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. 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 2 more hamsters, Oreo and Pinky. I had a gerbil who lived a very long life, my mom currently has 4 cats, we had one when I was in High School, and we always had more than one dog during my childhood! 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! Birdseed almost always contains peanut ingredients, much like gerbil and hamster food. However, if you are new to food allergies or someone in your family is and you have or want a pet bird, this company makes peanut-free birdseed. As someone with a peanut allergy, I’m often thinking out-of-the-box for ways I can be accommodated or eat a safe treat, etc. and in that line of thinking, you also have the option to make your own version of birdseed, hamster food, dog treats etc. out of whole ingredients safe for you and your family. Doing things this way can sometimes be more expensive, or sometimes less expensive, so that’s something to consider and it really just varies based on brands and the types of ingredients needed.
After getting allergy testing as an adult, it turns out I actually am slightly allergic to dog dander, which makes sense to me based on past reactions I’ve had to some dogs. This was confirmed from blood allergy testing I had done in 2016. For a while I thought that I had a more severe 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 my severe reactions was actually due to peanut cross-contact 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 are not only in the animals saliva, but also get on rugs and carpets from them chewing on toys and bringing them around the house. Trace amounts end up on the furniture, on bedding, floors, their fur, etc. Generally, I assume small bits of peanuts are sprinkled throughout every animal owners home, and so I enter bravely and proceed with caution, with my epi-pens, wet wipes, and Benadryl at hand. If you haven’t read my post on What is Cross-Contact and Cross-Contamination, you may want to!
Preventative Cross-Contact Measures
The brand name wipes ‘Wet Ones’ are convenient to keep on-hand, and a long time ago I read that they actually contain an ingredient that breaks down nut-protein. I can’t find the study to confirm it and asked the company Wet Ones about it, and they said they are aware of the study and results but they didn’t perform the study themselves, but regardless, that brand tends to be 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, as I don’t see them on their website, 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 the Nature’s Miracle products THAT often, but I do enjoy knowing I can always get them if I need them. If you suffer from environmental allergens as well, I suggest getting an air purifier, we have a Honeywell HEPA filter and I can noticeably tell when we’re using it vs when we aren’t!
I love going to friends’ and families’ homes who have animals, but it does bring a whole new side of my airborne and severe allergy out that I have to stay aware of and alert for, so honestly, I try to limit it to an extent. From friends and family members dogs who play with peanut butter filled Kong toys or take daily medicine with peanut butter, to birds in cages with dusty allergen-containing 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
Animal Food & Treats
After determining the reason I was reacting to other people’s pets was due to cross-contamination of peanut ingredients, not a severe dog allergy, 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 a picky Beagle! 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, and I like that they use ingredients that are recognizable. It’s worth mentioning that their dog treats are not safe because some contain peanut ingredients and they’re all made in the same shared facility with peanut ingredients.
Last I checked, the brand Fromm makes safe peanut-less treats the last time I checked, but they can be expensive! We got those for a while, but now we make our own out of Bob’s Red Mill brown rice flour and other Colby-friendly (our dog is actually chicken and grain free due to his own allergies!) & Zoë-safe ingredients! My mother-in-law got us an organic dog biscuit recipe book and it is what we’ve always used since for dog treats. 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. For our dog Colby’s birthday, I can make him these homemade treats, or I’ve even made him special “bday treats” in the past based out of ingredients we already had in our fridge, like freezing Greek yogurt & smashed blueberries into a small cake-like shape, or little yogurt drops.
When it came to finding peanut-less dog food, 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 can be tough finding out about dog food ingredients, because they aren’t required to release the full ingredient list since it isn’t for human consumption, so the labeling laws are different. I also needed to know about pet wipes, washes, and pet bones as many facilities use undeclared “natural” 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 and non-food products! To keep it brief, anything you buy for your dog that is edible, I call the facility on to ask if it contains my own allergens, not because I want to eat it but due to exposure.
Giving Your Pet Medicine
I will admit— I understand the hype surrounding giving your pet peanut butter to get them to swallow their medicine. Like I mentioned, we happen to have adopted a very allergic dog, and he takes a prescription allergy medicine daily for environmental and food allergens. The Greenies pill pockets for dogs aren’t safe for me, as they’re made in a facility with peanut ingredients, so I’ve had to experiment on my own with things like cheese. He is able to 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! Even with cleaning well, it’s something to be aware of and ask friends and family about to understand the level of contamination that may be in their home of your allergen.
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. I definitely would periodically check in because ingredients do change.
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. I try to limit doggy kisses, but if I somehow get a lot of licks from the other dog, I normally try to calmly go wash the area quickly as a precaution. I also often will give Colby a bath afterwards, or wipe him down, and then change my clothes and wipe myself down too as a precaution!
If You Host The Playdate
If you host the playdate you’ll want to be mindful of where you’re letting the dogs go in your home, closing off any doors to try to keep the area you’ll be cleaning afterwards to a minimum. Once it is over, anything else that may be contaminated by potential peanut ingredients or allergens from the other dog should get wiped or washed like dog toys and the water bowl. Other things that I wipe down are door handles, my clothing, my phone, sometimes I’ll mope or Swiffer the floor, etc.
I’ve recognized in the past after hosting doggy playdates that I needed to improve my conversations with friends and family who have dogs that play with Colby, to make sure they are actively avoiding giving their animals peanut products before the playdate. Now I always make a point to ask this, even with friends who I see often and are mindful already, because occasionally situations happen still where I have a lot of cleaning to do afterwards to try to secure my safety and a peanut-free house again. I’ll try to put away anything I can’t wipe or wash, or simply don’t want to, like Colby’s plush toys, so that way I’m not in a pickle trying to wash something that isn’t washable later. We have a fully fenced in backyard, so if a friend tells me they are on their way and forgot but gave their dog PB yesterday, I could cancel, or I may suggest only hanging outside to limit the contamination in our house, and I’ll proceed with caution if I’m touching that dog. It’s always your call and what you are comfortable with.
If You Are Attending A Dog Playdate
If you’re going somewhere else for the playdate, cross-contact will look differently since you’re entering someone else’s home who doesn’t have your allergy, and likely even if they’ve cleaned and put your allergen away, there could be trace amounts of it places. Anytime you’re entering a public space or someone else’s home, it’s good to be mindful and bring wet wipes or wipe your hands, arms, or any exposed areas of your skin often. I stay aware of what Colby’s in contact with and then act accordingly once we get home if he needs a bath or not. Every home situation is different, maybe they never keep your allergen in their house, and in that case, it’s still important to always have epinephrine and Benadryl and it’s never a bad idea of wash your hands, but you can try to relax a bit more if that is the case. Another option is if someone has a backyard that is fully fenced, if you feel uncomfortable in their home, you can ask to move it to the outdoors for fresh air and more space.
One place I don’t feel comfortable going are 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, and so on. It feels like too many unknown variables for me, and it is a lot for me to have to wash him, wash myself, and wipe my car down super well each time we go out to dog-places like that. I already wipe him down really well and/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.
Because we do walk Colby in our neighborhood, which is contaminated with my allergen and other common allergens, we try to wipe his paws on our doormat before he comes in, the same way we do our own shoes! Sometimes though we aren’t always the best at it, or we will wipe his paws but I recognize that particles are also collecting under on his belly, his nose, his ears, etc. and so it is something I am cautious about. If I’m giving him snuggles and wanting to put my face in his fur, I am mindful of where I’m placing my face, and if he’s had a bath recently, etc. I often will wipe him down with a wet washcloth every few days or so just to try to remove any particles from him. Unfortunately seeing peanuts on the ground outside is a common situation in my own neighborhood, or when walking in other neighborhoods or parks.
Case and point, In the past I have had to ask multiple neighbors of mine 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 wondered if 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 a few houses down, and then another neighbor one block over from us.
A few days after I first noticed the peanuts in our yard and garden, I was out walking Colby on our street, and Colby actually ATE a peanut on the sidewalk. I was in a panic over that, and then 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 panic-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 to my letter I immediately wrote and dropped in his mailbox, and now uses sunflower seeds. Every so often I write him and the other house I asked to stop using peanuts a ‘thank you’ note again, to also serve as a friendly reminder.
Side note: I didn’t want to tell my neighbors, since they are doing a nice gesture for me by switching to sunflower seeds and alternatives, 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 as much as I can control, but I also try to not get too hung up on the potential cross-contaminated side of pets as much as I can. I stay aware and alert, always, whether I like to or not, it’s how I’m trained to scan for potential risks related to peanuts, so I try to trust that I’m taking precautions to keep myself safe and staying aware of any signs of an allergy. I always keep my epinephrine and Benadryl close, which is #1.
Cross-Contact & Pets
Cross-contact in general is an entire topic I will cover much more in-depth in this blog, as it’s such a huge issue, and definitely proved to be the hardest part of life with a food allergy for me. The reason is because it’s everywhere, at every moment, and often too small to be seen or detected. Actions like touching doorknobs, touching elevator buttons, going into an animal shelter, using anything public like a library book, or even a book a family member 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. Due to this, my goal is to not avoid everything and be fearful of everything, living in a bubble- but try to take as much control over situations as I can, and then try to enjoy the moment.
I’m so glad I got a dog and didn’t let my peanut allergy scare me out of it! It does take time to contact food brands, but that is why I made this post, so I hope it shows it can take some time upfront but once you’ve found allergen-free brands, you can have a pet that isn’t contaminated. If you or your allergic child, or friend or family member want an animal and aren’t allergic to the pet itself (like if you don’t have a cat or dog allergy, etc), I say give it a shot! I’ve been told that most animal rescue organizations are willing to do “trials” with adoptions to make sure it’s a good fit with allergens, they want the animal to be re-homed to be happy just as much as they want you to be happy with them and make sure it is a good fit, so I recommend asking about doing that “trial” for a week before committing. We’ve had situations where I’ve been too allergic to a specific breed of cat or dog in the past, so it’s helpful to have this as an option!