Pet Allergies: What Are the First Symptoms?

If your beloved pet is making you stuffy, it may be a sign of allergies.

Sharing your life with your favorite furry friend can be tricky when allergy symptoms arise. The first step towards minimizing allergies and finding relief is learning how to identify pet allergy symptoms, and how to best avoid them. Read on to learn more.

Cat allergies and dog allergies are common issues that affect many people. Studies show that about 10 to 20% of the world's population suffers from pet allergy symptoms, a rate that has been increasing over time. For those with pet allergies, contact with animal dander can trigger a variety of bothersome allergy symptoms and potentially interfere with day-to-day life. So, how can we identify these pet allergy symptoms as early as possible? Learn more about pet allergies below, as well as how to keep symptoms from impacting your quality of life.1,2

What Are the Main Symptoms of a Pet Allergy?

The main symptoms of allergic rhinitis related to pets typically include sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, itchy skin, and itching around the nose, eyes, and throat. Some people with pet allergies may also experience asthma-related symptoms, such as wheezing, coughing, or difficulty breathing. Therefore, they need to be managed with proper medical advice and guidance, as well as a thorough diagnosis. Because of its potential impact on overall quality of life, it's very important to take pet allergies seriously and follow any treatment measures as advised by a doctor or allergist.1,2,3

Dog and Cat Allergies: Can You Have Both?

A frequent question regarding pet allergies is whether the same person can be allergic to both dogs and cats. The short answer is yes: It’s completely possible to experience allergies to cats, dogs, or both. One study found that 75% of individuals with an allergy to a certain animal (such as cats) are 14 times more likely to also develop an allergy to other animals (such as dogs).2,4

How Do I Know If I’m Allergic to Cat or Dog Dander?

As surprising as it may seem, fur isn't your pet's main allergenic component: The skin, saliva, and urine are actually more common allergens than the fur. Pet allergy symptoms are usually quite typical and tend to resemble symptoms caused by other common allergens—such as mold, dust, or pollen—as well as illnesses like the common cold. For this reason, confirming a diagnosis for pet allergies can sometimes be challenging. Additionally, pet allergies can appear and change with time, meaning that it’s possible to suddenly become allergic to a dog or cat that you weren’t allergic to in the past.3,5

In addition, since any animal with fur can trigger a pet allergy, some people may develop more peculiar allergic reactions—such as a short-haired cat allergy or a long-haired dog allergy, for example. According to studies, dog allergies are more complex and challenging to diagnose than cat allergies. This is due to the number of allergenic components involved.1,3

Upon noticing the first signs of allergy symptoms, it’s best to find a doctor who can diagnose the problem based on the proper clinical route and specific tests. Most diagnoses for pet allergies are confirmed through a blood test, or more often, a skin prick test. After testing, your doctor or allergist will be able to recommend the ideal treatment for your cat or dog allergy.1,2,5

What Are the Differences Between Dog and Cat Allergies?

The allergy symptoms of dog and cat dander allergies are generally very similar. Therefore, it can be difficult to differentiate the two allergies from one another at first glance. The right allergy tests can help pinpoint the exact cause of your symptoms. And since allergic reactivity can vary based on each individual and animal, if you experience both cat and dog allergies, it’s possible that you may have different allergic reactions to one or the other. For example, you may experience sneezing when exposed to cats but itchy skin when in contact with dog hair.1,3,4,6

Can I Have a Pet if I’m Allergic to Pet Dander?

It’s typically recommended for anyone who is allergic to either dogs or cats to avoid exposure to triggers in order to minimize symptoms. However, pets are considered by many of us to be an essential part of the family, and it's challenging to avoid them completely or give them away simply because of allergies. In these cases, it may be possible to put together an allergy treatment plan guided by a qualified healthcare professional.2,3

For instance, one step you can take is keeping your pet mostly in another room, and away from where the allergic individual sleeps. You can also avoid hugging or kissing the animal as much as possible, as well as vacuuming regularly, removing carpets and rugs that may trap pet dander, and only brushing the animal outdoors.3

In some cases of severe pet allergies, it may be necessary to find a new home for the animal. However, this is a highly personal decision and should be made together with your doctor or allergist. Additionally, before bringing a pet home, it’s important for allergic individuals to consider that no cat or dog breed can be considered entirely hypoallergenic.2,3

How To Manage Cat and Dog Allergies

There are several treatments for dog and cat-related allergic rhinitis. Symptom management is usually first approached with oral antihistamines, such as Allegra®. Based on your doctor’s guidance, other methods may be used in combination, such as nasal corticosteroids, always with the goal of managing symptoms at first appearance. New long-term therapies are also being developed for pet allergies, such as immunotherapy (allergy shots). Still, it's necessary to consult with a specialized healthcare provider to find out what best fits your needs.3,5

A man standing inside, holding a cat in his arms.

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1. Chan, Sanny K, and Donald Y M Leung. “Dog and Cat Allergies: Current State of Diagnostic Approaches and Challenges.Allergy, asthma & immunology research vol. 10,2 (2018): 97-105. doi:10.4168/aair.2018.10.2.97

2. Pet Allergy - Symptoms and Causes.” Mayo Clinic, 4 Aug. 2021.

4. Dávila, I., et al. “Consensus Document on Dog and Cat Allergy.” Allergy, vol. 73, no. 6, 2018, pp. 1206–22. Crossref, doi:10.1111/all.13391.

6. How to Live with Allergies and Pets.” The Humane Society of the United States, 2022.

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*Allegra Allergy is indicated to relieve sneezing, runny nose, itchy, watery eyes, and itchy nose or throat. Allegra-D is indicated to relieve sneezing, runny nose, itchy, watery eyes, itchy nose or throat, nasal congestion, sinus pressure, and reduce swelling of the nasal passages.

Among single-ingredient branded OTC oral antihistamines and OTC multi-ingredient allergy & decongestant brands.

This article is not a substitute for medical advice. Allegra should be used as directed according to the product label. If you suspect that you have allergies, consult with your doctor or an allergist. Only they can make a proper diagnosis.