The Truth about Hypoallergenic Dogs and Cats

You love animals—but whenever you go near them, your eyes water up, your throat itches, and your skin breaks out in hives. What a cruel, cruel joke for any dog or cat lover!  Even if you don't share your home with a pet, it can be difficult to enter the house of someone who does. So is there any hope (beyond a lifetime of allergy medications)?
Scientifically speaking, there's no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog or cat, but there is anecdotal evidence that certain breeds cause fewer problems in allergy-prone humans. In truth, any animal with fur or feathers has the potential to cause allergies. In fact, a 2011 study published in The American Journal of Rhinology & Allergy found that dog allergen levels in homes with hypoallergenic dogs were no different than those found in homes with other breeds.  It's just that everyone reacts differently to each animal's dander, saliva and fur. So just because you're allergic to one cat (or even many cats) doesn't mean you'll be allergic to all of them. The same is true for dogs. This means that even with severe pet allergies, you could still encounter a pet that doesn't give you an allergic reaction at all.
The following breeds, often called hypoallergenic, tend to be the most recommended for people who suffer from allergies to dogs and cats.

Least-Allergenic Dogs
  • Airedale terrier
  • Bichon frisé
  • Chinese crested 
  • Kerry blue terrier
  • Poodle 
  • Portuguese water dog
  • Soft-coated wheaten terrier
  • West Highland white terrier

Least-Allergenic Cats
  • Balinese 
  • Bengal
  • Burmese
  • Colorpoint shorthair
  • Cornish rex
  • Devon rex
  • Javanese
  • Ocicat
  • Oriental shorthair
  • Russian blue
  • Siamese
  • Siberian
  • Sphynx

If you'd prefer to adopt an animal from a shelter or rescue group, don't let allergies hold you back. There are rescues devoted to just about every breed of animal you can imagine. You can also find mixes in shelters that might cause fewer allergies. It's quite common to find dogs mixed with poodle, one of the top contenders for least-allergenic animal.
Your other option is to choose a pets without fur or feathers. You can consider exotic pets like lizards, snakes or turtles, but reptiles and amphibians come with their own health dangers, including salmonella. Smaller mammals like guinea pigs and gerbils might cause fewer allergies, as they're kept in cages and don't have free roam of the house where their fur and dander can build up in the carpet. Fish are also a good choice for people with allergies.

If you love animals and want to try to make sure your children don't develop animal allergies, one way to prevent them is to actually have an animal in the home during the child's first year of life. Studies have shown that children who grow up on farms or with indoor pets are less likely to develop animal allergies—and have fewer respiratory tract infections. (However, it is possible for adults to develop allergies later in life.)
Reducing Pet Allergens at Home
To reduce the chances of having an allergic reaction to a pet, there are several steps you can take.
  • Keep pets out of your bedroom and away from your bedding and pillow.
  • Keep dog and cat beds clean and replace them after a year. They can harbor dust mites, another common allergen.
  • Have your pets bathed by a groomer (or by a non-allergic family member) once a week.
  • Vacuum regularly or get rid of carpet and rugs in favor of hard surfaces that don't trap allergens.
  • Use washable covers in the car and on chairs and couches to make them easier to clean regularly.
  • Wash your hands after petting your dog or cat.
Treating Animal Allergies
If you're an animal lover who happens to be allergic to a pet, don't fret. There are effective treatments available if avoiding animals is out of the question. An allergist can prescribe medication to manage your symptoms and block allergens. They can also conduct tests to determine exactly what you're allergic to and create shots to help you build up a tolerance to those allergens over time.
If you've struggled to find a pet that doesn't cause allergies, don't give up. You never know when you'll find the right animal. Many large pet stores host rescue groups on the weekend where you can easily meet potential furry family members in a low-pressure environment. You can also use websites like Petfinder to search for mixes (and even purebreds) that are less likely to cause allergies.

This article has been reviewed and approved by Kristi Snyder, DVM.
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Bergroth E. "Respiratory tract illnesses during the first year of life: Effect of dog and cat contacts." Pediatrics, 2012;130:211.
Nicholas et al, "Dog allergen levels in homes with hypoallergenic compared with nonhypoallergenic dogs", American Journal of Rhinology & Allergy. 2011;25(4):252-6.

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