Rat Allergies – Am I Allergic To My Pet Rat?

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Rat Allergies - Diagnosis and Treatment

Most of us have heard that some people are allergic to cats, but many of us are unaware of rat allergies and their effects.  Melinda Story helps you decide if you are allergic to your pet rat and explains what you need to do next.

If you are a conscientious pet owner, then you likely spent hours researching the perfect animal for your lifestyle.

In your quest for your new companion, you may have been overwhelmed (surprisingly) by the many positive attributes associated with rats.

According to The Humane Society of the United States, rats are friendly, social, and great animals for older children and adults. The rodents are incredibly smart too.

Rat allergies can be a problem for some pet rat owners
Rats make great pets

In fact, research conducted by the Laboratory of Biological Psychology at the University of Leuven indicates that rats outperform humans when it comes to information integration tasks. In other words, rats are far better at finding patterns when given complex information.

If you have prepared and are now ready to test wits and brain power with your new rodent, you may be in for a shock when you suddenly start sneezing, wheezing, and coughing.

Well, you can probably put two and two together. You just might be allergic to your new friend.

Is this even possible, and what do you do when your new companion makes you feel ill? In this article, we explored these questions and help you build the relationship you deserve with your pet.

Can You Be Allergic To Rats?

The unfortunate answer to this question is yes, you can be allergic to rats. Researchers have conducted some intensive research on laboratory animals and the work-related allergies of lab workers.

Studies conclude that between 11% and 44% of individuals developed a laboratory animal allergy.

You probably do not work in a laboratory setting, but the study tells us a few things. Since scientific laboratories are dust and contamination free environments, the allergies can be directly attributed to the animals in the facilities.

Also, since rats, and other rodents, are almost exclusively used in many of the laboratories across the United States, the allergies are often rat (or rodent) related.

What does this mean for you? Well, rat allergies are not uncommon and you may be allergic to your new animal pal. In particular, you may be allergic to all types of rodents.

If you have ever had a mouse problem in your home and have also noticed yourself finding it difficult to breathe, then this may be one sign that rodents are causing an immune reaction.

Am I Allergic To My Rat?

If you have seasonal allergies or if you find that you are a bit stuffed up when you forget to dust for a week or two, then you may have one or many types of allergies. For example, you might be allergic to dust mite feces, outdoor mold, and ragweed pollen.

If you have a number of allergies, then you may notice yourself becoming quite ill in the fall, for example, when ragweed and outdoor mold spores are most prevalent.

A guide to rat allergies - how to decide if you are allergic to your rat, and what to do about itIf you just happened to purchase your rat in the fall, then you may be blaming your animal for your symptoms.

But, you would have noticed those symptoms before now, right? Not necessarily, and climate change really is to blame.

For the past several years, pollen levels have been increasing, and more and more people are feeling their allergy symptoms heighten in response. You may be feeling this same sort of heightening now, where allergy symptoms may have been previously blamed on a virus, like that spring cold that always seems to strike or that nasty flu virus that makes an appearance as your son or daughter starts school in the fall.

However, this does not mean that your rat is not partially to blame, if not entirely, for your allergy issues. You may have simply added on more allergen to your environment. This, along with increased pollen levels, may leave you feeling just plain icky.

Rat Allergy Testing

To find out all about your allergies and whether or not your rat is making you ill, you should seek out the assistance of your allergist.

The professional can complete a simple blood test to help you figure out exactly what is making you feel so congested.

While you can have a skin prick test completed, blood tests are easy, non-invasive, and they provide a pretty clear picture of whether or not your new skinny tailed friend or your unweeded back yard is causing your issues.

Blood tests identify Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies. Antibodies are blood proteins that are produced by the immune system in response to a foreign body (virus, bacteria, or allergen). Once the antibody is produced, the protein remains in the blood and the IgE antibodies can be located and identified.

While allergens are not bodily intruders like viruses and bacteria, your autoimmune system identifies them as such. In other words, your body overreacts to the allergen, sees it as a harmful substance, and you become sick like you would if you were exposed to a cold virus.

Your body will only overreact to certain substances. Each of allergen will have its own specific IgE antibody. If the antibody is located in your blood, then you are allergic to it. Otherwise, you would have no antibody at all because your body identifies the pollen, dander, or dust as a non-harmful substance (like it should).

If your blood test comes back as positive for rodent-specific IgE, then you are allergic to your rat. However, the blood test does not specifically detail how allergic you are to your pet.

Skin prick tests can provide this information. If you are allergic to several different substances, then the test can help you to figure out if you are more allergic to your rat or to the ragweed pollen outdoors. This can be helpful if you are trying to figure out if you can live with the symptoms produced by your new friend or not.

If you are only allergic to rodents or only one type of pollen, then you can probably skin the prick test.

Rat Allergies – The Symptoms

You have probably figure out by now that allergy symptoms can vary greatly and so can their intensity.

If you have never experienced allergies before or if you are really not sure if previous symptoms were related to an allergy or not, then you may be confused about how your body is reacting. Specifically, it can be pretty hard for a new allergy sufferer to tell the difference between an allergic reaction and a cold.

This is completely normal.

Thankfully, there are some pretty easy ways to tell if you have a cold instead of an allergy issue. Colds will often be accompanied by a fever, and symptoms will occur suddenly.

Allergies will not produce fevers and the symptoms will creep up on you and worsen over the course of several days.

Another sure sign that you have an allergy is that your symptoms seem to linger for two weeks or more. Colds typically go away within about 7 to 10 days.

If you are allergic to your rat, then there are some common symptoms you are likely to experience that include:

  • Respiratory distress (coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath)
  • Sinus congestion (pressure below and above the eyes)
  • Runny nose
  • Post-nasal drip
  • Skin rashes

You should know that respiratory and asthma symptoms are quite common if you have a rodent allergy.

In fact, one study completed by the Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at Imperial College has been completed that shows a close relationship between rodent allergies and asthma.

This means that asthma is one of the more serious and telltale symptoms of the allergy.

Be sure to consult your medical practitioner about your symptoms, especially if your shortness of breath persists and is interfering with your daily activities.

Allergic Reaction To Rat Droppings

If you have shown signs of rodent and rat allergies, then you may wonder exactly what you are allergic to. This is an easy question to answer when it comes to common cat and dog allergies, because the vast majority of reactions are caused by dander exposure.

Dander is the skin that flakes off the body of your pet, and you certainly can be allergic to rat dander. The allergy is a specific reaction to the proteins in the skin cells. It is a common issue, just like a cat dander allergy.

However, things get a bit more complicated when it comes to rodents. You may also be allergic to your rat’s urine, droppings, and saliva. Allergies to these things, like the skin dander, mean that your body reacts to the proteins contained in them.

If you notice more respiratory symptoms, then there is a good chance that you are allergic to rat dander or droppings.

Skin cells and dust from rat droppings can easily be inhaled. This is one reason why you may notice more internal symptoms with these allergies, like sinus congestion and asthma.

If you are allergic to saliva or urine, then you are more likely to see rashes on the skin. In particular, the rash will appear where the allergen comes into contact with your body. This reaction is called contact dermatitis.

Can I Keep My Rat If I’m Allergic?

Now that you have read through all the horrible things about allergies and the possibility that you are allergic to your rodent pal, here is some good news for you.

No, some great news. You can probably keep your rat and minimize your symptoms in the process.

Unlike food or bee sting allergies, most people with rat allergies will not be putting their lives at risk by keep your rat.

If you have every had a friend or family member who kept their cat after discovering an allergy, then you will be doing the same sort of thing. Obviously you’ll need to discuss the situation with your medical advisor, but in most cases – Ratty can stay.

Rat Allergy Symptom Control

There are definitely some things you should be doing to keep yourself from constantly wheezing and sneezing.

First and foremost, you should be cleaning your rat’s cage often. The Humane Society of the United States recommends complete bedding changes and cage cleanings at least once a week.

Sufferers of rat allergies may want to opt for twice weekly cleanings with hypoallergenic bedding.

Some people are allergic to pine and cedar shavings. Not only can these types of bedding exacerbate your asthma problem, but the aromatic compounds in the wood can cause your rat to develop a respiratory condition as well as a possible liver failure issue. Use hypoallergenic and dust free paper pellets to reduce these concerns.

When cleaning the cage, wear vinyl or rubber gloves to protect your skin and also place a dust mask over your nose and mouth.

If you are allergic to saliva and dander, then allergy control may be just a little bit more difficult.

Skin cells flake off at random and produce a fine dust, but you can reduce your exposure by keeping the rat cage out of your bedroom and by vacuuming around the cage often.

When it comes to saliva exposure, rats use their saliva to clean themselves.

You will then come into contact with the allergen by handling your rat. Some rat owners control their pet rat allergies by wearing fingerless gloves, long pants, and hoodies while interacting with their rodents.

Basically, if you cover most of your skin, then an allergic reaction will be far less likely.

Rat Allergies – The Treatment

If you find that you cannot control symptoms very well, then it may be time to seek further medical advice.  In some cases it is possible for you to be ‘desensitised’ to the allergen that is causing your problems

An allergist, like the person who performs allergy tests, is the person who can assist you. If you have other allergies or if you are serious about forming a special bond with your rat and other rodents far into the future, then immunotherapy may be right for you.

Simply put, immunotherapy is when you receive allergy shots for a period of time. Each shot will contain just a little bit of all the things you are allergic to.

As your body is continually exposed to the allergens, your immune system learns that the substances are not actually trying to kill you. Your body then stops responding to the allergen in a negative way.

The magic of immunotherapy is that you can be “cured” of your rat allergy (and all of your horrific seasonal allergies too). The only catch is that you have to dedicate several years to the therapy and you may not be completely 100% cured of all your symptoms. There is a good chance that you will feel quite a bit better though.

If you are a bit hesitant about long-term allergy shots, new research, completed by the Swiss Institute for Asthma and Allergy Research, suggests that more concentrated allergen injections completed over just a four month period have been shown to reduce symptoms significantly. You may want to speak with your allergy doctor about the possibility of this.

If shots are not for you, then there are a wide range of oral antihistamines, steroidal nasal sprays, and nasal allergen blockers that you can find over the counter at your local pharmacy. These will often provide significant relief from rat allergies.

Your allergist can give you advice on which medicines may work best for your situation, and the professional may prescribe an inhaler for asthma too.

Rat Allergies –  Conclusion

Pet rat allergies can really leave you feeling down in the dumps, especially if you have gone to all the trouble to research the perfect pet for you.

If you suspect you are allergic to your rat, allergy testing can confirm your suspicions one way or the other.

You are not alone, and with agreement of your medical advisor, you should be able to manage your symptoms and keep your rat.  In fact, though it may take a little bit more work than you expected, you may well be able to enjoy your rat without wheezing and sneezing at all.

How about you?

Are you a rat allergy sufferer? Do you have some stories to share about your own rat allergy experience?

Have you figured out the perfect plan to reduce your rat allergy symptoms, or do you simple want to tell us about the cute tricks your pet rat has learned? Feel free to leave us a message in the comments.

References:

Laboratory of Biological Psychology, University of Leuven (KU Leuven), Tiensestraat 102, B3000, Leuven, Belgium, More complex brains are not always better: rats outperform humans in implicit category-based generalization by implementing a similarity-based strategy, Psychon Bull Rev. 2014 Aug;21(4):1080-6. doi: 10.3758/s13423-013-0579-9

Robert K. Bush, Gregg M. Stave; Laboratory Animal Allergy: An Update. ILAR J 2003; 44 (1): 28-51. doi: 10.1093/ilar.44.1.28

Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Imperial College (NHLI), 18 Manresa Road, London, UK. Allergy to rodents: an update, Clin Exp Allergy. 2010 Nov;40(11):1593-601. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2222.2010.03609.x. Epub 2010 Sep 14.

Unit for Experimental Immunotherapy, Department of Dermatology, University Hospital Zurich, 8091 Zurich, Switzerland, Intralymphatic allergen administration renders specific immunotherapy faster and safer: a randomized controlled trial, Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Nov 18;105(46):17908-12. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0803725105. Epub 2008 Nov 10

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