If you cough, sneeze or itch when you pet your neighbor’s pooch or walk through an animal shelter, chances are good that you've got an allergy to dogs. That doesn't necessarily mean a life without dogs, however. Symptoms of mild allergies are generally manageable with the right treatment plan.
Allergy Risk Factors
An estimated 15 percent of Americans are allergic to pets, notes the Partnership for Animal Welfare, and pet allergies can develop at any stage of life. This means that even if you had a dog when you were younger, you may be allergic to dogs now. If you suffer from other allergies, you are at higher risk of being allergic to dogs, and a positive family history may also increase your chances.
Symptoms of Pet Allergies
Allergic symptoms can range in severity from mild and annoying to life-threatening. If you are like most people with a dog allergy, you'll notice some sneezing, itching and watering of your eyes and coughing soon after making contact with a dog. If you have asthma, your symptoms may be more severe and you may have difficulty breathing. Severe allergies can trigger hives, significant breathing problems and swelling after even brief exposure to dog dander or saliva. Symptoms vary from person to person and may change in type and severity with each exposure.
If you suspect you are allergic to dogs, you'll want to see an allergist for a definite diagnosis and treatment plan. Allergy skin and blood testing are both fairly accurate at detecting allergies, although false negatives and positives do occur. Skin tests involve placing a small amount of the allergen on or just under the skin and waiting for a reaction. Allergen-specific IgE antibody tests, or blood allergy tests, measure your body's level of IgE in response to exposure to specific allergens. Your doctor will choose the most appropriate type of test for you.
Avoidance and Symptoms
An easy way to tell if you are allergic to dogs is to stay away from them and see if your symptoms disappear. Of course, this may not be possible, and if you've had a dog in your home recently, you'll have to move out to avoid all traces of the allergen. Sometimes, though, such as when allergy testing is inconclusive, complete avoidance may be necessary to make a diagnosis of dog allergy.
Sandra Ketcham has nearly two decades of experience writing and editing for major websites and magazines. Her work appears in numerous web and print publications, including "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution," "The Tampa Bay Times," Visit Florida, "USA Today," AOL's Gadling and "Kraze Magazine."