by Nick Gromicko, CMI®
Cats and dogs produce allergens that pose a health threat to certain individuals.
Modes of Transmission
Cat dander consists of microscopic pieces of cat skin that have dried, flaked off and become airborne. Shed dander can land on and stick to bedding, curtains, carpeting, and other surfaces, including people's skin and clothing. It contains Fel D1, a glycoprotein found in the cat's sebaceous glands, located under their skin, and, to a lesser extent, it is found in cats' saliva and urine. Fel D1 can cause rapid allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Unlike cats, the dogs’ allergen, Can F1, is found in higher concentrations in their saliva than in their sebaceous glands.
Facts and Figures
- More people are allergic to cats than they are to dogs. This may be due to the severity of the allergen Fe D1, or because dogs are generally bathed regularly, whereas cats are not.
- Between 6 and 10 million Americans are allergic to cats, and approximately one-third of them have cats in their homes.
- Animal dander, hair, and other organic debris in homes can also result in a significant increase in the level of dust mites, mite feces and other allergenic insect parts.
- Allergens may be found months or years after a pet has been removed from a house.
- Pet-borne allergens commonly infiltrate places where pets have never been present, such as schools, workplaces, and other public spaces. Since dander allergens are sticky, they can be transported to these places on the clothing of pet owners.
- Animal hair, despite popular belief, is not considered to be a significant allergen. However, hair can collect pollen, dust, mold, and other allergens.
- There are no "non-allergenic" breeds of dogs or cats. Some breeds of both species, however, are believed to be hypoallergenic; anecdotal reports claim that the Siberian, rex and sphynx cat breeds are less likely to provoke an allergic attack than most other cats. Similarly, dog breeds, such as poodles and schnauzers, have been reported to be less allergenic. None of these claims has been validated scientifically.
Cat and Dog Allergy Symptoms
- sneezing and congestion;
- redness, itching, swelling and watering of the eyes;
- post-nasal drip, itching or hoarseness, and the need to clear the throat often;
- itchy rashes or hives;
- itching, plugging or popping in the ears; and
- coughing, wheezing, tightness in the chest, frequent bronchitis, and a shortness of breath.
How to Test If a Cat or Dog Has Been in a Building
Pets are forbidden by many lease agreements, which may then be violated by tenants who secretly house cats or dogs. Also, cats may visit a residence at night to forage for food or gain shelter. The following detection methods may be used:
Cleaning Tips for Buildings Previously Occupied by Cats and Dogs
Inspectors may be asked about pet-allergen cleanup by clients who are looking to buy a home but are concerned about the air quality in their prospective new home. The following suggestions may be offered:
- Obtain a thorough, professional duct cleaning.
- Commercially steam-clean, professionally dry-clean, or use very hot water to launder clothing.
- Wash and use a HEPA vacuum for interior surfaces. Note that ordinary vacuum cleaners, which cause allergenic particles to become airborne, are ineffective and may even worsen the problem for sensitive occupants.
Advice for Clients with Pets
A combination of approaches—medical control of symptoms, good housecleaning and planning—is most likely to succeed in allowing an allergic person to live with pets. For allergic clients who won’t give up their pets, inspectors can pass on the following tips:
In summary, irritation and contamination caused by pet allergens can be limited by proper care of their hygiene, homes and owners.