May 7, 2021

Pet Dander:
The problem of cat and dog dander in pet homes

Based on statistics, around 470 million pet dogs and 370 million pet cats live in the world. On a global level, it is estimated that 57% of people own a pet. In the United States alone, there are 95.6 million cats and 94.2 million dogs as pets. (1., 2.)

Sadly, studies show that between 10 to 20% of the world population is allergic to dogs or cats, and according to the AAFA, cat allergies are twice as common as dog allergies. This may be because cat allergens are much stickier than other allergens. (3., 4.)

But, it is not just people that suffer from pet allergens. Pets can be allergic to human allergens (dander), too. (5.)

pet hair shedding

Therefore, to ensure a clean and allergen-free environment that is pleasant and comfortable to live in, it is vital to maintain high-quality indoor air.

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    What is Pet Dander? Pet Dander Definition

    Dog Dander

    Dog dander is the dried skin cells or flakes that shed from the dog's skin naturally. Dander is what you can sometimes see on your dog's back and call dandruff.

    However, not all dander particles are as visible as dandruff. Sometimes they are microscopic and invisible to the naked eye.

    Dog dander is the most popular allergen

    These skin cells are extremely light and can float in the air for prolonged times. After floating, they settle on furniture, walls, carpets, and upholstery.

    Dog dander uses hairs as a vehicle – loose and fallen hairs help dander spread around. Once shed, every hair has minute skin particles, which can be released and airborne at the tiniest air circulation.

    Dog dander is the most popular allergen, but it is not the only one. The dog's saliva, urine, and sweat also have allergenic potentials.

    dust and dander on table

    Cat Dander

    The general concept behind cat dander is similar to that behind dog dander. The cat's skin naturally sheds dead skin cells or flakes that travel via fallen hairs and spread within the air when the circulation is favorable.

    However, compared to dog allergies, cat allergies are twice as common. Does that mean cats produce more dander?

    No, in fact, the average cat is much smaller than the average dog, meaning that it produces much less dander in terms of quantity.

    It is the quality of the cat's dander that makes it hold higher allergenic potential. In a nutshell, the cat's skin contains a protein called Fel d 1. The Fel d 1 protein is highly allergenic because of its particularly diminutive size. Being so small allows Fel d 1 to remain airborne for exceptionally long periods, thus increasing the exposure risk.

    For unknown reasons, male and non-neutered cats with black or dark-colored coats produce higher levels of Fel d 1 than neutered males and females in general. Darker skin and coat pigmentations are associated with higher Fel d 1 protein productions.

    Another reason cats are more likely to trigger allergies than dogs is the fact they urinate in litter boxes inside the house, and urine is an established allergen that also contains the Fel d 1 protein. Just standing near the litter box is enough to cause a bout of sneezing and runny nose and eyes.

    Dander from other animals

    Rodents and birds also leave tiny microscopic dander flacks with allergenic potential. Basically, every pet animal with either fur or feathers holds power to initiate an allergic reaction.

    Pet Dander Affects Indoor Air Quality

    french bulldog shedding hair

    Modern houses are sealed-up and energy-efficient. This is a good thing from all aspects except for one – indoor air pollution.

    When someone says air pollution, the first things that come to mind are crowded cities with factory smokes, car exhaust, and smog. This is true, but this is outdoor pollution.

    Pet dander is one of the leading sources of indoor air pollution – this is an indisputable fact.

    Considering we spend 90% of the time indoors, indoor air pollution is just as big of an issue as outdoor air pollution. (6.)

    The culprits or pollutants responsible for contaminating the air are airborne substances that reside within the home. Most of them cannot be seen and have no smell, but their presence causes several short and long-term health concerns ranging from mild skin issues to serious lung problems.

    One of the top causes for indoor air pollution is biological sources – which refers mostly to pet animals, primarily dogs and cats. However, pests and insects like cockroaches and spiders also leave contaminants. Therefore, even if you do not have a pet, your house can still be polluted from biological sources. (7.)

    Other indoor air pollution sources include mold and mildew, gas-burning appliances, paints, building materials, air refreshers, and scented candles, house cleaning chemicals, and tobacco smoke.

    Pet Dander Allergy And Pet Allergens

    What are pet allergies, and what causes them? 

    this is how to rid of Cat Dander

    The immune system plays a critical role – it protects the body from foreign threats, like viruses, bacteria, parasites. In people with pet allergies, the immune system is overly sensitive and prone to misidentifying harmless substances as potential dangers.

    Pet hair collects allergens from the pet itself (the tricky trio – dander, saliva, and urine) and can carry other environmental allergens

    Often, those substances are proteins found in pets' dander (dead skin flakes), saliva, and urine. These are called allergens because they hold the power to trigger an allergic reaction.

    Pet hair is not an allergen per se. However, it collects allergens from the pet itself (the tricky trio – dander, saliva, and urine) and can carry other environmental allergens like house dust, pollen, bed mites, and even human dander.

    The Myth Behind Hypoallergenic Pets

    non shedding dog fur

    Hypoallergenic pets are the ultimate hit among people allergic to pet dander. They are also a somewhat fraudulent scheme because there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic pet.

    When a person is allergic to pets, his/her immune system triggers an exaggerated reaction towards proteins found in the pet's dander, saliva, or urine.

    There is no such thing as a hypoallergenic pet.

    In the pet parent community, the terms hypoallergenic and non-shedding are used interchangeably. Meaning a dog or cat that does not shed cannot trigger the immune system to initiate an allergic response.

    This is another mistake.

    First of all, hypoallergenic is not the same as non-shedding. Hypoallergenic refers to something that is not likely to trigger an allergy, like a substance or thing with low allergenic potential, while non-shedding refers to a pet that does not leave hairs.

    The "not leaving hairs" part leads to the next issue. Namely, non-shedding pets do not exist. All pets shed – some more and some less.

    Finally, shedding is not directly linked with allergies as people are never allergic to pet hair, only dander, saliva, and urine. Simply put, pet hair does not have allergenic potential.

    So, why are there pets advertised as hypoallergenic? Pets "labeled" as hypoallergenic are actually low-shedding pets that do not leave too many loose hairs around the house. Since dander travels through hair, the fewer hairs scattered around the place, the less allergenic dander.

    Vet's Comment:

    Hypoallergenic pets are not a total scam, but their anti-allergy features are definitely blown out of proportion and wrongly conceptualized.

    What Are The Symptoms Of Pet Allergies? 

    pet dander allergy symptoms

    Pet allergens can trigger an allergic reaction or aggravate the condition for asthmatic people.

    In terms of clinical manifestation, pet allergies are not much different than the old-fashioned hay fever because they both result in inflamed nasal passages. Consequently, the symptoms include (8.):

    • Nasal congestion
    • Runny nose
    • Sneezing
    • Red, itchy and watery eyes
    • Itchy nose, throat, or roof of the mouth
    • Coughing
    • Postnasal drip
    • Facial pressure and pain
    • Swelling of the skin under the eyes.

    In some people, pet allergies manifest with skin issues rather than nasal passages inflammation. The pattern is medically termed allergic dermatitis, and it manifests with:

    • Hives (red and raised skin patches)
    • Generalized skin itchiness
    • Eczema

    In asthmatic people, pet allergens contribute by worsening the symptoms and causing:

    • Chest pain or tightness
    • Impaired or difficult breathing
    • Whistling or wheezing sounds upon exhaling
    • Shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing
    • Trouble sleeping because of the above-listed issues.

    How to Eliminate Pet Dander And Improve the Quality of Air in Your Home?

    bathing a dog to minimize shedding

    How long does pet dander stay in a house?

    Pet allergens remain active for a really long time and tend to accumulate on specific surfaces and furniture. Depending on the exact surface type like wall, carpet, furniture, clothing, the allergens can remain highly concentrated for a couple of months.

    Pet allergens are literally everywhere – including households without pets. How is that possible? Well, it is really simple as people can carry pet allergens on their clothes.

    Pet allergens pollute the air every time the dog or cat is petted, not to mention grooming. Even settled pet allergens can be stirred and airborne through certain activities like vacuuming or dusting.

    For example, imagine the carpet is filled with settled pet allergens, and you have kids running around. The running is enough to stir the allergen particles. Once the allergens are airborne, they can stay suspended in the air and trigger allergies.

    Cleaning And Preventative Measures You Can Take

    cat dander on carpet

    It is not impossible for a pet and pet allergic person to co-exist in the same households – it is challenging but not impossible. The cleaning and preventative measures can be focused on managing the environment and managing the pet. (9.)

    It is not impossible for a pet and pet allergic person to co-exist in the same households – it is challenging but not impossible.

    Here are some general guidelines on environment management:

    • Limit the pet's access to your bedroom – you spend most of the time in the bedroom, so keep the bedroom door always closed and consider installing a HEPA air purifier.
    • Keep the floor and walls as bare as possible – pet allergens are sticky and prefer cluttered spaces.
    • Go carpet-free or if you simply must have a carpet, choose a low-pile model and steam it regularly.
    • Keep in mind that air-conditioning and forced-air heating spread allergens – consider air conditioners and heaters with allergy-friendly filters.
    • Invest in a high-quality air purifier and keep it on for at least four hours a day. Air cleaners with electrostatic filters can remove small particles (including pet allergens) from the air, but no air cleaner can remove the allergens settled on surfaces.
    • For removing allergens on surfaces, you need a powerful vacuum cleaner with the right attachments and powerful suction. Using the vacuum regularly is also important.
    • Always wear a dust mask while vacuuming because vacuuming stirs settled allergens. If possible, use a vacuum with an allergy-friendly HEPA filter.

    And, here are some tips on pet management:

    • Choose your pet wisely - According to PetMD, Siberian and Balinese cats are less likely to contribute to indoor air pollution because they produce particularly low levels of Fel d 1. (10.)
    • If you are a dog person, the AKC recommends getting a Schnauzer, a Poodle, or an American Hairless Terrier. Keep in mind it is not always about the hair – a low-shedding dog like the Schnoodle (a cross of two low-shedders – the Schnauzer and Poodle) can contribute to indoor air pollution because of its high drooling tendency. And so can a low-shedding, low-drooling dog fond of urinating around the house. (11.)
    • Change your clothes after every prolonged pet exposure.
    • Wash your pet's bedding, toys, and items as frequently as possible to reduce the density of airborne allergens.
    • If you have a cat, clean the litter box at least once a day.

    Vet Tip:

    Do not groom or bathe your pet at home – either ask an allergy-free family member to do those things outside of the house or take your pet to a grooming salon.

    Do Airpurifiers Work For Pet Dander?

    air purifier and dog

    Yes, air purifiers are an excellent way of cleaning the air, removing harmful pet allergens, and eliminating pet odors.

    The air purifier's allergy-reducing potential is scientifically backed up.

    The air purifier's allergy-reducing potential is scientifically backed up. According to a study published in Current Allergy and Asthma Reports, air filtration is one of the most efficient "methods to improve outcomes in the treatment of allergic respiratory disease." (11.)

    However, it is not just about having an air purifier. You need to choose an air purifier with a HEPA filter. HEPA is an abbreviation that stands for "high-efficiency particulate air." Theoretically speaking, HEPA filters can eliminate all airborne particles the size of 0.3 microns, including pet allergens, pollen, mold, dust, and bacteria.

    Also read: Best Air Purifiers For Pets

    Pro Tip:

    Since you spend one-third of your day in the bedroom sleeping, having an air purifier in your bedroom will significantly improve the air quality during the night. Better air quality equals better sleep quality and helps you wake up feeling rested.

    Bottom line – Cat And Dog Dander And Indoor Air

    Pet dander is one of the leading sources of indoor air pollution – this is an indisputable fact.

    However, if you are a pet parent or considering becoming one, it is comforting to know that your pet allergy does not have to be a limiting factor.

    Many pet allergic pet parents manage their allergies by practicing specific cleaning and preventative measures. The road can be challenging, but the overall pet parenting experience makes it worthwhile.

    1. Statista, Dod and Cat Population Worldwide, retrieved from

    2. The Humane Society of the United States, Pets by the Numbers, retrieved from

    3. Sanny, K. Chan and Donald Y.M. Leung, Dog and Cat Allergies: Current State of Diagnostic Approaches and Challenges, retrieved from

    4. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), Pet Allergy: Are You Allergic to Dogs and Cats?, retrieved from

    5. National Geographic, Can Your Dog or Cat be Allergic to You, retrieved from

    6. United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Why Indoor Air Quality is important to schools, retrieved from

    7. United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Indoor Air Quality, retrieved from

    8. WebMd, Dog Allergies, retrieved from

    9. The Humane Society of the United States, How to Live with Allergies and Pets, retrieved from

    10. PetMd, Hypoallergenic Cat Breeds, retrieved from

    11. American Kennel Club (AKC), Which Dogs Are Hypoallergenic? These Breeds Come Close, retrieved from

    11. James L. Sublett, Effectiveness of Air Filters And Air Cleaners in Allergic Respiratory Diseases: A Review of the Recent Literature, retrieved form

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