Pet Allergy Symptoms: Can You Still Keep Your Furry Friends?

May 31, 2019

It’s a tale as old as time. A little girl wakes up on her birthday to discover that her parents have bought her the one gift she really wanted: a soft, cuddly puppy. As he bounds into her open arms, she pulls him close, giggling as he licks her face. Meanwhile, his hair also clings to her clothes, and his dander flies into her eyeballs. 

Minutes later, the little girl begins to sneeze. Her eyes start to itch and water. A rash breaks out wherever the puppy slobbered. It seems like, as cute as the little fluff-ball may be, she’s allergic to him.

But a pet allergy isn’t always as simple as it seems. People who think they have one allergic trigger often have multiple allergic triggers. Before this family decides they can’t keep the puppy, they should rule out all other variables. Maybe the little girl is allergic to dust mites, which cover her bedding. Maybe there’s mold trapped in the heating vents of their home—another potential allergic trigger.

Read on to learn more about how to manage a situation like this one.

What triggers pet allergy reactions?

So what is it about dogs, cats, and other domesticated animals such as horses that makes so many people sneeze?

A common misconception is that animal fur triggers allergic symptoms. But in reality, it’s a combination of skin, fur, and saliva—and more specifically, proteins found in those substances—that is the culprit.

This collection of tiny, lightweight elements is called animal dander. The particles that compose dander are so fine that they can stay in the air for hours, potentially causing symptoms long after the animal has left the room. Dander can even build up on furniture, carpets, mattresses, and clothing, so people who have pets can unknowingly carry the allergens with them everywhere they go, including school or work.

Animal Allergy Symptoms Include

  • Sneezing
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Facial pain (from nasal congestion)
  • Coughing, wheezing, trouble breathing
  • Watery, red, and/or itchy eyes
  • Skin rash, hives

Am I allergic to my dog, cat, or something else?

If you have an animal allergy, your dog, cat, or other pet may not be solely to blame for the symptoms you’re experiencing. For some people, symptoms may only show up when they encounter two or more things they’re allergic to at the same time.

This is known as the symptom threshold, the level at which you start experiencing symptoms. For example, if you’re allergic to dogs, molds, and pollen, you may experience no symptoms until you’re breathing in multiple allergic triggers at the same time.

So in this case, reducing your exposure to molds and pollen might keep you from sneezing and sniffling—without having to rehome that new puppy and delete the Instagram account you definitely already created for him.  

The best way to stay under your symptom threshold is to make an appointment with a healthcare provider, get tested, and find out exactly what you’re allergic to. For example, you may be allergic to a particular protein produced by male dogs that haven’t been neutered. That means you may be able to tolerate exposure to a female dog or a male dog that has been neutered.1

Allergic triggers are complex, and can vary greatly from person to person. And although there’s no cure for allergies, there are things you can do to minimize exposure to triggers.

Allergy Symptom Threshold Explained

Did you know that most people with allergies are sensitized to more than one thing? Watch this video to learn more. 

Pet Allergy Strategies

So your healthcare provider administered a skin-prick test or ordered a specific IgE blood test, and it turns out that you are allergic to your pet. If, as many people are, you’re deeply attached to your furry friend, work with your healthcare provider to create a management plan. While rehoming the pet is the most effective option, you may be able to reduce your allergy symptoms by using the following strategies:2

  • Confine the pet to a room with a polished floor and furniture that can be wiped down.
  • Restrict your furry pet from the bedroom and keep the animal off furniture.
  • Use high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters and vacuum cleaners.
  • Wash your pet weekly in warm water and soap.
  • Keep your furry pet outdoors if weather allows.

By knowing your triggers and how to reduce exposure to them, you’re better prepared for whatever life throws at you—including fluffy puppies and kittens. 

Tools for Understanding Allergies


Track allergy symptoms and prepare for a visit with a healthcare provider.

Learn about specific allergens, including common symptoms, management, and relief. 

Are you a healthcare provider? Get comprehensive information on hundreds of whole allergens and allergen components.

  1. Matricardi PM et al. Pediatric Allergy and Immunology 2016: 27:(suppl23):81.
  2. Discover the connection: Reduce Exposure to Your Allergic Triggers. Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. 2018.