An Overview of Dog Allergies

Dog licking woman's face

Hero Images/Getty Images

If you are allergic to dogs or to a specific dog, you can develop a variety of symptoms triggered by dog exposure. A runny nose, coughing. or itchy eyes are among the most common effects of a dog allergy.

You might know that you have a dog allergy based on the time course of your reaction. But the situation can be very confusing, particularly if you have frequent contact with dogs.

Regularly bathing the dog may reduce your allergic reaction, but some people have persistent symptoms. You may need to avoid the dog or take allergy medication if you can't avoid dog exposure.

Symptoms

A dog allergy can affect children or adults. This type of allergy can trigger a variety of effects, including respiratory symptoms and skin reactions.

You may begin to notice a pattern of symptoms that occurs whenever you spend time with dogs or with a certain dog. And clothes, furniture, carpet, or other materials that a dog came in contact with can trigger an allergic reaction as well.

In general, symptoms of a dog allergy usually begin within an hour of exposure and last between a few minutes to a few hours.

Common symptoms of a dog allergy include:

  • Itchy, runny, or stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Red, itchy, or watery eyes
  • Coughing
  • A sore throat
  • Itchy skin
  • A skin rash (it can be anywhere on your skin, not just on the area of direct contact)

Asthma can be exacerbated by dog allergies. You or your child may have an asthma attack, characterized by wheezing and shortness of breath when exposed to dogs.

In rare instances, a person can experience anaphylaxis—a severe allergic reaction, characterized by throat swelling and trouble breathing. This is an emergency that requires urgent medical attention.

Dog-Induced Symptoms Unrelated to Allergies

Keep in mind that a dog allergy should not cause fevers, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, skin wounds, blisters, or swelling. Dogs can transmit other illnesses to humans that cause effects different from those of allergies.

Some people experience severe anxiety when around dogs—this is a phobia and not an allergic reaction.

Causes

A person can be allergic to all dogs or to certain dog breeds. While there is no such thing as a non-allergenic dog, smaller dogs and breeds with shorter hair can cause fewer allergies than other breeds.

Your allergy can be triggered by dog fur, saliva, urine, feces, vomit, blood, or dander. Pet dander is very small material shed by pets, and it is composed of dead skin cells. Dander may lodge in fabric, triggering an allergic reaction even when the pet is not in the same room.

Immune Reaction

A dog allergy occurs due to dog allergens that induce an inflammatory reaction. An allergen is a harmless substance that triggers the body's immune system to react as if there were an infection.

The major dog allergen, Can f 1, is primarily found in dog saliva. Can f 2, Can f 3, Can f 4, and Can f 6 are found in dog fur . Dog albumin, another allergen, is a protein found in the blood. With a dog allergy, one or more dog allergen's triggers the activation of white blood cells and an antibody product called immunoglobulin E (IgE).

IgE induces more inflammatory cells, such as basophils, and proteins that cause the physical responses experienced during an allergic reaction. This is a temporary reaction, lasting between a few minutes to a few hours. But recurrent or constant exposure to the allergens can make the reaction last for a while.

Diagnosis

It can be very difficult to diagnose a dog allergy. Not only are dog allergies less common than cat allergies, but other health problems caused by dog exposure are also much more common than dog allergies are.

If you notice that your symptoms begin during or after exposure to a dog, be sure to talk to your doctor. You may need to have a blood test to measure your IgE levels, or a skin prick test to check your reaction to dog allergens.

There are a number of other health issues that you can develop due to dog exposure, and the management of these health issues differs from the management of dog allergies.

Conditions you can get from dogs include:

  • Poison ivy: This is a rash caused by a hypersensitive reaction to the poison ivy plant. This rash is triggered by touching the plant or coming into contact with oil from the surface of the plant. Poison ivy causes an itchy, red, blistery rash that can develop anywhere on your body (including the eyes). You can get this rash by coming into contact with the plant's oils—which can be present on your dog's skin. Keep in mind that your dog may also experience itching and severe distress due to poison ivy.
  • Fleas: Dogs can have fleas and may transmit them to humans. Fleas are tiny insects that can bite your skin, especially under your hair. They can cause itching and red spots on your skin.
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) infections: There are a number of GI infections that you can catch from coming into contact with a dog's feces. if the infectious microorganism (usually a bacteria, virus, or parasite) gets into your mouth, you can become very sick. These infections can cause stomach aches, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle aches, and fevers. Giardia, salmonella, and cryptosporidium are examples of infections you can catch from a dog.

    Treatment

    Depending on the severity of your allergy, you may be able to make a few adjustments that can prevent and alleviate your symptoms. Strategies that can help prevent your symptoms include keeping your dog clean, vacuuming dog hair, and making sure that there is no dog urine and feces inside your home. However, these precautions may be impractical. For example, if you need to bath your dog every day, this can be excessive for both you and your dog.

    In some instances, taking allergy medications or getting allergy shots on a regular basis can help prevent your symptoms.

    Despite all the best precautions, some people have severe allergies and absolutely cannot be around dogs. It may take some time for you and your doctor to assess the approach that works best for you.

    If you cannot live with your dog anymore or if you have moved into a home that is triggering your dog allergy, you may need to change the carpet, drapes, and other fabrics to completely eliminate the allergens from your environment.

    Treatment of Dog-Induced Infections

    If you develop an infection due to dog exposure, you and your dog will need to be treated with antibiotics or anti-parasitic treatment. Be sure to take your dog to a veterinarian and to see a doctor for your infection too.

    Keep in mind that the medications and doses for you and your dog will be different.

    A Word From Verywell

    Despite these allergic reactions, dogs are more likely to be good for your health than to cause problems. Some experts suggest that young children who live with dogs are less likely to develop allergies later in life . Dogs can also help a person with vision problems and some dogs can be trained to help people who have epilepsy.

    While dog allergies are not common, the effects can be distressing. If you are allergic to a dog, it is important that you take care of your health, even if that means parting from a beloved dog.

    Was this page helpful?

    Article Sources

    1. Wintersand A, Asplund K, Binnmyr J, Holmgren E, Nilsson OB, Gafvelin G, Grönlund H.Allergens in dog extracts: Implication for diagnosis and treatment.Allergy. 2019 Mar 19. doi: 10.1111/all.13785. [Epub ahead of print]

    2. Marrs T, Logan K, Craven J, Radulovic S, McLean WHAI, Lack G,et al. Dog ownership at three months of age is associated with protection against food allergy.Allergy. 2019 May 11. doi: 10.1111/all.13868. [Epub ahead of print]

    Additional Reading