Why Does My Dog's Saliva Make My Skin Itch?

By Kristie Sweet

Over 40 percent of U.S. households own at least one dog. Unfortunately, a substantial number of people also have allergies to dogs -- possibly over one-quarter of the American population. Many people understand sneezing, itching and watery eyes as a reaction to dog hair, but other symptoms also illustrate allergies, including an itchy, red rash in response to dog saliva.

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Over 40 percent of U.S. households own at least one dog. Unfortunately, a substantial number of people also have allergies to dogs -- possibly over one-quarter of the American population. Many people understand sneezing, itching and watery eyes as a reaction to dog hair, but other symptoms also illustrate allergies, including an itchy, red rash in response to dog saliva.

Contamination

If your skin reacts when your dog licks you, chances are you are probably experiencing an allergic reaction. Microscopic allergens occur not only in a dog's saliva, but also its skin and urine, and these pieces travel through the air and lodge on surfaces like furniture, clothes and skin. Inhalation of particles, particularly if a dog slobbers a great deal, can cause further allergic reactions, and saliva deposited directly on the skin can trigger itching, red rashes.

Cause

Both dogs' dander and saliva contain a glycoprotein, a substance that triggers the body's defense mechanism in some people. Dander contains higher amounts of glycoprotein, so it causes allergic reactions more often, but glycoproteins released through a dog's saliva when it is panting or licking can create the same effect. Some dogs have higher levels of glycoprotein in saliva than other breeds, so one dog may cause a reaction while another does not. Sensitivity to dog saliva can increase over time if left untreated.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

If a dog licks your face and the skin there becomes red and inflamed within minutes, that's a good indication that you have an allergy. Even if the skin does not get discolored, it may itch, burn or swell. However, a saliva allergy may manifest in more traditional ways such as sneezing, coughing and general itchiness throughout the body or perhaps in the throat. Undergoing allergy testing through blood or skin testing can verify an allergy to dog saliva.

Treatment

Allergy tests will verify the presence of a saliva allergy. Once an allergy to dog saliva is diagnosed, treatment may consist of antihistamines, steroids or allergy shots. If such treatment produces ineffective results, choosing a different dog breed may help. While individual dogs differ in how much saliva they produce, some generally slobber less. Avoid breeds such as hound, bulldog, boxer, Great Dane, English setter, Great Pyrenees, kuvasz, mastiff, Newfoundland, Saint Bernard, shar-pei and Irish water spaniel.

References

About the Author

Kristie Sweet has been writing professionally since 1982, most recently publishing for various websites on topics like health and wellness, and education. She holds a Master of Arts in English from the University of Northern Colorado.

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