It’s an unfortunate fact of life that some people are allergic to pet dander and experience itchy eyes, a runny nose, or other symptoms when they spend time around animals. Those people have to make the tough decision between suffering through their allergies, treating them with medications, or not owning a pet at all. But what happens when the roles are reversed?
Can Pets Really Be Allergic to Humans?
Pet dander is made up of flakes of skin that shed from the animal along with their fur or hair. But people also shed their skin in tiny flakes, begging the question of whether animals can be allergic to us. And the answer is yes, some pets are indeed allergic to humans.
Dr. Heather Edginton, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, says that cats and dogs can have an environmental reaction to human dander, although it is often misdiagnosed as chronic dermatitis.
“The three main categories of allergies we see in dogs [and cats] are flea allergies, food allergies and environmental allergies,” Edginton told Live Science. “An allergy to humans would fall in the category of environmental allergies.”
How Common Are Allergies to Human Dander?
Roughly 20% of dogs have symptoms of allergies, and of those, roughly half were found to be allergic to human dander. Less is known about the frequency of feline allergies to human dander, but they do commonly get atopic dermatitis, or eczema, a skin reaction to environmental allergens. Your vet can do a serum allergy test or an intradermal allergy test on your pet to help pinpoint the causes(s) of their allergies.
Other Ways Humans Trigger Their Pets’ Allergies
On top of our dander, humans might also be causing allergic reactions in our pets by the choice of things we wear and own. Our perfumes, lotions, and other hygiene products could also cause an allergic reaction in other people and pets. In some cases, pets can also have metal allergies to our jewelry, just like humans can.
If you have a pet with allergies, chances are they’re actually allergic to multiple things, not just you. “When we do allergy testing [in dogs or cats],” says Edginton, “we find that they are usually allergic to 12 or more things at a time, and humans are often just one of those things.”
Dust, pollen, and mold spores are a few of the top allergens that affect dogs and cats, so thoroughly and regularly cleaning your home may help prevent some symptoms.
What Type of Allergic Reactions Can Human Dander Cause?
Luckily, pets’ allergic reactions to humans and other environmental allergens are typically very mild, possibly even to the point that you don’t notice the symptoms. It would be incredibly rare for a dog or cat to have a serious life-threatening reaction to human dander; anaphylactic shock and other dangerous reactions typically only occur due to beestings and food allergies. However, it should be noted that scratching can cause secondary issues like bald spots and infection.
The most common reaction to human dander is atopic dermatitis, which may cause your pet to repeatedly scratch or lick at their skin, even if the skin appears healthy. Other symptoms may include:
- Moist or crusty skin
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
Are Some Pets More Likely to Be Allergic to Humans?
Animal allergies to humans are not yet very widely studied. Every animal is different, and allergies don’t appear to discriminate based on age, gender, or other factors, making it difficult to predict which animals will have allergies to humans. However, there does seem to be a genetic component to allergies, and certain breeds of dogs are known to be particularly prone to allergies, including:
- German Shepherds
- Miniature Schnauzers
As stated above, not much is known about the frequency of human dander allergies in cats, and we also know very little about which cats may be susceptible.
What Do I Do If My Pet Is Allergic to Me?
Of course, domesticated cats and dogs don’t really have the option to just not spend time around humans if they have a human allergy. Most pets would not be well-suited to life without people, and there’s no real cure for allergies, so the best option for pets who show symptoms of allergies is to get treatment.
Preventative antihistamines, in the form of a daily pill, are commonly prescribed to help pets with their allergies, although these drugs don’t always work. Edgington reports, “Ultimately, antihistamines only tend to be effective about 30% of the time.”
Oral steroids like Prednisone tend to be more effective than antihistamines, but they come with the potential side effects of lethargy, increased panting and increased hunger.
Lastly, allergy shots are around 60% effective in dogs and up to 78% effective in cats, making them a promising option.
Ultimately, it will be up to you and your vet to determine the best course of action to treat your pet’s allergies. Keep an eye on your dog or cat to see if their new medication makes a difference, and don’t be afraid to try something new if it doesn’t. It’s worth the extra effort to ensure your pet is comfortable and happy!