What Is Pet Dander?

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Pet dander is the dead skins cells that shed off of your pet. Any mammal can shed dander. Many people mistakenly believe that their pet allergy is caused by pet hair, but it is typically the dander stuck to the hair that causes the allergic reaction.

Pet dander is the dead skins cells that shed off of your pet.
Image Credit: Cynthia Yoshikawa/iStock/GettyImages

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Pet dander and allergies

Allergies to pets, especially cats and dogs, are commonly caused by pet dander, the microscopic flakes of dead skin that are shed from your pet. It is important to note that dander is not limited to cats and dogs. Other animals, including guinea pigs and birds, can also shed dander. Dander is so small that it can remain in the air where you can breathe it in, and it can settle on surfaces, especially fabrics, like your clothes, rugs, and sofa.

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Pet dander can cause mild yet annoying allergy symptoms, but some individuals experience debilitating symptoms from pet dander. Normal symptoms of a pet allergy include a stuffy or runny nose and itchy or inflamed eyes. More serious symptoms may include a rash, difficulty breathing, wheezing, and coughing. Some people may also suffer from an asthma attack.

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If you think you are allergic to your pet, consult with your doctor to confirm the cause of the allergy. In addition to pet dander, your pet's saliva, urine, and feces may also contain proteins that can trigger an allergic reaction.

Reducing pet dander

If you are sensitive to pet dander, there are a few steps you can take to minimize the amount of dander in your home. First, make sure that you clean frequently. Dust and vacuum regularly, wash rugs and blankets, and be sure to wear a mask to avoid breathing in the dust and dander. Steam clean carpets regularly. Use a HEPA air filter in the home to remove dander and other allergens from the air.

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In addition, make sure to groom and bathe your pet each week. Grooming will remove dead hair that may hold dander, and bathing helps to remove dander before it sheds into the air. Frequent bathing can cause dry skin and potentially make the problem worse, so be sure to consult with your veterinarian or a professional groomer to select the best shampoo for your pet.

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If you have severe allergies, take your pet to the groomer rather than brushing and bathing him yourself. Wash your hands and change your clothes after spending time with your pet. Finally, set up a pet-free room in your home, ideally your bedroom. This ensures you have a location with clean air that is free of dander where you can go to alleviate your allergy symptoms.

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Allergy treatment considerations

In addition to reducing dander, you can seek other allergy treatment options. Your doctor may prescribe antihistamine medication or nose sprays to help reduce symptoms. Steroid nasal sprays may also be effective. For itchy, watery, red eyes, antihistamine eye drops may be helpful. Bronchodilators and inhaled corticosteroids may also help with inflammation and breathing symptoms.

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Your doctor may also recommend allergy shots, or immunotherapy, to help address the allergy. These treatments inject a small amount of allergen to increase your immunity and tolerance and should decrease your symptoms over time. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog or cat, although some breeds tend to have lower levels of allergens, such as Portuguese water dogs and poodles.

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