Pet allergies and pet hygiene

Pet owners shouldn't let their animals sleep on their beds or even in their bedroom, say vets. This advice is especially important for people with animal allergies.

About half of all households in the UK have a pet, with cats (10 million) and dogs (7 million) the most common.

Not only can pets trigger allergies, vets say pet owners need to be aware of the possible spread of diseases from domestic animals.

Allergies caused by animals

Animal allergens are a common cause of indoor allergic reactions. Allergic reactions are caused by animal saliva, skin and urine. When animals groom themselves, they lick, and saliva coats the skin, fur or feathers. Skin cells covered in saliva (‘animal dander’) are shed along with loose hairs and fur.

Cats Protection, a charity that takes in and rehomes unwanted cats, says it receives hundreds of calls a year from owners wanting to give up their cat due to allergies. The charity says there are simple ways to control your allergic symptoms, including:

  • having hardwood floors instead of carpets, and blinds instead of curtains
  • avoiding wearing woollen clothing
  • designating some areas as pet-free zones, particularly bedrooms
  • opening the windows for at least one hour every day and moving the litter tray and cat bed away from air vents
  • regularly cleaning rooms where the pet sleeps
  • washing your hands immediately after stroking your pet and not rubbing your eyes
  • washing your cat’s bed regularly
  • taking them to the vet if you notice them grooming or scratching more frequently
  • using medications such as antihistamine tablets or nasal spray yourself, as advised by your doctor

Cats Protection also suggests that owners with allergic symptoms discuss allergy testing with a doctor before giving up their pet. Sometimes your allergy may be caused by something else, such as dust mites.

Infections from pets

Infections and diseases can be passed from animals to people. Although this is rare, examples include:

  • Ringworm: a fungal infection of the skin that can be passed on from dogs, cats and hamsters. People who work with animals are more prone to the infection.
  • Toxocariasis: an infection caused by worms found in dog and cat faeces (poo).
  • Toxoplasmosis: caused by a parasite found in cat faeces. It can also be found in undercooked and infected meat and can be spread by using contaminated kitchen utensils.

The most common way to get an infection from an animal is by being bitten, or by close contact with its faeces.

There is also a very small chance of an infection being spread through contaminated water or food. Read more about food hygiene

Tips on pets and hygiene

Follow these general pet hygiene tips to reduce your risk of infection. 

  • Wash your hands thoroughly. Always use an antibacterial soap after handling your pets (this is essential before preparing food).
  • Teach children to always wash their hands. You could wipe their hands with a cleaning wipe, especially before they eat anything.
  • Make sure children stay away from dog and cat faeces. Don’t let children play around a litter tray and stay clear of dog litter bins at the park.
  • Check that your pets are in good health. Immunisations should be up-to-date. Regular check-ups at the vets can also spot any possible infections.
  • Keep your pet’s fur clean. This may simply involve cleaning their paws if they've dug up any soil or a thorough shampoo after swimming in the local pond.

Page last reviewed: 09/11/2012

Next review due: 09/11/2014

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