After posing the question on Sunday, How do pet allergies work? — geared towards determining how they affect travel — and checking into airplane policies, I thought I was going to have some definitive data to present.
Instead, I was left with more questions and:
— Awe at the commitment that several people with allergies have made to dogs and cats nevertheless. Two Twitter pals, @MelzPetPals and @Keeping_Awake, both of whom who work with animals, are particularly impressive. Deciding to undergo a variety of shots and medications in order to devote yourself to the furred is inspirational.
— A better knowledge of how pet allergies work, from various sufferers who wrote in and also from Sweet Lucy’s, a site devoted to hairless dogs (the pictures here are from that site’s fascinating photo gallery):
There is no dog breed that is truly non-allergenic (not allergy causing) because all dogs produce dander (shed skin cells), saliva, and urine. You can be allergic to the dog dander, dog saliva, or even dog urine. Urine is less of a problem since dogs usually potty outside. Pet hair itself is not an allergen, [italics mine — who knew?] but it can collect dander, dust, and pollen. The word hypo-allergenic (less allergy causing) is typically used with skin care products that tend to be less irritating to sensitive skin.
People with pet allergies have supersensitive immune systems that react to harmless proteins (allergens) in the pet’s dander, saliva or urine. These allergy-producing proteins can cause nasal congestion, sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, skin rashes, headaches, fatigue, coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, and serious asthma attacks. This can happen within 5-30 minutes or occur much later as a delayed reaction. Based on pet allergy sufferers’ testimonials, it is possible to be allergic to all dogs or only to certain breeds.
Some dog breeds supposedly produce less dander than others, and many people who are mildly allergic to dogs can tolerate some of these “low dander” dog breeds with proper environmental controls. Sometimes people call these “low dander” dog breeds hypo-allergenic, low allergy, or allergy friendly.
Be careful though, as there are no guarantees! People’s pet allergies vary greatly. Severe pet allergy sufferers may not tolerate any dogs at all, even with the best environmental controls.
I therefore figured that was that, as far as air travel was concerned, except for people who are willing to drug themselves. And then my ever-alert pal Mary-Alice Pomputius of DogJaunt.com, sent in the following comment:
… 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.
Mary-Alice also provided a link to the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Q & A on “Pets in the Passenger Cabin,” which includes such information as:
Can I be sure that there will be no animals on my flight if an airline does not allow pets in the cabin?
No, you can’t be sure. The Department of Transportation (DOT) has rules (14 CFR part 382) (PDF) that require airlines to allow passengers to fly with their service animals in the cabin on all U.S. airlines.
I have severe allergies to pet dander. How can I be sure that there is no pet dander on my flight?
You will still be exposed to pet dander on every flight, even without any pets in the passenger cabin. This is because most allergens are carried into the cabin on the clothes of other passengers.
My favorite, however, is the list of stipulations that individual airlines may add on to the standard FAA regulations about pets traveling in the cabin, which includes:
A requirement that your pet be harmless, inoffensive and odorless
Would that such a requirement were in place for human passengers!
To read the rest of this Q & A, click here.