and Cat Allergies: Current State of Diagnostic Approaches and Challenges.” Allergy, asthma & immunology research vol. 10,2 (2018): 97-105. doi:10.4168/aair.2018.10.2.97
2. Dávila, I et al. “Consensus document on dog and cat allergy.” Allergy vol. 73,6 (2018): 1206-1222. doi:10.1111/all.13391