Our offices are now closed. If you have a life-threatening emergency or urgent clinical need, please hang up and dial 911 or go to your nearest emergency department. For non-urgent issues, please click here for our After-Hours Frequently Asked Questions. If you need to request a prescription refill, please contact your pharmacy directly. You may also call us at 704-372-7900 to leave a general voice message or reach our after-hours answering service.

Our new Shelby location is now open for appointments and allergy shots.

Pet Allergies: Symptoms, Causes and What to Do

Today's Pollen Count

Data last updated: 03/01/2024

Detailed pollen information










Pollen and Mold Levels

Pollen counts are updated daily from February 15 to November 15.
Last updated: October 30, 2023
Michael A. Lapuente, DO
Medically reviewed by
Michael A. Lapuente, DO

You love your pet like a member of the family, but what happens when your pet triggers your allergy symptoms? You want to keep living with your pet, but not if that means an itchy, runny nose, congestion, coughing and sneezing all the time. What do you do?

The good news is that it’s possible to get some relief from your pet allergy without giving up your beloved dog or cat. It’s important to understand the causes and symptoms of pet allergies so you can work with an experienced allergist to develop a customized treatment plan.

If you believe you have a pet allergy, this is the article for you. In it, we’ll go over the causes of pet allergies, as well as whether these can just appear one day out of the blue. We’ll also talk about symptoms and ways you can manage your pet allergies with the help of an allergist.

What Causes Pet Allergies?

Allergies to our furry friends are commonplace, especially among individuals who suffer with asthma or additional allergies. In fact, an estimated 30 percent of Americans with allergies are allergic to dogs and cats, with cat allergies occurring about twice as often.

If you have a pet allergy, it doesn’t always mean you’re allergic to the cat or dog themselves. Allergic reactions — or aggravation of asthma symptoms — can result from exposure to a number of substances found on and in pets, including flaked skin, dander, urine and saliva. In addition, furry pets can act as virtual dust mops, bringing in allergens like dust, mold spores and pollen from outside. Pet hair itself does not act as an allergen, but it acts as a carrier for substances that do cause allergic reactions.

In individuals with pet allergies, the immune system overreacts to normally harmless proteins in pets’ skin, urine or saliva. The result is an allergic reaction — and its accompanying miserable symptoms.

Allergens from pets can collect in your home, including on furniture and in carpets, and they can remain at high levels for months.

If your allergy is to your pet, the usual cause isn’t their fur, it’s the pet’s dander. Pet dander is small skin pieces from either dogs or cats. Other animals, such as birds and rodents, also have dander. You typically can’t see pet dander, which is why it may seem like you’re allergic to your pet itself.

In other instances, you may be allergic to the urine or even saliva of a pet as well as its dander. If it’s dander that causes your symptoms, it travels around the house by becoming airborne. The proteins in the pet dander are breathed in by you and other human members of your family. If those loved ones are not allergic, they will have no symptoms, but you will if you are allergic.

Can Pet Allergies Start out of Nowhere?

Almost any allergy can begin during any point in a person’s life. If you get new allergies in adulthood, these are referred to as adult allergies. Adult allergies can include pet allergies, food allergies and pollen allergies. It is possible to own a dog or a cat (or even both) for years and then wake up one day having symptoms from their dander.

What Are the Symptoms of Pet Allergies?

Allergens from your pets set up shop in the membranes lining your nose and eyes, and airborne particles can make their way into your lungs.

Allergic reactions typically occur within a short time after exposure to a pet and can include a number of uncomfortable symptoms such as:

  • Hives and/or skin rash
  • Wheezing and coughing
  • Inability to breathe
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Nasal congestion that can worsen to the point of pain in the face
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Itching and swelling of membranes.
  • Inflamed, irritated eyes.
  • Severe problems with breathing, including wheezing, shortness of breath and coughing

Coming into contact with a cat can cause asthma attacks in up to 30 percent of asthma sufferers, and cat allergies can result in chronic asthma. If you suffer from pet allergies, you’re also more likely to develop sinusitis and other bacterial infections that affect the sinuses.

When to See an Allergist

If you’re suffering from any of the above symptoms, you might not want to believe it’s your pet that’s causing your discomfort. You might try to limit how often you’re outside to combat pollen or change your diet in case it’s a food allergy.

Eventually, you’re left with the reality that more than likely, it’s your beloved pet that’s responsible for your allergy symptoms. An often-recommended treatment for pet allergies is simply avoiding contact with cats and dogs. For many animal lovers, though, pets are part of the family.

Fortunately, there are other steps you can take to reduce your suffering. Even if your symptoms are mild, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with your allergist. It’s possible for your allergies to worsen with time, especially if you’re allergic to cats.

When you do see your allergist, you should discuss your symptoms, including when they began and when they seemed to get worse. Your allergist will review your medical history and may call for a physical exam.

Next, they’ll recommend you’re tested. You may get a simple skin test, where you’re pricked with a needle that contains the allergen and then monitored for a skin reaction. A blood test is another option. In some situations, your allergist may even request you visit a hotel or stay with a family member or friend for a few days. If your allergies abate, then you know it’s because your pet at home is causing your symptoms.

How to Manage Your Pet Allergies

If your allergist has confirmed you have a pet allergy, what can you do? Unfortunately, rehoming your pet is the best option. If that’s what you decide, you will have to thoroughly clean the home. The pet dander can linger even after the pet has left.

For some people, getting rid of their pet is absolutely not an option. In those cases, try these methods:

  • Undergo immunotherapy or take medication to relieve and lessen allergy symptoms.
  • Make sure your pet is regularly brushed, but don’t do this yourself.
  • Get your pet bathed at least weekly to cut back on allergens like dander.
  • Invest in an allergy filter for your air conditioner or heater and run it daily for four hours or more.
  • If you snuggle up with your pet, put on a different outfit afterwards.
  • If you are the one vacuuming up the house, always use a dust mask so you don’t breathe in the dander and other pet allergens.
  • Make sure you get your carpet steam-cleaned semi-often so dander can’t linger.
  • Contemplate ripping out your carpeting and getting hardwood flooring instead; it’s much easier to vacuum up pet dander this way.
  • Have someone else regularly clean the pet’s toys, bed, scratching post and other items they like to use.
  • Keep the pet off the couch and out of the bedroom.

Don’t be mistaken; there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic pet. Just because you’re allergic to cats doesn’t mean all cats cause allergy symptoms. The same is true of dogs. Certain species may make your allergies worse over others. The species that don’t cause allergy symptoms are not hypoallergenic, though.

Remember as well that your allergies can change. A species of cat or dog that did not affect you in years past could now manifest symptoms. That’s why you will have to continuously see your allergist. It may be necessary to modify your pet allergy management plan, especially if you continue living with your pet even though you’re allergic. If your allergies get worse or even get better, your allergist may recommend another treatment.

For Pet Allergy Relief, Come to Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center

If you have pet allergies and feel conflicted on what to do, we suggest you come to us at Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center. It is possible to get relief from your allergy symptoms without necessarily giving up your beloved pet. Whether it’s through one of the measures above or another treatment entirely, why not set up an appointment with one of our allergists?

Here at Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center, we specialize in much more than pet allergies. We can treat or help you manage a variety of allergies and their triggers, including insect allergiesdrug allergiesfood allergies and more. If you have both asthma and allergies, we can alleviate or lessen the symptoms of both conditions.

We have a total of 15 locations throughout the Carolinas, including in CharlotteRock HillGastoniaMonroeCornelius and Hickory so we can better serve you.

When you come in to meet with an allergist at Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center, we will often do tests like patch testing, intradermal testing and/or percutaneous testing to confirm the suspected allergen. This is in addition to a standard discussion about medical history and symptoms. Our allergists may then prescribe allergy shots or immunotherapy, both of which can be useful treatments if you want to keep your pet but not deal with daily allergies.

If you want more information about our services administered here at Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center or you’d like to set up an appointment with one of our allergists, please contact us today. We look forward to helping you live a better life with pet allergies.

Contact Us

To schedule or request an appointment with one of our physicians, please call 704-372-7900