If you're one of the many people who has an empty home because you're allergic to dogs, science might have an answer. Neuter your male pup or opt for a female dog.
"Up to 30% of people who are allergic to dogs are actually allergic to one specific protein that's made in the prostate of a dog," said Dr. Lakiea Wright, an allergist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
While the protein was identified years ago, a reliable blood test for the allergen was only approved by the US Food and Drug Administration last May.
"If you're allergic to only that specific protein in the male dog, you may be able to tolerate a female or neutered dog," Wright said.
Allergies to animals with fur are common, especially in people who have asthma or other allergies such as pollen or dust. Three in 10 people with any allergy will also be allergic to their cat or dog, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
People who have dog allergies react to proteins found in dog urine, saliva and dander. The proteins are spread into the air when a dog scratches or even moves around, or they're deposited into your clothes, furniture or carpet. When you breathe them in, it can trigger symptoms.
People can be allergic to one or more of the five dog proteins but not others, which may affect which breed or gender will send you into a sneezing fit.
Because all dogs make one or more types of proteins, there truly is no such thing as a "hypoallergenic" dog, Wright said. If you don't have a dog and are thinking of getting one, there's really no such thing as one that is hypoallergenic. Some dogs shed less, however, so there's less dander, which can mean fewer symptoms. Hence, the popularity of doodles.
"When we suspect a dog allergy, we're testing for that whole allergen," Wright explained. "But then we're also looking at specific proteins, the parts that make up the whole, to refine that diagnosis." There are two types of allergy testing: traditional whole allergen testing, which can be skin prick or blood testing, and component testing, which is done only by blood test. Component testing determines the specific proteins you're allergic to. There are six dog proteins available for testing, as well as component testing for cats and horses. Testing is based on your symptoms.
In the male dog, a protein called Can f 5 is made in the prostate. When the dog urinates, the protein can spread to the skin and hair throughout the body.
"These proteins are very lightweight, so they get dispersed in the air as the animal moves around," Wright said, "They can also stay in the air for a long time and land on our furniture, mattress, even our clothes."
Because we carry those on our clothes, pet allergens can be found in homes and other places where a pet has never been.
If you have a pet allergy and want to live in peace with your dog, here are some tips to reduce symptoms, according to Wright and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America:
- Change your clothes after you've been around any dogs or cats.
- Ask a family member without a pet allergy to clean litter boxes or bedding and brush the pet outside.
- Keep your pet out of the bedroom. And consider a HEPA air cleaner in there, but first clean aggressively -- pet allergens can hang around for months.
- Dog and cat allergens are "sticky" and can remain in wall-to-wall carpet. Remove it if possible, and scrub the walls and woodwork. "Bare floors and walls are best."
- Vacuums stir up any allergens that have settled, so wear a mask and use a vacuum with a certified filter. Also use a certified filter for central heat and air units.
- Be sure to visit a specialist to check out your allergies. They may be able to recommend medications or immunotherapy treatments.
- Wash your hands and clothes after coming in contact with a dog.
- Give your dog regular baths.
- Clean your home often because allergens are sticky and cling to carpet and furniture.
- Have someone without a pet allergy brush your pet outside.
If you or a loved one are experiencing any symptoms of a pet allergy, please contact Allergy & Asthma Center of Montana. Go online to learn more or schedule your appointment today! Allergy Asthma Center Montana