Pet Dander Allergy - What causes it and how to find relief?

September 2023   Luke Lemons  |  ✓  Medically Reviewed by:  Gary Falcetano, PA-C, AE-C

The classic pet-owner tragedy: loving your furry friend, yet also suffering allergy symptoms because of them. For the many people with pet allergies, it's believed that the only way to be around a dog or a cat is to either (1) have a stockpile of allergy medications or (2) outright forgo bringing a pet into their home.

And who can blame them when pet allergies can cause a slew of allergy symptoms, such as runny nose, nasal congestion, itchy eyes, and sneezing? Not to mention that pet allergies can also contribute to asthma attacks and other asthma symptoms.1-3

However, thanks to scientific research around “pet allergen components,” we now know more important information about what causes pet allergy symptoms helping those with pet allergies find new solutions and management options that allow them to breathe easier around dogs or cats.

What are pet dander allergies?

Because of their popularity, dogs and cats are some of the most common pets that cause allergies (that's not to say that your friendly rabbit, guinea pig, or horse isn't to blame). Contrary to popular belief, it's not the fur of a pet that often causes allergy symptoms, but the pet dander found on the loose fur. And like humans, pets shed dead skin cells, so even when there is no fur to be found, there still may be allergens lurking around the house.

However, it's not just this dead skin that can cause someone with pet allergies to react, it is also possible for pet salvia to cause reactions, meaning all those loving "kisses" that your dog or cat give can potentially cause symptoms like itchy skin or skin rashes.1,2 On top of that, allergens can also be in pet urine, which can be carried on their fur and then become airborne (gross, we know).

All this due to the allergens found within the animal's dander and saliva.2 But what is it in these allergens that cause pet allergy symptoms? The answer is pet allergen components.

What are pet allergen components?

Imagine a cat allergen as a giant jigsaw puzzle made up of smaller pieces. The complete jigsaw puzzle is called the whole allergen, and the individual pieces are called allergen components.

For a long time, healthcare providers were only able to test whether someone was sensitized to the whole allergen. However, it's now possible to use a convenient allergen blood test and help uncover if someone has a potential allergy to one or multiple of the allergen components.

Why do allergen components matter if you have pet allergies? Well, understanding if you have an allergy to different types of allergen components can help healthcare providers better understand your symptoms and even indicate if allergic reactions are due to something outside of the whole allergen.1,2

For example, imagine if you were allergic to just one piece (allergen component) of the greater cat whole allergen "jigsaw." If you're only tested to see if you have a potential allergy to the whole allergen, then you would never know what specifically in that allergen you are allergic to, meaning you have less information to use in helping alleviate symptoms.

Whole allergen compared to allergen components

How can pet allergen components help with allergy treatment?

There are four cat and six dog allergen components that healthcare providers can blood test for, and they all provide valuable information that every feline fanatic or canine connoisseur with pet allergies should know.

Cat allergy

Cat allergen components provide an array of information on cat allergies and other food or respiratory diseases.1-3 Some of these components can indicate if someone is at a high risk of developing asthma or if they might have pork-cat syndrome, which is a type of allergy that arises from eating pork.2 Cat allergen components also help allergists optimize their immunotherapy so that they can administer the most relevant allergy shots.1-3

It's worth noting that the Fel d 1 cat allergen component, which is produced in a cat's salivary and sebaceous glands, can be transferred to a cat's fur and dander through licking and grooming. Therefore, as a cat sheds, Fel d 1 becomes scattered around your home and on your clothes.

Interestingly enough, you can reduce this allergen by feeding your cat Purina Pro Plan LiveClear cat food, which neutralize Fel d 1 and helps to reduce the allergen on its fur and dander by an average 47% by the 3rd week of feeding.4 Meaning, by simply changing your cat's diet, you can reduce exposure to allergens, snuggle up with your feline friend, and breathe easier.

Dog allergy

Similar to cat allergen-components, dog allergen components can provide information to healthcare providers that help them decide on the best types of allergy shots to use during immunotherapy. Dog allergen components also help with determining how at risk someone may be for severe asthma, allowing them to understand how risky it may be to bring a dog into their home.1-3

Contrary to popular belief, hypoallergenic dogs aren't "allergen free."2 Many of these types of dogs, such as the poodle, simply shed less meaning that there is less animal dander floating about. All breeds produce the proteins that make up the allergens found in saliva, urine, and dander, and while these levels can vary, there is no such thing as a completely "allergen free" pup.2

However, the "Can f 5" dog-allergen component is only produced in male dogs, meaning that if you are only allergic to that specific component you may be able to tolerate a female dog and have less allergic reactions, which is why it's valuable to get tested with allergen components if you are considering adopting a dog.1-3

How can I manage my allergies to pets?

Managing your pet allergies starts with gaining a better understanding of them (knowledge is power!), which means the first step in your road to relief should be getting tested for sensitization to pet allergens and their components in order to know more about your health and to develop an impactful management plan. How to get allergy tested.

After you and your healthcare provider have your allergy blood test results, you can both work on reducing exposure to pet allergens in some of these ways:2-4

  • Try to keep pets out of your bedroom or highly frequented areas, such as the home office or kitchen, helping to reduce allergen levels.
  • Clean/wipe down furniture or surfaces that your pet likes to lounge on. (Cats love a warm computer, don't forget the keyboard!)
  • Consider vacuums or air cleaners that contain HEPA filters, which help control airborne allergens originating from pet dander. · Bathe your pet regularly. The Humane Society recommends that people with allergies should wash their cat or dog about once a week.
  • If you are sensitive to the Fel d 1 cat allergen-component, consider changing your cat's food to Purina Pro Plan LiveClear, which helps neutralize that allergen component.
  • If you are allergic to the Can f 5 dog allergen-component, consider adopting a female dog since that component is only produce in male dogs.
  • For cats, move the litter box to a room with polished floors so it's easier to clean up dander.
  • For dogs, be sure to wash your hands after playing fetch or after a round of tug-a-war since allergens can also be found in dog saliva.

Owning or considering a pet that you think you're allergic to can be difficult, but there are ways to manage and control your allergic symptoms, and it all starts with getting a convenient blood test for sensitization to pet allergens and components. Talk to your healthcare provider today about getting blood tested for pet allergen components, and be sure to try out our allergy symptom tracker to ensure you arrive at your appointment prepared to have an informative conversation about your potential pet allergy.

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  1. Dramburg S. et al. EAACI Molecular Allergology User's Guide 2.0. Pediatr Allergy Immunol. 2023 Mar;34 Suppl 28:e13854; pg. 242-248.
  2. Dávila I. et al. Consensus document on dog and cat allergy. Allergy. 2018 Jun;73(6):1206-1222.
  3.  Schoos AM, Nwaru BI, Borres MP. Component-resolved diagnostics in pet allergy: Current perspectives and future directions. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2021 Apr;147(4):1164-1173.
  4. “Managing Cat Allergens - Landmark Purina Study.” Purina, Accessed 14 Aug. 2023.