When you’re planning a vacation overseas, your first thought might be about food where are we going to eat, what will we pack, how much cash do I need to get there? But if you have pets at home, they should also factor into your travel plans. What happens when you bring Fido or Fluffy along on your trip? And how can you keep them safe from any potential allergens that may lurk in foreign places?
As it turns out, bringing animals with us isn’t as simple as packing their favorite blanket and leash. It does take some research, though, to figure out whether your pet is likely to suffer while traveling. So let’s start by looking at why cat allergies exist in the first place.
Genetics of Cat Allergies
In 2012, a team of scientists led by Dr. Eric Greening completed a study on twins who had been diagnosed with asthma. The researchers found that genetic factors accounted for 90 percent of the variation between people in susceptibility to developing asthma. They also found that genes made up 10 percent of the difference between people suffering from severe cases of asthma. In other words, genetics plays a large part in determining whether someone becomes asthmatic.
The same goes for animal allergies. In 2014, a group of scientists studied more than 600 twin pairs and siblings to find out if having a pet was linked to allergies. “We found no evidence that having pets increases allergy risk,” says co-author Dr. Robert Platts-Mills. He adds that there were differences in allergy prevalence among different types of pets.
For example, cat owners were less allergic to dust mites (a type of microscopic organism) than dog or hamster owners. However, he notes that people who owned cats, dogs or both experienced similar levels of hay fever symptoms caused by airborne pollen.
So, why would cat owners be less susceptible to these allergies? One theory suggests that because cats don’t sweat like humans, their fur doesn’t contain dander that could cause an allergic reaction.
Another possible reason has to do with the fact that cats don’t spend nearly as much time indoors as dogs and other furry critters. Cats tend to roam around outside, which means they aren’t exposed to all those airborne pollens that trigger allergies in people.
But even if your pet doesn’t seem particularly prone to allergies, your immune system could still react to its dander. This is called hypersensitivity and it’s usually triggered by inhaling proteins released during the grooming process. A cat owner’s skin cells release dander, too. That’s why experts recommend keeping your pet hair short before taking him or her outdoors.
If you’re worried about getting sick during your travels, remember that most illnesses pass quickly without treatment. Plus, many countries require proof of vaccination against rabies upon entry. Also, consider bringing medication like Claritin and Zyrtec so you can treat any sniffles and sneezes that occur.
Now that we’ve looked at why cat allergies happen, let’s talk about some ways to help reduce their impact.
Cat Allergy Treatment Options
There are several treatments available to address this problem. Some involve making changes to your lifestyle, such as avoiding certain environmental triggers, while others are meant to provide relief through medications. Let’s look at each option individually.
Avoidance strategies include wearing clothes made of natural fibers instead of synthetic ones, washing frequently, using air filters in your heating and cooling systems, and staying away from carpeted areas and high traffic areas like elevators. Experts say that even though avoidance strategies work sometimes, they may not always be practical. Wearing clothing designed specifically to avoid triggering substances may cost more money than simply buying non-allergenic items. Additionally, although carpets are nice to walk on, they trap dirt and dust, which can aggravate allergies.
Medications used to treat allergies include antihistamines like Benadryl and Claritin, corticosteroids like prednisolone and fluticasone, and leukotriene modifiers like montelukast. Each of these options comes with its own set of side effects, however.
Antihistamines typically make you sleepy, while steroids suppress inflammation but can cause weight gain and stomach problems. Leukotrien modifiers block chemicals produced by white blood cells that cause inflammation. These drugs can produce gastrointestinal issues, including diarrhea, bloating and gas.
Corticosteroid pills are commonly prescribed to relieve chronic allergies, but long-term use can lead to increased bone density loss, muscle weakness and thinning of the skin. Prednisolone, another common steroid drug, can also increase the risk of diabetes.
Many veterinarians recommend placing a filter on household vacuum cleaners to remove particles small enough to enter a cat’s lungs. Although effective, this strategy is expensive and requires frequent maintenance.
Another method to reducing exposure to allergens is to have your pet neutered or spayed prior to traveling. By doing so, you’ll decrease the amount of dander and saliva released throughout his lifetime. Neutering reduces testosterone production, which causes excessive shedding. Spaying prevents ovulation, thus decreasing estrogen production. Both hormones contribute to excessive hair growth.
Finally, pet ownership isn’t just about giving your cat a loving home. Consider adopting an older cat. Older felines generally have fewer health problems and live longer lives than younger kittens.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, over half of U.S. households have one or more pets. As of 2013, Americans spent $66 billion annually on their dogs and cats.
How Do You Know If Your Pet Is To Blame?
Before you go off on a trip abroad, it’s important to know whether your pet is actually causing your allergy problem. While your vet can diagnose specific allergies based on your history and medical records, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what’s causing your discomfort. There are also times when a simple pollen allergy can manifest itself differently depending on your individual body chemistry.
One way doctors try to identify culprits is through patch tests. During these procedures, a doctor applies various substances to your pet’s skin under a layer of adhesive tape. Afterward, he or she examines the area underneath the tape to see if redness, irritation or itching occurs. The substances tested can range from common products like perfume to medicines. Once the test is complete, your vet removes the tape so your pet can return to normal activities.
However, there are limitations to patch testing. First, only a handful of substances are routinely included in pet patch tests. Second, even though patches are convenient, your pet may scratch the adhesive off after removing it. Third, the results of a patch test aren’t always conclusive, especially if your pet suffers multiple allergies. Finally, some substances are toxic to pets. For instance, antifungal topical cream containing clotrimazole may cause vomiting, breathing difficulties and seizures in cats.
To determine whether your pet is responsible for your allergies, ask your doctor to perform a full panel of allergy tests. This procedure involves collecting blood samples to analyze your immune response to various substances. Your doctor may then refer you to an immunologist who specializes in studying and diagnosing allergies. An immunologist can help you better understand why certain foods and elements affect your pet differently.
Although allergies are tough to deal with, the good news is that they’re often temporary. Just keep your eye on the forecast for upcoming vacations, and you won’t have to worry about leaving Fido behind.
Affections associated with allergies vary from person to person. Symptoms can include stuffy nose, runny eyes, sneezing, wheezing, coughing, sinusitis, dermatitis, fatigue, headaches and chest tightness. People who have seasonal allergies may experience more intense reactions.