When many people talk about pet allergies, they discuss them all under a blanket term. Pet dander is one of the most common allergens. But some people find themselves having allergic reactions to certain animals and not others. Why are some people allergic to cats and horses, but not allergic to dogs?
The Difference Between Cat and Dog Allergies
Cat and dog allergies are both caused by dander, otherwise known as the dead skin flakes that slough off the coat naturally. Contrary to popular belief, allergies aren’t caused by the fur. Both types of allergies might also be caused by the animal’s saliva. However, there are different proteins at work with each allergy.
What is it about cat dander that causes allergic reactions?
For the most part, an allergic reaction happens in response to proteins in the dander. When the body comes into contact with these proteins, the immune system floods the body with histamines. These histamines trigger chemicals that irritate the sinuses and skin, leading to the classic symptoms of an allergic reaction.
The proteins that occur in a cat allergy tend to be Fel d 4 and Fel d 1. The first protein is found in cat saliva, while the second naturally occurs in the skin of a cat. It’s also found in the sebaceous glands, which means that the protein is present in oils coating the cat’s skin and fur.
Dog allergies tend to happen in response to different proteins, most often Can f 1 or Can f 2. Both proteins are most commonly found in dog saliva, rather than in the skin cells. It’s possible that people are more allergic to cats than dogs because cats secrete their allergy trigger protein more than dogs do.
Some research also indicates that the allergens cats produce may stay in the air longer than dog allergens. This would make them more likely to be breathed in by a human, and subsequently to irritate the immune system.
A shocking 50% of people who enter horse barns say that they experience respiratory symptoms like shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing. Horse dander, like cat and dog dander, has the ability to cause allergic reactions.
It’s possible that having a cat or dog allergy might predispose you to a horse allergy, but there’s no scientific guarantee that you’d be allergic to all three animals. A protein in the blood called albumin can be found in cats, dogs, and horses. If this cross-reactive protein is what’s causing your allergy, you may find that you’re allergic to all three animals. However, if you react to species-specific proteins, you might only be allergic to one or two of the animals.
Signs of an Allergic Reaction
People who have a mild allergic reaction tend to experience symptoms similar to the common cold. They may have nasal congestion, a headache caused by blocked sinuses, a sore throat, and watery eyes. Skin reactions are also common, including rashes and hives. All of these things occur in response to the histamines the immune system releases into the body.
It’s rare for allergic reactions to be more severe, but they can present with respiratory symptoms like wheezing or shortness of breath. A serious allergic reaction like anaphylaxis must be treated at the emergency room immediately.
How to Tell If You’re Allergic to Your Pet
One of the biggest aspects of allergy treatment and management is understanding what you’re allergic to. It’s estimated that most Americans will suffer from some kind of allergy during their lifetime, but many don’t know the root cause.
There are two main types of allergy test: a skin prick test and a blood test. Skin prick tests are the most common and provide the fastest results.
To do a skin prick test, your doctor will apply a small amount of an allergen to your skin and then prick you so the allergen seeps beneath the skin. Within a half hour, you’ll be able to see if you’ve had an allergic reaction or not. Several skin pricks are necessary if you’re testing for many allergens at once.
Blood tests only require one needle prick to test for up to ten allergens at a time. They may be a good idea if you truly have no idea where your allergy is coming from. They’re also recommended for people whose medications might interfere with skin prick tests, along with people who have a history of bad allergic reactions.
There’s currently no cure for horse, cat, or dog allergies. However, there are a number of ways you can minimize the allergy.
If you have a cat or dog at home, you should take appropriate steps to limit your exposure to their dander. This means bathing and grooming them regularly, or having another person groom them if you can’t. It also means washing their bedding regularly and creating pet-free areas of the house. Ideally, your pet should stay out of your bedroom. It might also help to invest in an air purifier.
You might also find symptom relief with antihistamines and nasal sprays. It’s best to talk to your doctor about what’s right for you.
The science of allergy shots is new and evolving more and more with every passing year. Allergy shots are a form of immunotherapy that help train your immune system not to react to allergens. You might want to consider them if your allergies are causing problems in your day-to-day life, especially if traditional therapies aren’t working.
It’s very possible to be allergic to cats and horses without being allergic to dogs. Only a comprehensive allergy test can tell you the exact sources of your allergies.