What are Human Dander Allergies?
Human dander allergy is actually more common than many people think because most people (and even some veterinarians) just think it is chronic dermatitis. Similar to people, dogs can be allergic to many things such as foods (beef, chicken, grains, corn), dust mites, fleas, grass, and pollen to name a few. In addition, since skin is the largest organ in the body, it is the first to show signs that something is wrong with your dog. With any allergy, one of the first signs you will notice is scratching anywhere on the body, and it will usually be accompanied by sneezing, coughing, and even wheezing. Fortunately, it is rare for human dander allergies to result in anaphylaxis, so it is only dangerous if the itching causes a secondary infection from scratching.
Although it is common for people to be allergic to dogs, many people do not realize that your pet can be allergic to you too. As a matter of fact, an allergy to human dander means that your dog is allergic to anyone who sheds dander, which is everyone. The dander from human skin is similar to the dander on the dog’s skin that causes the allergic reaction in you if you are allergic to them. Human dander is the small flaky pieces of skin, hair, and other materials that we all shed 24 hours a day. These flakes float through the air and are also on every piece of furniture and clothing in your home no matter how well you vacuum and clean. Because the usual symptoms of allergy to human dander are hives, itchy skin, rash, and inflammation, it is usually mistaken for chronic dermatitis.
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Symptoms of Human Dander Allergies in Dogs
Symptoms of human dander allergy may vary, but the most often reported are:
- Bald spots from scratching
- Excessive licking
- Moist or crusty skin
- Runny nose
- Scratching (groin, anus, eyes, muzzle, ears, paws, underarms)
- Snoring caused by an inflamed throat
- Watery eyes
Gender and age often do not discriminate when it comes to allergies. Breeds that may have a predisposition to allergies are:
- Bulldogs (American, French Bulldog, Leavitt Bulldog, Old English)
- German Shepherds
- Miniature Schnauzer
- Retrievers (American Water, Chesapeake Bay, Curly Coated, Flat-Coated, Golden, Labrador)
- Setters (English, Gordon Setter, Irish)
- Terriers (Airedale, American Staffordshire, Australian, Bedlington, Border, Bull, Cairn, Fox, Lakeland, Norfolk, Rat, Russell, Scottish, West Highland, White Wheaten)
Causes of Human Dander Allergies in Dogs
Human dander allergies in dogs are caused by the exfoliation of tiny flakes of dead skin and hair from all human beings. These tiny particles cannot be seen, but they float through the air and get inhaled through the mouth and nose into your dog’s lungs. Some people believe that their dog will not be allergic to them if they shave all their body hair off or bathe more than usual. However, any person can cause dander allergy reactions in dogs, no matter how much hair they have or how often they bathe.
Diagnosis of Human Dander Allergies in Dogs
The cause of your dog’s itchiness may be difficult to diagnose. A canine allergy specialist may be familiar with human dander allergies in dogs. Sometimes pruritus is mistaken for chronic dermatitis. Even with a physical examination, a veterinarian may not suspect an allergy to human dander because skin afflictions are so common. In many cases, a specialist will be called in. If your dog is fine outdoors, but starts scratching when indoors, human dander may be the problem. Other potential allergens found within the home (plants, carpets, dog toys) will need to be eliminated from the allergy list and can be tested as well. Itchy skin can also be accompanied by sneezing, coughing, watery eyes, and runny nose, which are not related to chronic dermatitis so be sure to mention these symptoms to your veterinarian.
Serum Allergy Test
If you suspect your dog has a human dander allergy, you may have to ask your veterinarian to do a serum allergy test to find out for sure. This test involves taking a small blood sample which is then tested under a microscope for signs of allergic response. If the test is positive, your veterinarian will refer a dog dermatologist to the case to do an intradermal allergy test.
Intradermal Allergy Testing
This test is done by the referred canine dermatology specialist and costs a bit more than other tests. It is considered to be the most accurate test for allergens. For the procedure, your dog will be sedated so he will be completely relaxed while the specialist shaves the area to be tested (usually the abdomen or side). The dermatologist will use a small needle to inject your dog with different allergens (usually about 50 of them) and wait to see which ones become inflamed and red. This is a quick test and does not cause discomfort to your pet.
Treatment of Human Dander Allergies in Dogs
The best treatments for any allergy in dogs are corticosteroids, antihistamines, and a topical medicinal ointment, such as a cortisone cream or gel. In addition, a special shampoo may be prescribed to decrease the itching, and an antibiotic prescribed to prevent infection.
These shots are similar to what people refer to as allergy shots for humans, and they are basically the same thing. The veterinarian will show you how to give your dog a shot with a small amount of allergen (human dander) daily, adding a bit more each day to desensitize your dog to human dander gradually. The main drawback to this is that it can sometimes take several months of shots before your dog is fully desensitized. In rare cases, it may never work. Also, the immunotherapy shots can cause a serious reaction called anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening emergency. Your veterinarian can provide you with an epinephrine pen (epi-pen) to inject your dog with epinephrine in case this complication happens.
Treating the Skin
Your dog’s skin is the best way to determine whether he is healthy and free of allergies, so it is important to get the skin back to normal as soon as possible. A hypoallergenic shampoo and cortisone cream for the rash and inflammation will help relieve the itching within a few days. Complete resolution of the skin condition can take time; do not get discouraged. Continue the regimen faithfully and results will be seen.
Recovery of Human Dander Allergies in Dogs
Usually, your dog will show improvement within the first six months, but it can take up to 12 months in some dogs. Immunotherapy or skin creams do not cure the allergies, but it does make your dog more comfortable and less stressed, and can prevent secondary infection from scratching. No matter which treatment works for your dog, you have to be sure to continue the treatment for the rest of your dog’s life. If there are any questions or concerns, give your veterinarian a call right away.
Human Dander Allergies Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My dog was recently diagnosed with human dander after much trial and error of changing foods, allergy medications and steroids. Finally we had an hair and saliva test done and determined he has many allergies but the biggest one if the human dander. What advice can you give for him when he is already on Prednisone steroid daily and zyrtec daily.
It can be challenging to have a dog which is essentially allergic to humans; steroids and antihistamines can only go so far as a short term solution. There are reports of mixed success using immunotherapy to desensitise dogs from allergies including human dander where over a period of time increasing doses are administered to reduce the overall sensitivity; a Veterinarian Immunologist would be able to help better. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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