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Allergies leave some pet lovers in conflict

Despite discomfort, owners look to alternative ways to keep their furry friends around

By Wang Xiaoyu | China Daily | Updated: 2024-05-01 07:21
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Even as symptoms of severe allergies became impossible to ignore, Zhang Yangwei firmly rejected the prospect of giving up his pet dog.

Zhang, 31, adopted a Shibu Inu dog in the autumn of 2021. "At the time, I knew I was allergic to cat hair but did not experience any discomfort when occasionally walking my friend's dogs. After I settled in Beijing, I decided to get a dog."

The first year and a half with his furry companion Echo was filled with joy and warmth as she trotted by Zhang's side on trips to parks, boutique coffee houses and seaside resorts. "I think we share the same smile," said Zhang.

In March of last year, Zhang began to experience shortness of breath when climbing stairs, which he chalked up to having a cold at first. But the telltale signs of allergies — sneezing more than 10 times upon waking up, runny nose and pain behind his eyes — continued to affect him.

"I had allergic reactions before, so I got suspicious and went to the hospital to have an allergy blood test administered," he said. The results showed that he has an extreme allergy to dogs. Pet allergies are often caused by proteins in pets' saliva, urine and dander, or pollen, dust mites and mold carried by their fur.

"When asked if I could give Echo away, my immediate reaction was 'That's impossible,'" he said. "I knew I must find other solutions to cope with the condition."

As a growing number of Chinese families raise pets, the number of people suffering from pet allergies — often caused by dogs and cats — has also increased, leaving them with the dilemma that their love for their pet and living with a health condition may not be reconcilable.

China had about 116.6 million pet dogs and cats in 2022, a 3.7 percent increase from the previous year. The increase is primarily driven by a 12.6 percent year-on-year jump in the number of pet cats, according to a white paper released by, a data science company, in early 2023.

Nationwide, there were about 67.3 million pet owners, and the proportion born after 1995 was rising, as did the ratio of middle-aged and elderly pet owners.

The value of China's urban market for pet dogs and pet cats was 270.6 billion yuan ($37.34 billion) in 2022, a rise of 8.7 percent from 2021, the report stated.

Meanwhile, according to a study in 2019 led by the Allergy Center at Beijing Shijitan Hospital Affiliated to Capital Medical University, allergies to cat dander affect about 12.3 percent of people in China who said they were troubled by allergies, registering an uptick from the previous two years while allergies to dog dander dropped from 7.4 to 4.6 percent.

To meet patients' rising demands and promote standardized diagnosis and treatment of the condition, the center announced in early March that it will offer an outpatient clinic for pet allergies every Thursday.

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