By Diana Bocco
Did you know that your pet could be allergic to everything from their own beds to your other pets? Unfortunately, figuring out what could be causing allergies in your dog or cat can be a lengthy process—and a particularly hard one when dealing with household allergens.
Potential Household Triggers for Your Pet’s Allergies
Here are six unexpected causes of household pet allergies and how to determine if your dog or cat is reacting to them.
Dust mite allergies are more common than you think, says Dr. Ashley Rossman, DVM, CVA, from Glen Oak Dog & Cat Hospital. In fact, dust mites, molds and pollens are the three major airborne allergens that pets are susceptible to, she says.
While every pet can respond differently—and with varying levels of severity—to dust mites, most pets will demonstrate allergies to dust mites through their skin, says Dr. Rossman.
“They may become itchy, the skin may become red and inflamed,” and they may ultimately suffer with dermatitis, says Dr. Rossman.
Unless you wash it regularly, your dog’s own bed can trigger an allergic reaction. “Pillows, bedding and carpets are frequent sources for dust mites, as well as hard-to-clean areas underneath sofas or beds,” says Dr. Travis Arndt, DVM, assistant medical director at the Animal Medical Center of Mid-America.
Dog Bed Stuffing
“Certain materials and fabrics in your pet’s bed can cause an allergic reaction, but it’s more likely that it is the dust mites causing your pet to have an allergic reaction,” says Dr. Arndt.
“There are hypoallergenic beds on the market, but regardless of the type of bed your pet uses, it is important to wash it frequently to get rid of the dust mites and to remove the dead skin from the bed,” he says.
If that doesn’t help, Dr. Rossman recommends checking if the bed is made with wool, down or feather-based materials, as these are more likely to cause allergic issues.
“I have also seen animals that have contact allergies to wool, found in carpets or sometimes bedding,” says Dr. Gary Richter, MS, DVM, CVC, CVA, who combines conventional and holistic treatment methods in his practice.
Dr. Rossman says that “100 percent cotton is much less likely to cause an allergic reaction.”
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Your pet can actually be allergic to new animals that are introduced into the home. “Pets can be allergic to a new animal, and, just like people, they can develop allergies to dander at any point in their lives,” says Dr. Arndt.
While this isn’t a common allergy, it does happen and could be something to look into if you can’t seem to find any other causes for your pet’s allergy, Dr. Arndt says.
“Typically, allergic pets have reactions to more than one thing in the environment, so it’s best to talk to your veterinarian about finding the source of the allergic reaction before jumping to the conclusion that another pet is the cause,” Dr. Arndt explains.
Chemical Skin Irritants
Contact dermatitis can be caused by a lot of things, with household cleaners ranking high on the list, says Dr. Richter.
“This is a good reason to use all-natural cleaners, as they will be less likely to cause contact dermatitis,” says Dr. Richter.
In addition to abrasive cleaners, you should also watch out for shampoos, detergents, soaps and hair sprays as potential possible contributors to pet allergies, Dr. Rossman says.
“Some laundry detergents and soaps can make fabrics more irritating and thus generate an allergic response, so look for organic, unscented detergents that are free from dyes and perfumes to wash anything your pet sleeps on,” says Dr. Rossman.
The problem with contact dermatitis is that the cause of the problem can be very difficult to determine, as the number of products used in many homes is quite large, explains Dr. Arndt.
“One of the most surprising yet frequent causes of contact dermatitis is seen in dogs who lounge by the pool or swim,” says Dr. Arndt. “Exposure to the chlorine-treated pool water over time can cause an allergic reaction.”
There are many indoor and outdoor plants that might trigger an airborne or contact allergic reaction in your pet, says Dr. Arndt. “Any flowering houseplant has the potential to cause pets to have an allergic reaction,” he says. “Symptoms typically occur seasonally and present as itchy skin, excessive grooming, rashes, sneezing and eye discharge.”
No matter what type of houseplants you have, be aware that the potting soil may be harboring mold, which can also cause allergies in your pet, says Dr. Arndt. “To prevent mold in the soil, don’t overwater your plants, and keep them in a well-lit and ventilated room,” Dr. Arndt says.
Pets—cats especially—can be very sensitive to smoke, as it is a respiratory irritant, says Dr. Richter. “Smoke of any kind can cause issues, including smoke from cooking,” he explains.
Pets who live in homes with people who smoke cigarettes are more likely to develop atopic dermatitis, an allergic reaction that causes itchy skin, says Dr. Arndt. “Some pets can suffer from asthma from inhaling the chemicals and irritants,” he adds.
Other signs that your pet might be having an allergic reaction to smoke include shortness of breath, watery eyes, sneezing or difficulty breathing, says Dr. Rossman. If you suspect your pet is allergic or is showing signs of breathing difficulty, talk to your veterinarian right away.
How to Determine What’s Causing the Allergic Reaction
If you think your furry companion is having an allergic reaction to something in your home, you can always do an elimination trial. “Try thinking about anything new in the home, such as a new laundry detergent, air freshener or cleaning product,” says Dr. Arndt.
If you haven’t added any potential allergens lately, Dr. Richter recommends eliminating as many possible allergens or irritants as possible and seeing if your pet gets better. “Then, you could slowly add things back in and monitor,” says Dr. Richter.
Minimizing the Allergens in Your Home
In addition to removing products that might be causing pet allergies, the best advice is to clean thoroughly, wash bedding often and clean with all-natural materials, says Dr. Richter. “Also, a HEPA filter can help pull dust and pollen out of the air,” says Dr. Richter.
Vacuuming frequently using a high-suction vacuum and disinfecting surfaces regularly are also musts if you share your home with an allergic pet, says Dr. Rossman.
“Changing furnace filters monthly, avoiding wool blankets in the home and adding plug-in air purifiers in every room can also be very effective,” says Dr. Rossman.
Be sure to talk to your veterinarian about your pet’s allergies and what might be causing them. Your veterinarian can provide more in-depth guidance and can recommend treatment and management options.
By Diana Bocco