It’s easy to dismiss other people’s phobias and foibles. When a veterinary dentist in one of my exercise classes freaked out at the sight of a bug, I thought it was nuts that someone who works with animals on a regular basis should be comfortable with one species but not with others. Of course, a travel writer who has no sense of direction — that would be me —Β  is completely normal.

But that got me thinking about pet allergies and how they manifest. In a recent post, I — and several of my commenters — dismissed pet allergies as akin to perfume and grass allergies and not sufficient reason to keep pets out off public transportation. Certainly,Β  pet owners commonly travel with dog and cat hair on their clothing. Is an actual dog or cat in a crate more allergy-causing than a dander-bearing pet owner? More uncomfortable to the pet allergic than perfume is to the scent-sensitive? If so, how can many airlines justify allowing pets in a cabin — even on overseas trips?

My question: How do pet allergies work (for lack of a better way of phrasing it)? I’d love to hear from both allergy sufferers and professionals who know something about the topic.

27 thoughts on “Friday Focus: How Do Pet Allergies Affect Travelers?”

  1. I’m not sure I can answer how it works Edie, but as someone who owns a cat and two dogs and is allergic to both, all I can say is that when I am not taking my allergy meds, I have to be in someone’s house to actually react to a dog, a cat (or even a rabbit). I’ve never had a reaction to sitting next to someone on a plane or someone with a dog in a carry case on the floor. And, my allergies include wheezing and needing an inhaler if exposed to dander for a long time. So, just based on my experience, I would say that neither a pet on a plane or fur/dander on a person is an issue for me.

    1. Thanks for this, Mel — and now I’m doubly impressed with your choice of profession! A petsitter with pet allergies — whudda thunk it? But kudos that you didn’t let them get in your way.

    2. I don’t know about dog allergies, but I do know that with cat allergies people are not allergic to the cat hair. In fact, they are allergic to the cat’s saliva (spit). When the cat licks itself, the saliva gets all over its hair and then the cat sheds or rubs against something and leaves the saliva/hair there. The cat may also chew something, getting more saliva on it.

      1. Hmmm. So that would almost make it seem as though cat hair wouldn’t really fly around a plane because the cat would only be rubbing up against its crate…

  2. I’m a life-long allergy sufferer.

    If it makes pollen, mold spores or has fur or feathers, I am most likely allergic to it!

    How did I grow up with a breeder/exhibitor of dogs, you may ask? Uncomfortably and over-medicated, I would answer. We did rehome the cat, but I was allergic to dogs too, just less severely. Still am!

    I don’t like it when I have to get on a plane with an animal in the cabin, no. Not. At. All. With the ventilation/air circulation system on the plane, I will have sucked in an abundance of Doggy or Kitty dander before we land. God help me if I didn’t bring my meds and an Epi-Pen!

    Planes are a particular problem as I have no escape. An outdoor cafe? I can leave. A store? I can leave. A plane? Well, let’s all hope for the best (as in no major reaction) but I will be spent for the rest of the day. πŸ™

    1. Thanks very much for this; it’s exactly the type of info I was looking for. Just a quick follow up: Does the dander fly around freely with dog or kitty in a container under the seat? What about people who have pet hair on their clothes?

      1. Yes, it flies around on a plane because the air in the cabin of a plane is recirculated. If it’s a long enough flight, everyone is breathing dander.

        Pet hair on clothes is less troublesome. Unless it’s something I am severely allergic to, like say a horse, if I don’t make physical contact with you, I’m going to be fine. πŸ˜‰ If it’s something I’m severely allergic to, just stepping into your house (or perhaps in a small room or plane cabin with you) will set me off.

          1. All that said, I don’t begrudge people bringing their small pets on flights in the cabin. If my dog were small enough to qualify, I’d do it too! It’s safer and far less stressful for the pet!

            But airlines should make it clear that they accept pets in the cabin so travelers who may be sensitive are prepared.

            And I can not extol the virtues of desensitization shots enough. While they are not particularly effective against animals, they will reduce your reactions to all your other allergens. This makes it easier to handle the animal allergens in many cases.

            There is a sort of cumulative threshold with allergens.

            Here’s an example:

            I get up on a spring day. The grass and tree pollen is everywhere. If I pet your cat, I could end up in the hospital.

            But if I petted your cat in mid-December, when there are virtually no pollens about, I just might get away with it if I simply washed my hands afterward.

            I’m still allergic to cats, and I’m still allergic to pollens. But because I only encountered ONE allergen, my system is not on TILT.

            I most commonly find that there are certain foods I just don’t go near in spring, summer and fall (high pollen seasons). But I am AOK with them in winter if I limit amounts.

            The shots help because they reduce your reaction to the things you just can’t avoid-dust mites, pollens, molds. Once those reactions are knocked down, you may find you can tolerate some other allergens within limits.

            Does that make sense?

          2. That does make sense. And geez, I thought giving Frankie two shots a day was tough!

    2. So funny that you and I work with pets and have the same allergies! I am more allergic to cats than dogs as well, but as long as I take my meds it’s do-able. It’s when I am away from all pets for a while and come back to them that it’s a problem for me (like when I was in college).

  3. My friends who have allergies tell me that they can visit with me for a couple hours if they medicate first. They usually do fine as long as they don’t touch my dog.

    On my part, I try to host events on my front porch in the summer so we have better circulation and less hair in general. In the winter, I usually go to my friends’ houses and leave Honey at home.

    As Keeping-Awake noted, I think the severity of the allergy would be key.

    As far as planes go–I’ve always wondered why Amtrak doesn’t have dog-friendly train cars. It looks like a real missed market. And it would be kinder to allergy sufferers (and dogs) than planes.

  4. I can only speak to my experience with cats. If I pet a cat and then rub my eyes or otherwise get cat hair near my face, my eyes swell up. That said, I visit with my sister-in-law who has two cats. I make a point of washing my hands after I pet them and I’m fine despite all the cat hair imbedded in the carpet and furniture.

    1. I’m so impressed by the allergic pet lovers here, who do all they can to still love on their furry friends — and their friends’ furry friends!

      1. It’s a testimony to how emotional we all are about our furry friends!

        I love my dog and my mom’s dogs and my clients’ dogs to pieces! And because I feel that way, I understand how my friends and clients feel about their own pets.

        Most pet owners I’ve met are amazingly sensitive to the allergies of their friends and acquaintances. It’s usually a situation of us all trying very hard to work together and include all family members as much as we can, including the four-legged ones. πŸ˜‰

        If I had not gotten the shots as a kid and right up through my 20’s, I couldn’t be so involved in the dog world or be a petsitter. They made the difference in knocking down my other reactions, allowing me to tolerate dogs pretty well.

        Even though I got those shots for about 20 years, current research says you really only need them for about 5 years–beyond that, there’s no additional benefit as long as your allergens have remained the same. No one knew that in the late 60’s, the 70’s, the 80’s.

        And the medications are SO much better now than they were when I was a kid. People should have realized I was hell on wheels when I was still boisterous despite the overly sedating meds I constantly took as a kid. πŸ˜‰ But today, there are excellent antihistamines available by prescription that do not sedate you. There are also wonderful local steroids you can use (like nasal sprays) that are incredibly effective while not giving the risks of a systemic steroid medication.

        The first morning that I awoke feeling rested and refreshed-no crud in my eyes, I could breathe, I just felt wonderful-I couldn’t BELIEVE that OTHER PEOPLE FELT THIS WAY ALL THE TIME! I couldn’t even imagine it! I thought I had died and gone to heaven! The new meds for allergies are really fantastic. They’re still prescription, but they are freakin’ awesome!

        *Note: I have been incredibly lucky to not suffer with asthma, although severely allergic. I can’t speak to the state of asthma testing or treatments. Hopefully, similar strides are being made there!

  5. Hi Edie! One of your fave pet travelers here! I saw your post yesterday, and was not going to leave a comment because I could not respond directly to your question. Then I thought, what the heck, maybe this will help.

    Obviously, we have a direct interest in people traveling with their pets … and the extent that allergies may be a problem for some people who think we are foisting our pets on them. So when I was writing a travel tip blog post for pet friendly hotels and restaurants, I came across some stats that led me to believe that pet allergies MAY NOT BE as prevalent as one might think.

    So, if you and your readers don’t mind I want to direct you to my restaurant post … and I ask you to look at point #5 … and look at the underlying data indicated by the links provided. Hope this can ad something to your discussion on Friday.

    Have a great day … we’re in Jackson, WY.

    1. Thanks for this, Rod. I actually started out with the premise that pet allergies were not all that common — until I started looking at sites about common allergies. Because I too am interested in pet travel I wondered if I was being unfair, so I thought I’d put it out there…

      1. Also am wondering about something else you wrote a week or so ago. Remember your thoughts about picking up poop – and that that might just be an excuse for some non-pet owners who will “hate” other people’s dogs, no matter what? Well, I am wondering if that could also extend to allergies. While I have no doubt there ARE allergy suffers, I wonder if some people pull out the “allergy card” just because they don’t like pets.

  6. Part of the problem, I think, is that people don’t realize just how clean airplane air really is. It is recirculated, but it’s also filtered — through HEPA filters — and there is typically a complete exchange of air between 10 and 15 times an hour. That’s darned good — better than most places humans occupy — but it’s not well known. Given that recirculation and filtration, I suspect that allergy sufferers would likely not be affected by the presence of a small pet on a plane — but as I’ve said before, there are no studies out there providing really reliable data. As a friend of mine pointed out, the plural of anecdote is not data.

    1. Mary-Alice, you rock. Really. Both for this information that you just provided about air-filtration systems and for a line that I will co-opt and use as often as possible: The plural of anecdote is not data.

      I am going to find a pet-friendly airline spokesperson to interview. I suspect that their policies are based on something other than anecdotes. I could be wrong.

      And I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your blog’s new look — logo, layout, everything. I will tell you a secret now that you’ve changed your blog: I don’t like reading text that’s not on a white background (except for accents like cream colored comments sections). And now I can — and will — subscribe by email! Hoorah!

      By the way, I love commentluv because I am always inspired to look at the posts of anyone who comments on my blog.

      1. Edie,

        Great post! Looking forward to your interview with a stewardess! My wife and I have plans to bring our pet overseas with us in the near future. My two concerns are whether I’ll be able to bring my dog into the cabin with me at all (I’ve read about pets getting turned away for various reasons, despite advance notice, etc.) and if we’ll be troubling any other passengers. Despite the fact that we have a Mini Schnauzer and he should cause fewer problems than other breeds, we plan to furminate (furminators rock), bathe, and use the furminator one more time before bringing him on board. Hopefully, it will be sufficient.

        As responsible pet owners, I think we should do all that we can to make the trip easier for our fellow passengers. As a current allergy sufferer (some dogs, most cats, Spring, Fall!), I know I would appreciate any effort that’s made by the owner to reduce dander and other allergy inducers when bringing a pet on public transportation.

        1. I’ve never heard of a person who has made a reservation for a pet being turned away — i.e., there are a certain number of seats reserved for pets in the cabin and you generally have to pay for the privilege of bringing your pet at the same time as you pay for the ticket. I don’t think the airlines can change the rules (unless, say, your dog doesn’t fit under the seat as you originally stipulated). You bring up some great points about passenger responsibility. It’s a terrific idea for passengers to try to be involved in helping… well, I’ll write more about it tomorrow, but thanks for your comments!

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