Allergy to pets

It seems like more and more people are developing allergies. Allergies to house dust mites, pollen or grasses, cow’s milk or gluten are common. In principle, anyone can develop an allergy to pets. The speed at which an allergy to animals develops varies from animal to animal. A rodent allergy can occur very quickly and be severe , an allergy to cats takes a little longer to develop and an allergy to dogs takes years to develop.

Symptoms of a pet allergy

Depending on the age of a patient, a pet allergy can cause slightly different symptoms. In very young children, redness of the skin is noticeable. Itchy bumps often develop when touched. These complaints can persist for up to two weeks after contact with the animal. Symptoms in an older patient are sneezing, sniffling and tearing eyes. Eventually shortness of breath also occurs. With chronic complaints such as a chronically blocked nose, headache and recurring respiratory infections, it is more difficult to recognize an allergy as the underlying cause.

Which animals?

In principle, someone can become allergic to any animal. However, allergies to some animals are much more common and occur earlier than allergies to other animals. A cat is more likely to show allergy symptoms than a dog. Even one-year-olds can be severely allergic to cats. For dogs, you often only see allergy symptoms in children at the age of five to six. It just takes a lot longer for you to develop an allergy to dogs. An allergy to rodents builds up the quickest. If you have a predisposition for this, you can be allergic within six months. In contrast, an allergy to cows is hardly diagnosed in the Netherlands, but in principle you can become allergic to any animal.

What are people allergic to?

In cats, the main substance – the allergen – to which sensitive people mount an allergic reaction is the Fel d 1 protein, which is formed by the cat in the sebaceous glands of its skin. Fel d 1 is also found in the saliva of cats. So – contrary to what is sometimes thought – it is not cat hair to which an allergy occurs. In dogs, the main allergen – the Can f 1 protein – is mainly found in the dog’s saliva and not so much in the dander. A dog that licks a person sensitive to dog allergens – i.e. an allergic person – can cause a local skin reaction with redness and swelling in that person.
You almost always see that an allergy to a pet arises in patients with a general atopic predisposition (a hereditary susceptibility to allergies). In addition, an allergy to, for example, house dust mites and an allergy to cats appears to be strongly linked, more so than with a dog. People who are known to have an allergy to certain respiratory allergens, but who are not yet sensitive to cats, would still be wise not to adopt a cat as a pet, as the chance that they will still become allergic to cats is high.

The animal out of the house or not?

Whether the pet in question for which an allergy has been diagnosed should be removed depends on the severity of the symptoms and is a very personal choice. However, it is advisable to get rid of rodents and cats immediately if you detect an allergy to these animals. A dog generally has less serious allergy problems, so it can remain in certain cases. Keep in mind that cat allergen can continue to circulate in the environment for a long time and can therefore continue to cause complaints in allergic people – even after the cat has left the house for a long time.


There are many fanfare stories going around about types of animals that are said to be allergen-free and therefore suitable for allergy sufferers. It is a widespread misunderstanding that long-haired animals cause more allergy complaints: the opposite is true. A short-haired animal causes many more complaints, this especially applies to cats. This has to do with the skin flakes. And it seems that short-haired animals release more dander into the environment than long-haired animals. Dogs with a special coat specially bred for allergy sufferers, such as the Labradoodle or genetically modified cats, do not seem to be the solution because allergies can also occur to other products such as animal saliva.

‘Second-hand’ home

It is known that cat allergen can remain in a home for a very long time. After the cat has left, it is sometimes still detectable after two years. People who get rid of their cat due to allergy complaints should take this into account. Allergic people who move into another, second-hand house are advised to inquire whether the house has ever been occupied by a cat.

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