Allergies to Animals

Allergies to Animals

Allergy to animals is a significant occupational health concern for individuals who work with laboratory animals. Cats, rabbits, mice, rats, and guinea pigs are the most frequently implicated species. Animal allergens may be present in animal dander, hair, skin, urine, saliva, serum and any contaminated feed or bedding materials.  Handling animals, performing techniques such as injections, blood sampling, testing, euthanasia, feeding, and cleaning cages are examples of procedures where a person might be exposed to allergens through inhalation and contact with skin, eyes, and mucous membranes.

Approximately 20-30 percent of individuals working with laboratory animals will develop an allergic reaction to animal materials. While most individuals who develop allergies to animals will do so within the first two years of exposure, certain sensitive individuals may experience almost immediate reactions. Individuals with a prior personal or family history of allergy, asthma, or hay fever may have an increased the risk for developing allergy to animals.

Most of the individuals who develop reactions to animal contact experience symptoms such as nasal discharge and congestion, conjunctivitis, tearing and eye itching, skin redness, and/or rash or hives. However, more severe reactions such as asthma, wheezing, or coughing may also be associated with exposure. Individuals working with animals have a 5-10% chance of developing asthma, with the likelihood being higher in those with a prior personal or family history of allergy or asthma.

The WSU Safety Policies and Procedure Manual, Section 25.20.1, Reporting Bodily Injury Accidents or Occupational Illnesses, requires that personnel report all illnesses which result from job-related activities to their immediate supervisor for evaluation/investigation. Allergies to laboratory animals should be considered such an illness. To report a workplace injury or illness, please visit the WSU Human Resource Services (HRS) Website. Individuals experiencing symptoms would also be advised to contact their physician for diagnosis and treatment. WSU offers an Occupational Health Medical Evaluation Program, where individuals working with WSU animals may enroll to be evaluated free of charge.

Certain procedures should be routinely followed to minimize the risk of developing animal allergies. Animals should be worked with in a hood or other well-ventilated areas to decrease the buildup of various particles in the air. Exposure can be further reduced by using good hygiene practices (e.g., hand washing) and personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, particulate or fine dust masks, and laboratory coats. Care should also be taken in moving animals from one room to another via corridors or elevators. To decrease exposure to individuals located along the transport route, cages should be covered with a material such as a filter top or drape while being transported to a laboratory or procedure area.

Specialized equipment, work areas and work routines may also be available/practiced in the facility where an individual works with animals to further decrease exposure. WSU Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) can be contacted at 509-335-3041 or to be evaluated for animal allergen exposure and needed PPE (e.g. respirator). Please view the WSU Environmental Health and Safety Fact Sheet on Animal Allergies for additional information.