Pets & Peanut Cross-Contamination
For the longest time my allergies to animals seemed inconsistent. I seemed to be okay with some dogs, but not others, some cats, not others, some horses, some chickens, some hamsters… the conflicting pet list went on and on. Being an animal lover, I wanted to make sense of it all.
I should start off by saying that I grew up with lots of pets in my household, and all my childhood friends seemed to have a plethora of pets as well. We had neighbors with bunnies, so we inevitably ended up with (somehow only) two of those- Carrot and Lazy. I had a tiger salamander, two frogs, many goldfish, two panda bear hamsters Cookie & Cream- who we were told were both Male, until Cream shockingly and semi-traumatically (for me, and for her) gave birth to hamsters Oreo and Pinky. I had a gerbil who lived a very long life, our 2 cats Quest and Arena (I’ve always been highly allergic to cat dander, these two are still around & live with my mom), our dogs Emma and Tara, and later our dog Brownie after Tara passed away. And to be honest, I’m feeling like I’m forgetting some!
As a kid, my family checked ingredients to be certain to not buy peanut butter dog containing treats, but that was basically the extent of our safety measures. In hindsight, the bunny, gerbil and hamster food was very risky for me in terms of exposure! Thank goodness we never got a bird! Bird seed almost always contains peanut ingredients.
It turns out I actually am slightly allergic to dog dander, which I only know from the blood allergy testing I got done in 2016. For a while I thought that I had a dog allergy suddenly develop, since I would break out in hives and/or get a swollen lip and face at friends’ and families’ houses from their dog’s saliva. But as it turns out, peanut derivatives are found frequently in dog food and treats, and peanut butter is used as a pairing for many common dog toys. The culprit of these reactions was due to peanut cross-contamination coming into play and I wasn’t realizing it. I know multiple cat owners who feed their cats peanut-butter as well, so this isn’t dog-specific only!
Peanut remnants would not only be in the animals saliva, but also on rugs or carpets from them chewing on toys in the area, on the furniture, their bedding, their fur, etc. Generally, I assume small bits of peanut dust are throughout every animal owners home, and so I enter bravely and proceed with caution.
The brand name wipes ‘Wet Ones’ are convenient to keep on-hand, and actually contain an ingredient that breaks down nut-protein, so they are my favorite go-to for most situations and combating peanut dust in daily life. Another favorite product that I use is Nature’s Miracle brand allergen-blocker spray. I have tried it for both dog dander and cat dander and I do feel it has helped lessen my allergic symptoms, you can read about how it works in those links. I’ve always found it locally at stores in my area such as Feeder’s Supply, and as a bonus it also helps eliminate dust mites, and other environmental allergens. They used to make a wipe version which is particularly neat because you can wipe furniture, carpet, and other surfaces, but you can also wipe the animals directly to break down their allergen proteins while deodorizing their coats. I’m not sure that they still do make the wipes, but you can alternatively spray it from the bottle onto a washcloth and do the same thing, which is more environmentally friendly anyway. I don’t use these products THAT often, but I do enjoy knowing I can always get them if I need them.
I love going to friends’ and families’ homes who have animals, but it brings a whole new side of my airborne and severe allergy out that I really need to stay aware of, and honestly, try to limit when possible. From dogs who play with peanut butter filled Kong toys or take daily medicine with peanut butter, to birds in cages with dusty peanut-y bird feed that gets onto surfaces and microscopically into the air- the potentials are truly endless. Cross-contamination from pets is a very common problem I run into with my severe food allergy. For people new to food allergies, or those not well-versed in food allergies, it’s something that is often not considered, since there’s no act of eating involved.
Keeping My Pet(s) Peanut-Free
After determining the reason I was reacting to other people’s pets, I immediately wanted my own safe pup in my life! I now had this new understanding of how I could have a pet and keep myself safe, which was exciting! My husband and I got a beagle mix named Colby as a 5 ½ year old rescue from a local shelter. The first thing we did was wash him SUPER well after we first got him, because I had no idea what he had been fed, where he had been, etc. and I avoided licks from him for a few days. Colby eats Earthborn Holistic dog food, which luckily he seems to like, because he is picky! Earthborn is also a company I feel good supporting for environmental reasons, it is the only brand I found that is a peanut free-facility as far as dog food manufacturing goes, with ingredients that are recognizable. It’s worth mentioning that their dog treats are not safe, some contain peanuts and all are made in a facility with peanut ingredients.
The brand Fromm makes safe peanut-less treats the last time I checked, but they can be expensive! We got those for a long time, but now we make our own out of Bob’s Red Mill brown rice flour and other Colby-friendly (our dog is chicken and grain free due to allergies!) and Zoë-safe ingredients! My mother-in-law got us this organic dog biscuit recipe book and it’s what we’ve always used. They make great gifts as well to other pet parents, and can be customized with cookie cutters to adorable shapes and varying sizes for specific toys and needs! I typically just cut them into small squares so they fit in his Kong toy.
Luckily a few pet brands were responsive and helpful to my inquiries about if peanut ingredients are in the facilities, and this is how I learned about Fromm and Earthborn. As a general rule, if I don’t get a reply back from a company, or if I get a vague reply, I cross it off my potential brand list and move on to the next. It is hard enough finding out about dog food ingredients, because they aren’t required to release the full ingredient list since it isn’t for human consumption, but I also needed to know about pet wipes, washes, and pet bones as many facilities use undeclared ingredients that could be peanut-derived, or make edible dog bones on shared equipment with peanuts or even containing peanut butter. This is covered more in my dedicated post on non-food peanut products, because I could go on and on about how undeclared allergens are in household products!
I will admit— I understand the hype surrounding giving your pet peanut butter to get them to swallow their medicine. Like I mentioned, we have a very allergic dog, funnily enough, and he takes a prescription allergy medicine daily for environmental allergens. He will spit the pill out of most things, but alternative-nut butters that are labeled and safe for me, such as soynut butter, pea butter, or almond butter seem to work the best! SO there’s no judgement in terms of having nut-particles all around your home if you don’t have an allergy, I understand it, because our house probably has almond or soy particles everywhere due to this. If you have questions about any of the brands I use, feel free to write me via my Contact form or comment on this blog post below.
Doggy Play Dates & Neighborhood Animals
Play dates with other dogs can be risky, but are fun for both dog and humans, so during these my main objective is to try to limit my own touching of my face, especially my mouth area or eyes (a good habit anyway), since who knows where the other dogs have been, or what the other dogs have had recently. If I get a lot of licks from the other dog, I normally try to wash the area quickly as a precaution! I also give Colby a bath afterwards, or have my husband help me wipe him down, and anything else that may be cross-contaminated by potential peanut ingredients from the other dog (toys, water bowl, door handles, etc).
I’ve recognized recently that I need to improve my conversations with friends and family who have dogs that play with Colby, to make sure they avoid giving their animals peanut products beforehand. Most of the time I do, and friends who I see often are mindful, but occasionally situations happen where I don’t communicate as much as I should, and then I have a lot of cleaning to do afterwards to try to secure my safety and a peanut-free house, especially if we host the play-date. Another thing we don’t do, because I don’t feel comfortable, is go to dog parks. I know Colby would probably love it, but I don’t know where the other dogs have been, what they’ve eaten or are being fed as treats when they’re being good there, and so on. It has too many unknown variables for me, and it is stressful for me to have to wash him super well each time we go out to dog-places like that. I already wipe him down really well or wash him after we go to the vet or even play with another dog impromptu on a walk, so the dog park seems like a bigger risk than reward.
Not related to friends pets, I actually had to ask a neighbor of mine last year to stop feeding peanuts to our neighborhood squirrels. After finding peanuts in my front lawn and on my porch due to our big oak trees above, I initially thought it was the mailman (well, in actuality, I first thought I had an enemy). I called the post office and asked if my mailman may be potentially feeding the squirrels, as I’ve seen him feed cats before. Turns out, he was not, it was a neighbor down the road!
A few days later while out walking Colby, Colby actually ATE a peanut. I was in a panic over that alone, until I realized I had also stepped on a peanut, which got stuck in a crevice on the bottom of my sneaker and I went into full-freak-out-mode. I quickly followed the peanut trail with my eyes, mostly to escape as quickly as possible, to find my neighbor’s front yard littered with peanuts! Luckily, he was very understanding and now uses sunflower seeds. Every so often I write him a thank you note again, to also serve as a friendly reminder.
Side note: I didn’t want to tell my neighbor, since he was doing a nice gesture for me by switching to sunflower seeds, but feeding squirrels peanuts is actually bad for their digestion, as they are in the legume family, and not a ‘nut’. Spread the word!
It’s important for me to keep my environment safe, but I also try to not get too hung up on the potential cross-contaminated side of pets. I stay aware and alert, always, whether I like to or not, so I try to trust that I’m taking precautions to keep myself safe and staying aware of any signs of an allergy.
Cross-contamination in general is an entire issue I will cover much more in-depth in this blog, as it’s such a huge issue, and likely the hardest part of my food allergy. It’s everywhere, at every moment, and entirely unavoidable. Touching doorknobs, touching elevator buttons, going into an animal shelter, using anything public like a library book, or even a book a friend lends you, sitting on a park bench, doing simple shopping at the grocery store, arranging store bought cut flowers– all of these normal actions are just as risky as having a doggy play date. The goal is to not avoid everything and be fearful of everything- but try to take as much control over situations as you can, and then try to enjoy the moment. I’m so glad I got a dog, and didn’t let my allergy get in the way! If you or your allergic child want an animal and aren’t allergic, I say give it a shot!
Until next time!