I was on my way out last week, dressed nicely because I was off to a party, and waiting for a taxi. The Gremlins, otherwise known as silky terriers Miko, Mei Mei and Po Po, were bouncing around in their garden, barking their hellos. I went over to say hello. As I petted Miko, he sneezed.
I didn’t think anything about it, but when I came home, and said hello to Freja, one of the huskies across the street, she sneezed too. That’s when I suspected that my perfume was to blame. Dog noses being so sensitive, it may have given them the sneezles.
The whole thing made me wonder how people who have allergies to dogs cope. So I asked friends to share, and was fascinated by some of their experiences.
“I suffer from allergic rhinitis and asthma, just like my mum and dad,” says Molly Ooi, an animal lover from Penang. “I am always on inhalers and anti-histamines as I’m extremely sensitive to weather changes. I catch cough and colds easily, which aggravate my asthma.”
Surprisingly, Molly keeps five dogs, four cats, two guinea pigs and a rabbit.
“Allergy tests show I’m not allergic to my pets,” she reveals. “I’ve seen friends who just get rid of their poor furkids the moment someone in the family suffers – without even checking the source. I say, find out the source of allergy first!”
Molly has had proper tests done, but for others, the question is not always resolved.
“I had a blocked nose and, when it didn’t go away, I went to the clinic,” says Rachel Chng from Kuala Lumpur, and mum of furries, Mayya, 10, Esther, seven and Harry, five. “Without even testing, the doctor just said to give away my dogs! I said no way!
“I don’t know if I had a reaction to the dogs, or something else. Whatever it was, I’m OK now. The only time my sinus acts up is during the haze.”
Rachel’s being advised she has an allergy without proper testing, was echoed by many, and it also fits my own experience. Also, ignoring symptoms seems to be incredibly common. There are many pet lovers who think the companionship is well worth a sneeze or two.
On the surface, allergies seem simple. You would think that if you pet a dog and then sneeze or break out in a rash, that you have an allergy to the dog.
“There are proteins in dog saliva that can cause these reactions,” points out Dr Amir Hamzah Datuk Abd Latiff, president of the Malaysian Society of Allergy and Immunology (MSAI) and lead clinician at the Allergy & Immunology Centre in Pantai Hospital KL. “But it’s not really a very straightforward issue.
“When a dog licks his fur, the proteins in the saliva stick to the skin and the fur. So if you touch this, and you are sensitive, you’ll get a reaction. Also, when the dog sheds fur or there’s dander (dead skin cells) on your sofa or someone’s clothes, you can have a reaction – even when the pet’s not around.”
However, you might not be allergic to the dog at all. In some cases, people think they are allergic to a pet but they are actually reacting to dust, dust mites, pollen, shampoo or something else that’s present in the dog’s fur. It may even be air freshener or something else that has nothing to do with the dog.
So how can you be certain? Get tested!
“There are two ways to test for allergies,” Dr Amir explains. “There’s a blood test and a skin-prick test. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as getting a positive or negative result. Interpretation is complex, because you need to understand the patient’s history.
“Generally speaking, your family doctor may not be doing this, so you’ll need to talk to a specialist. There aren’t many of us around in Malaysia, but if you are far from a hospital, you can get your family doctor or lab to do the blood test, and then you can e-mail the results to a specialist and arrange for long-distance consulting.
“If you do this, talk to your doctor about a specific IgE blood test. As the proteins in pet saliva isn’t the same across all species, you will need one test for dogs and another for cats.”
Taking it all in, I’m thinking that it may not have been my perfume, but even so, I’m sticking to blowing kisses to my dog friends when I’m poshed up.
It’s not entirely kindness on my side, either. It’s one thing to have little Miko sneezing delicately but to have Freja blasting dog drool all over you, well, that’s a sternutation that is to be respected!