Do pets get allergies?

A study in 2016 showed that more than half of the world takes care of at least one pet, with dogs being the most popular, followed by cats and then fish. There are also millions of other animals we like to take care of, as you can see here.

Taking care of animals comes along with housing, food, and watching their overall health, which includes inhaling particles that cause allergies, just like people. Let’s take a look at a few different pets to learn about their allergies.

What are airborne allergies?

Respiratory and skin allergic reactions in humans occur when we are exposed to fragments of plants, animals, fungi, or some chemical that activates the immune system’s allergic response. The allergic response was originally evolved to fight off pathogens, but when exposed to allergens, the immune system goes into overdrive fighting off an nonexistent enemy.

We are all familiar with the symptoms of an allergic reaction- inflamed tissues and itchiness are always part of it, possibly along with sneezing, watery eyes, a runny nose, and a few other symptoms. Because all of our immune responses involve the same blood supply, skin, food, and respiratory allergic reactions often feed off each other and occur together regardless of the exposure route, in a condition called atopy. While rare, some allergies can cause the complication of anaphylaxis, which is an extreme allergic reaction that can be deadly.

All allergic reactions can be avoided by avoiding the allergy trigger. Bathing, washing bedding, and vacuuming can help to reduce triggers. Smoke, perfumes, cleaning products like bleach, and other air contaminants can make your pet’s allergies or asthma worse and are best avoided as well.

Do dogs get allergies?

Yes, dogs get allergies just like us.

Dogs are mammals so their immune system is quite similar to a human’s. We even share viruses with them like rabies and influenza, can suffer from some of the same allergy triggers, asthma, anaphylaxis, and atopy.

There are some allergy trends between breeds, though at least one study shows that dog allergies even within the same breed vary significantly depending on the local environment. Dogs do sneeze, but their primary allergic response is itchy skin, even for substances they have inhaled.

Avoidance of the allergy trigger is always the best solution, but your vet can offer oral medication or injections and most pet stores carry antihistamines, creams and other allergy medications formulated for dogs. Do remember that dogs get fevers like we do if their symptoms are the result of a serious infection, so if your dog has a fever, take them to the vet.

Do cats get allergies?

Yes, cats get allergies.

Due to some evolutionary pressure in their past, cats are more resistant to some insect-borne pathogens, but for the most part have the same immune responses as humans and dogs. Cats can develop feline atopic syndrome (FAS) which is a hypersensitivity to specific allergens, though a little different from atopy in humans and dogs.

Just like with dogs, bathing your cat, using a dust-free cat litter, washing their bedding and vacuuming can help to reduce exposure. Vets can prescribe medications, and there are supplements to help. Cats can also experience anaphylaxis and viral or bacterial infections, so if your cat has a fever or any other serious symptom that causes concern, regardless of if it is associated with allergies, bring them to the vet.

Do birds get allergies?

Yes, birds get allergies.

Birds are not mammals, but we shared a common ancestor more than 300 hundred million years ago, which was well after we developed our immune systems. They are warm blooded like us and not too different when compared to all the other forms of life on Earth. Vaccines work on birds because they produce antibodies. 

Most of the research on bird immune systems has been done on chickens, but all birds have an immune system that can have an allergic reaction. Birds suffer primarily from dermatitis that results in plucking feathers and other behavior that comes with itchy skin, and there is evidence that at least some birds get hypersensitivities and anaphylaxis to certain allergens.

The treatment for these problems is a lot like the others. Minimize exposure by keeping the animal and their bedding as clean as is practical. Visit the vet for any medication that might be available because steroids, antihistamines, and similar medications also can be formulated for birds.

Do reptiles get allergies?

Yes, reptiles get allergies.

Reptiles are cold-blooded and different from mammals or birds in many ways. But they still have an immune system with antibodies, though it’s not quite as adaptive as ours. Not that their immune system is any less developed, it’s a lizard’s immune system that plays a vital role in limb regeneration

There hasn’t been a lot of research on their white blood cells and immune biochemistry, but reptiles do have mast cells like ours that release histamine, which is part of what defines an allergic reaction. One study on the African spurred tortoise found it got conjunctivitis (itchy and watery eyes) from exposure to orchard grass, which is also a human respiratory allergy trigger. Reptiles can also get anaphylaxis.

Most reptiles we take care of live in contained areas, so removing any possible allergy triggers for any reptiles you are taking care of should be simple. As with all the other pets, avoid harsh cleaning chemicals which can make allergies worse. If the symptoms seem serious or persistent, seek professional help, though the research on reptile allergy medication is scant.

Do fish get allergies?

Yes, fish get allergies.

It’s thought that the very first antibody-like proteins were assembled in jawed fish 420 million years ago, so all the pets we’ve discussed this far inherited their allergies from a very old fish. Fish of today can acquire immunity to pathogens during their lifetime a lot like all the other pets. At least some fish have histamine-releasing mast cells, which means that antihistamines could be formulated for a fish, if they took pills.

Allergic reactions probably look a little different in fish and there has been very little research into anything but the responses on the cellular level, though anaphylaxis is still a problem for them.

 

Airborne allergy triggers are something we need to manage for ourselves and our pets. Removing dust that can harbor pollen fragments, mold spores, chemicals, car exhaust, and a host of other substances will help yours and your pet’s immune system to fight pathogens instead of allergens.

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Written by

Haldane King is a molecular biologist by education, a statistician by training, and a researcher by nature. He spent 15 years in the market research world helping to grow all types of companies from pharmaceuticals to software to insurance. Haldane has researched the world of air quality, air pollution, and air purifiers at Molekule and now proudly attends to the Molekule.Science blog.