We advise anyone who suffers symptoms of allergy when in contact with an animal to visit their GP, who may decide that referral to an allergy clinic is necessary. In a small number of cases, particularly among asthma sufferers, there can be the risk of a severe asthma attack. There have also been very occasional reports of the most severe, life-threatening form of allergic reaction (anaphylaxis). In such cases, avoidance of contact with the type of animal causing the problem is crucial, and referral to a specialist allergy clinic is advised.
If you have an allergy to an animal, it means you are hypersensitive to a substance produced by the animal. For example, in the case of cat allergy, the major cat allergen, known as Fel d 1, is a protein found on cat hair, produced by the sweat, salivary and anal glands. In the case of allergy to cat, dog or horse, skin flakes known as ‘dander’ also cause allergic reactions because they become merged with the animal’s saliva or urine.
Larger animals such as horses shed dander in the form of dandruff. This means you must not only avoid contact with the animal itself, but also with clothing, riding equipment or accessories that have been near horses.
Apart from cats, dogs and horses, there are other pets that produce dander and may trigger allergies for some people. These pets include rabbits, mice, hamsters, rats, gerbils and guinea pigs. For some people, birds may also trigger reactions.