Home Diseases Animal dander allergy: symptoms, treatment, course

Animal dander allergy: symptoms, treatment, course

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 354 views

Watery eyes, a runny or stuffy nose or skin rashes after contact with an animal? The reason may be an animal hair allergy. Read here which pets most often cause allergies, when you should see a doctor and what helps against the symptoms.

ICD codes for this disease:

ICD codes are internationally valid codes for medical diagnoses. They can be found, for example, in doctor’s letters or on certificates of incapacity for work.


quick overview

  • Symptoms : sneezing, runny or stuffy nose , red eyes, itchy rash
  • Treatment: Anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic nasal sprays, tablets and ointments, avoidance of the offending animal, desensitization
  • Course: If left untreated, an allergy to animal dander can develop into allergic asthma, and the allergy rarely heals spontaneously
  • Description: Allergic reaction after contact with animals
  • Causes and risk factors: The cause is not the hair itself, but proteins from the animal’s saliva , sweat, sebum or urine
  • Diagnostics: skin prick test, blood test, provocation test
  • Prevent: Avoid animal contact, animal-free environment

How do you recognize an animal dander allergy?

An allergy to animal dander typically occurs immediately after contact with an animal. Symptoms usually develop within a few minutes. The respiratory tract and the skin are primarily affected . The symptoms of an animal dander allergy are similar to those of a pollen allergy ( hay fever ). In contrast to pollen allergies, allergies to animal hair occur all year round.

The following symptoms are signs of an animal hair allergy:

  • Sneezing, runny or stuffy nose without other signs of a cold
  • Red, itchy or watery eyes (conjunctivitis)
  • Cough
  • Rash, redness of the skin
  • swelling of the eyelids (eyelid oedema)
  • itchy bumps on the skin (hives)
  • Pimples on the skin (due to skin irritation)
  • Scratches caused by animals swell greatly
  • headache and/or sore throat
  • difficulty concentrating
  • Insomnia caused by sleeping with your mouth open

In severe cases, an animal dander allergy can lead to the following symptoms:

  • shortness of breath
  • asthma attack
  • Anaphylactic shock

In severe cases, an allergic reaction to pet dander causes a life-threatening allergic shock (anaphylactic shock) with symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or a drop in blood pressure. In the worst case, it leads to respiratory and circulatory arrest. Anyone who develops symptoms such as shortness of breath, tingling in the palms of their hands and soles of their feet, dizziness or sweating should call an ambulance immediately!

Effects and possible sequelae of an animal allergy

Be sure to take signs of an animal dander allergy seriously to avoid health consequences:

  • If the animal dander allergy remains untreated, the risk of allergic asthma increases.
  • Symptoms of neurodermatitis (atopic eczema) can worsen.
  • Animal dander and bird feathers are ideal breeding grounds for dust mites, which increases the risk of dust mite allergy.
  • An aquarium in the home increases the humidity: mites and mold thrive better and the risk of allergies increases.
  • The animal’s environment also plays a role: shrimps in fish feed or mold in the hay of rodents are also considered potential triggers for allergies.

What can you do about an animal dander allergy?

If signs of an animal dander allergy appear, it is important to act quickly. Timely treatment is the only way to prevent the symptoms from getting worse and prevent the allergy from developing into allergic asthma.

What can you do if you have an animal hair allergy?

In the case of mild symptoms such as mild conjunctivitis (without suspicion of asthma), the following tips will help to alleviate the symptoms:

  • If possible, keep the animal outside the living area. If that is not possible, make sure that it is at least not in the bedroom.
  • Don’t let the animal lick you!
  • Wash your hands immediately after contact with the animal.
  • Groom the coat outside of the living area.
  • Wash the animal regularly or wipe it with a damp cloth. How to reduce the spread of allergens.
  • Avoid “dust collectors” such as carpets, upholstered furniture, stuffed animals, pillows and curtains.
  • Remove allergens from clothing with a clothes roller.
  • Wash clothing, bed linen and other textiles regularly at at least 60 degrees.
  • Vacuum and mop furniture and floors daily.
  • Use a vacuum cleaner with non-allergenic HEPA filters; Wash vacuums remove more allergens than dry vacuums.
  • Ventilate the living space regularly to reduce the concentration of allergens in the air.
  • Avoid close contact with the allergy-causing animal.
  • Avoid indirect contact with animals, such as visiting households with animals.


Medications relieve the acute symptoms of an animal dander allergy. However, they only combat the symptoms, but do not cure the allergy. They are not suitable for permanent use. Despite medication, the symptoms can get worse because the allergy persists.

nasal sprays and eye drops

Antiallergic nasal sprays and eye drops contain antihistamines or mast cell stabilizers. They prevent the body’s own substance histamine from triggering an allergic reaction.

If the symptoms are more severe, the doctor will also prescribe nose drops or eye drops with the active ingredient cortisone. They have a decongestant and anti-inflammatory effect.

allergy tablets

Antihistamines also come in tablet form. They work longer and throughout the body.

Ointments containing cortisone

The doctor treats skin rashes caused by allergies with cortisone-containing ointments.

separation from the animal

The easiest and most efficient way to reduce the symptoms of an animal dander allergy and to avoid the development of asthma is the so-called “allergy avoidance”. It consists in avoiding contact with the animal. For some of those affected, this means separation from the pet.

After the animal has moved out, it can still take some time for the symptoms to subside: allergens are still present in textiles for months, even after the apartment has been thoroughly cleaned.


A so-called hyposensitization, colloquially also called desensitization or allergy vaccination, is only carried out by the doctor in exceptional cases in the case of animal hair allergies. The reason for this is that avoiding allergies is usually quite possible. If the symptoms are very severe or if contact with animals is unavoidable, the doctor will suggest hyposensitization. This is the case, for example, with visually impaired people with a guide dog or veterinarians.

With this treatment, also known as “specific immunotherapy” (SIT), the patient receives the allergen in increasing doses over a period of at least three years, either as an injection or as a tablet. This “trains” the immune system: it gets used to the substance, which is harmless to the body, and no longer classifies it as dangerous. Allergic reactions decrease over time or do not occur at all. However, hyposensitization does not guarantee that the patient will then be completely allergy-free and thus completely cured.

While hyposensitization in pollen and house dust mite allergies has been well tested and is promising, little research has been done on it in animal dander allergies. According to the current state of knowledge, it works best for cat hair allergies. However, since it takes at least three years for good results to be achieved, this form of therapy is usually not an option for allergy sufferers who already own an animal. It is also known that side effects such as asthma attacks occur more frequently in the treatment of animal hair allergies.

home remedies

Various home remedies can help to temporarily relieve the symptoms of an animal dander allergy:

nasal douche

Mix ¼ teaspoon of salt with ¼ teaspoon of baking soda and dissolve in a cup of warm water. Now fill the solution into a nasal douche (available in the pharmacy). Hold your head over a sink and tilt it to one side. Pour the solution into the higher nostril and drain down the lower nostril and down the throat. Spit out the rest and blow your nose carefully.

Inhalation with thyme

Thyme contains the active ingredient thymol. It has an anti-inflammatory effect and thus relieves swelling in the respiratory tract. Pour 2 cups of boiling water over ¼ cup of dried thyme and let the mixture steep, covered, for 2 hours. Then remove the lid and inhale the vapors deeply through your nose several times.

Home remedies have their limits. If the symptoms persist over a longer period of time, do not get better or even get worse, you should always consult a doctor.


Euphrasia and Acidum formicicum are described as homeopathic remedies for allergic symptoms.

The concept of homeopathy and its specific effectiveness are controversial in science and not clearly proven by studies.

Can you suddenly get an animal dander allergy? Can pet dander allergy go away?

An allergy to a pet can develop suddenly. Even people who have lived in a household with a pet for years without any problems sometimes develop an allergy to animal hair from one day to the next. The reason for this is unclear.

People who are already sensitive or allergic to other substances such as pollen or dust mites generally have an increased risk of an animal dander allergy. It is not known exactly what causes the allergy to break out. Experts assume that a certain genetic predisposition plays a role.

Pet dander allergies tend to get worse over time. If they remain untreated, the risk for those affected of developing allergic asthma increases. In this case, the doctor speaks of a “change of floors”: The inflammatory processes spread from the upper to the lower airways ( lungs and bronchi).

The severity of the symptoms varies and can change over the course of life. Children are often more sensitive to allergens because their immune systems are not yet fully developed. However, allergies in infants and young children can sometimes go away on their own after a few years.

It happens that allergies get better with age. Experts suspect that the reason for this is a weakening immune system, which is becoming less and less sensitive. However, how an animal dander allergy will develop in each individual – whether it will improve or worsen – cannot be predicted.

What is an animal dander allergy?

An animal dander allergy is an allergic reaction after contact with an animal. It is the third most common allergy after pollen and house dust mite allergies. In principle, any animal with fur or feathers that lives closely with humans can trigger an allergy. Cats are the most common cause of animal dander allergies, followed by guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits, rats, mice, horses, cattle and dogs. But allergies are also triggered by feathers, bird droppings and fish food.

Those affected are often not only allergic to a single animal species, but to two or more species at the same time. For example, around 30% of all cat allergy sufferers are allergic to another animal species, 20% even to several animal species.

Cats: In most cases of animal dander allergy, people are allergic to cats. The allergens are found in the saliva, in the sebaceous and anal glands, the skin and the tear fluid. When cleaning, the cat distributes the allergens in the coat. Since they are very small and light, they adhere well to dust particles, thus getting into the air of the room, where they can float for a long time. Allergy sufferers therefore often react to cat allergens even though the cat is not in the same room.

Birds: The allergens are mainly found in the feathers and bird droppings. Mites in the plumage can also cause allergic symptoms. In these cases, those affected are often allergic to house dust mites.

Guinea pigs: In people who are allergic to guinea pigs, the immune system forms antibodies against proteins in the urine.

Rabbits, hamsters: In rabbits and hamsters, the allergens are mainly found in the urine, dander and fur.

Mice and rats: Severe allergic reactions are possible in sensitive individuals, especially in mice and rats. The allergens are in the urine.

Dog: Dogs are generally less allergenic than cats. The allergens are found in the skin, hair, saliva and urine.

Materials of animal origin (e.g. horsehair mattresses or duvets) are also possible triggers for allergies!

Which animals can you keep as an allergy sufferer?

Animal hair allergies mainly come from animals that have fur or feathers. All produce proteins that can potentially lead to allergic reactions. However, symptoms do not always appear.

Reptiles such as lizards or snakes or fish do not trigger allergies themselves. Allergic reactions are still possible when dealing with these animals: Food animals (grasshoppers) and fish food (crabs) often contain allergens. The allergy-triggering particles of undigested insects may get into the airways of humans via the excretions of the animals and promote an allergy.

Anyone who is allergic to a certain animal is not automatically allergic to all individuals of this species. Allergen production differs from breed to breed, but above all individually from animal to animal. For example, unneutered tomcats are said to release more allergens than neutered tomcats and short-haired dogs more than long-haired ones. However, there are no animal species that are fundamentally “allergy-friendly” or “allergy-free”.

Causes and risk factors

In the case of an allergy, the immune system reacts to actually harmless substances (allergens). It mistakenly recognizes the allergen as threatening and counters with an exaggerated defensive reaction. The immune system forms defenses (antibodies) and releases large amounts of histamine. This causes allergic symptoms such as runny nose, itching and skin rash.

In the case of an animal hair allergy, however, the body does not react to the animal hair itself – as the name suggests – but to protein-containing components in the animal’s saliva, sweat, sebum or urine. The allergens are distributed in the fur (or in the feathers) and thus in the environment via the fur and plumage care. If the hair is thrown up, it binds to dust particles and may remain in the air for a long time before ending up on clothes or textiles or being inhaled (inhalation allergy).

Animal hair allergies also occur when there is no animal around. For example, the allergens also get into environments that are normally “pet-free”, such as schools or homes without pets, via the clothing of pet owners!

Sensitization or allergy?

A prerequisite for the development of an allergy is repeated contact with an allergen. The first time they come into contact with an animal, those affected do not develop any symptoms, but the immune system already reacts. So-called “sensitization” occurs: the body becomes sensitive (ie it becomes sensitized) to a certain allergen and begins to produce defense substances (antibodies) against it. Sometimes only a few days elapse between the first contact and the first appearance of symptoms, but sometimes several years.

If there is contact again, the immune system remembers the allergen: it activates all available defense mechanisms. The result is an allergic reaction.

risk factors

As with all allergies, genes also play an important role in animal hair allergies. Certain genetic predispositions increase the likelihood of developing an allergy. If one parent is affected, a child has an allergy risk of about 20 percent. If a sibling is affected, the risk is between 25 and 30 percent. If both parents have an allergy, the probability of the child developing an allergy is over 50 percent. People who have no family history have a significantly lower allergy risk of 5 to 15 percent.

The allergy itself is not hereditary, but the predisposition to develop an allergy is.


Consult a doctor at the first sign of an animal dander allergy! Only early treatment can stop the disease from progressing and reduce the risk of allergic asthma.

The first point of contact if an animal hair allergy is suspected is the family doctor, and later, if necessary, the dermatologist/allergist. When making the diagnosis, the doctor first asks about the medical history and asks the following questions, among others:

  • What are the current complaints?
  • When did the symptoms first appear?
  • Do you have a pet of your own or do you have contact with an animal?
  • Do the symptoms occur at a specific time of year or in a specific place?
  • Have you observed specific triggers such as animal contact for the symptoms?
  • What is the housing situation like (e.g. animals, aquarium, damp apartment)?
  • Are there allergies or asthma in the family?
  • Have you already had allergy tests or treatments?

In order to find out whether it is actually an animal hair allergy, the doctor carries out various examinations. These include:

Skin test (prick test)

With the skin prick test , the doctor tests the reaction of the skin to various allergens. This enables him to confirm or rule out a corresponding sensitization.

Sensitization means that the body is sensitive to a certain allergen and the immune system has already made antibodies against it.

For this purpose, different allergen-containing solutions are applied to the inside of the forearm at a certain distance from each other. The skin is then slightly scratched at these points with a lancet so that the allergens can get into the skin. If the skin reacts allergically to a certain substance, a so-called wheal forms on the skin in the corresponding area after about 20 minutes: the area swells, is reddened and itches.

In general, the larger the wheal, the clearer the indication of a corresponding sensitization. But: A positive skin prick test is no proof of an existing allergy, but only of a corresponding sensitization. If you come into contact again, allergic symptoms can – but do not have to – occur.

If there are no symptoms yet, but the allergy test is positive, this is referred to as sensitization. This is the case for about 10 percent of the population.

blood test

Sensitization to animal hair can also be determined by taking a blood sample. If an animal hair allergy is suspected, the doctor checks whether the blood contains elevated concentrations of certain antibodies (IgE). If the value is significantly increased, this indicates a corresponding allergy. However, it can also indicate parasites or certain blood disorders such as mastocytosis, so it is also not definitive proof. Smokers also often have elevated IgE values ​​without being allergic.

provocation test

A skin prick test and a blood test are usually sufficient to diagnose an animal dander allergy with certainty. In rare cases it is necessary to carry out a provocation test. The doctor uses this to check whether the symptoms are actually caused by the suspected allergen. In this test, the doctor “provokes” the nose by dripping or spraying the suspected allergen directly onto the mucous membrane. If the typical symptoms such as sneezing, runny or blocked nose occur, this is considered proof of an allergy.

Allergy tests can be done at any age. Even infants are tested if an animal hair allergy is suspected.


Anyone who suffers from an animal hair allergy should avoid contact with the animals as much as possible. Anyone who does not (yet) have an allergy but has a family history does not necessarily have to do without a pet. Studies have shown that keeping a dog, for example, can sometimes even have a positive effect. However, people should not own a cat if they come from a “risk family”. In this way, an animal hair allergy can possibly be prevented.

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