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Critters USA: The Achoo Factor

Although rats, hamsters, guinea pigs and similar pets are small, this doesn’t mean that people can’t be allergic to them.

By Jennifer Mons McLaughlin

These days, some pet owners are getting more than they bargain for when they bring home their pets. Allergies to animals have become more common in recent decades, and are now so prevalent that owners must find a way to cope or give up their pet.

The majority of allergies come from our canine and feline friends, and the available evidence supports the fact that cats and dogs are at the top of the list for most popular pets. “Most of the research is based on cats and dogs,” said Pragnesh Patel, MD, Allergy Asthma Specialists in Altamonte Springs, Fla.

And while they seem to be getting most of the blame for causing allergies, they are not alone. “Any mammal can cause an allergic reaction,” said James D. Lakin, Ph.D, MD, FACP, FAAAAI, managing partner of Minnesota Allergy and Asthma Consultants, LLP. “Cats seem to be the most common culprits, and the reactions in general tend to be more severe than to dogs. Reptiles and amphibians are rarely, if ever, allergenic, and fish are always a safe bet.”

So where does that leave the smallest companions, such as rats, guinea pigs, rabbits, mice, chinchillas, hamsters, gerbils, ferrets and sugar gliders? They appear to fit somewhere in between, leading many pet owners to realize that even the smallest pet can evoke a big reaction.

What Causes Allergies?
While people exhibit different symptoms, an allergic reaction to an animal is triggered by only a few things.

“It is mostly the dander on the skin, and in the case of rodents, also the proteins in the urine,” said Jerry Murray, DVM, Animal Clinic of Farmers Branch, Dallas. Because the dander, saliva or proteins emitted from the animal react differently depending on a person’s genetic make-up, the responses vary greatly

**For the full article, pick up the 2008 issue of Critters USA or click here to buy the issue.**



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