|Animal dander is the material shed from the body of animals that have fur, feathers, or hair, similar to dandruff when excess flakes or loose skin becomes visible / Photo by: RJ22 via Shutterstock|
You may love your furry friends, but their skin and fur may not show you the same love. More specifically speaking, it’s their animal dander that’s been known to be the culprit.
Animal dander is the material shed from the body of animals that have fur, feathers, or hair, similar to dandruff when excess flakes or loose skin becomes visible. Dander is composed of microscopic flecks of skin from animals. This triggers allergens, causing sneezing, congestion, eczema, hives and other allergic reactions.
These are scientifically named proteins: Fel d I in cats and Can f I and Can f II in dogs. But, as part of a natural sense of preservation, we try to avoid getting into any situation that triggers similar or even worse reactions. Hence, alternatives are sought in hypoallergenic animals.
Asthma Risk amidst Cat and Dog Ownership
According to an article written by Lindsey Konkel featured in Live Science, a science news website, the American College of Allergy for Asthma and Immunology states that an estimated 10% of people are allergic to household pets, with cat allergies twice as common as dog allergies. Among younger children, one in seven between ages 6 and 19 are allergic to cats.
Watery eyes and itchiness are actually caused by protein found on the skin of animals, and not their fur, contrary to popular belief. Cat allergies are more common compared to dog allergies as the size and shape of their protein molecules are created in a way that cats shed more dander, an insight shared by Mark Larche, an immunology professor at McMaster University, Ontario.
The protein that enters the hair and skin of cats are smaller and lighter, one-tenth of the size of a dust allergen, which can stay airborne for multiple hours. With dogs, these allergens are larger, and don’t stay airborne in the same way and for the same amount of time as for the cats. Additionally, this protein is sticky, easily sticking to human skin, clothes, and remaining there for a significant amount of time. This makes the protein present everywhere, even reaching places without cats and lasting up to six months.
Larche mentions that there are no truly hypoallergenic cat breeds as all cats produce the same protein, with certain breeds producing more than others, and with direct correlation to the testosterone levels of the cat (in neutered and unneutered males compared to females). Allergists the Asthma Centers of Fredicksburg and Fairfax, Virginia explain that testosterone increases glandular secretions, producing more protein and dander.
|Dander is composed of microscopic flecks of skin from animals. This triggers allergens, causing sneezing, congestion, eczema, hives and other allergic reactions / Photo by: Antonio Guillem via Shutterstock|
There are no completely hypoallergenic animals, but there are several breeds that produce and release fewer allergens into the air due to their type of fur and composition of skin. Poodles are known to be one of the hypoallergenic options for dogs. This dog comes in different shapes and sizes, with a curly coat making dander more difficult to reach the air. Additionally, poodles don’t actually grow fur, they grow hair like most humans do, but its hair must still be maintained and groomed every two months.
Moreover, cats are responsible for more allergies than any other domesticated animal, but there are still a few tolerated by allergy sufferers. The Sphynx is a bald cat that doesn’t shed any fur or hair, so not many allergens from the cat’s saliva reach your floors or around your home. The Sphynx needs to be bathed frequently to remove the oil that builds up on its skin.
Fish, Turtles, Lizards, Geckos, and Iguanas, although may have a small number of reported cases causing allergic reactions, do not shed dander, but may develop mold due to their moist habitat. Pigs, like Poodles, have hair, not fur, and are the best choice for allergy sufferers. They are smart and trainable animals, but may grow to be exceptionally large. Hamsters, Gerbils, Guinea Pigs and Mice can set allergies off, but because these are usually kept in small cages, are less likely to cause allergic reactions. Birds are another choice that don’t cause too many allergies. Although they have allergens and dander in their saliva, droppings, and even in their feathers, birds are often not in constant proximity to allergy sufferers. With rabbits, it is best to avoid longer-haired bunnies, and groom these pets often as rabbits still cause allergic reactions.
American Veterinarian, a company providing news and expert commentary on research improving the veterinary practice, shared that 5.4% of children have asthma by the age of 6, but children who have female dogs have a 16% lower risk of developing asthma than those with male dogs. The number of dogs or the gender of the dog did not increase risk of asthma at all. Those with two or more dogs had 21% lower risk of asthma than those with just one.
Studies found that exposure to dogs and hypoallergenic pets were tied to a 26% higher risk of allergy, but with no increased risk of asthma.
If you do have pets that are not the most hypoallergenic, steps can be taken to minimize secretions. You could limit their presence in certain rooms and areas of the house with allergic individuals. Use high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters or regularly bathe the animals. Allergy shots may also be an option, if no other solutions are available. Small injections over time can help build the immune system and develop tolerance. According to Dr. Jackie Eghrari-Sabet, allergist and founder of Family Allergy and Asthma Care Gaithersburg, “It takes about six months of weekly injections of increasing potency to reach maintenance level, followed by three to five years of monthly injections, for the therapy to reach full effectiveness.” Other solutions include a cat allergy vaccine, which Larche, among several other researchers, is developing. It is on Phase 3 of its clinical trials.
|Fish, Turtles, Lizards, Geckos, and Iguanas, although may have a small number of reported cases causing allergic reactions, do not shed dander, but may develop mold due to their moist habitat / Photo by: Ivan Smuk via Shutterstock|