Are There Hypoallergenic Pets?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

There are some pet breeds which appear to be less likely to evoke allergic responses, although there is some debate over whether these breeds are truly hypoallergenic or not. Breeds touted as options for people who want hypoallergenic pets appear to be more likely to be tolerated by people with pet allergies, although some doctors have suggested that this may have more to do with individual people and pets than with entire breeds. For people who want pets but struggle with allergies, it is certainly worthwhile to start with hypoallergenic breeds, but it may take some time to find the right pet.

Terriers are generally less likely to cause allergies than other types of dogs.
Terriers are generally less likely to cause allergies than other types of dogs.

Pet allergies appear to be caused by dander, the dead skin and hair shed by animals on a regular basis. Some theorists say that proteins in the dander cause allergies, while others have suggested that proteins in animal saliva are responsible; since pets groom themselves with their saliva, the saliva adheres to the dander. Hypoallergenic pets generally have less hair and shed less than other breeds, and some may lack the allergy-causing proteins.

A Russian Blue cat, a type of hypoallergenic pet.
A Russian Blue cat, a type of hypoallergenic pet.

It is important to be aware that the prefix “hypo” means “less,” so when something is said to be “hypoallergenic,” it just means that it is less likely to cause allergies, rather than being allergen-free. For people with very severe allergies, a supposedly hypoallergenic animal can still evoke a reaction which may vary from skin irritation to respiratory distress.

A Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier may make a suitable companion for individuals with allergies.
A Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier may make a suitable companion for individuals with allergies.

When people think of hypoallergenic pets, they usually mean cats and dogs. Several cat breeds are supposed to be hypoallergenic, including the Javanese, Oriental Shorthair, Russian Blue, and Balinese breeds from Asia, along with the Cornish and Devon Rex breeds. Among dogs, terriers, poodles, and greyhounds appear to be less likely to cause allergies, along with the bearded collie, Affenpinscher, Pomeranian, Basenji, and Bichon Frise. Many of these breeds are recommended to people with allergies who want pets.

A Shih-Poo has hypoallergenic qualities.
A Shih-Poo has hypoallergenic qualities.

People who are looking for hypoallergenic pets may want to consider getting allergy testing, if they have not done so already. Allergy testing is used to pinpoint the cause of an allergy, and it can confirm that a pet allergy really exists. If a pet allergy does indeed exist, the allergy testing can provide additional information about how severe the allergy is. When going to see a potential pet, the animal should be seen outside, or in an area which is not frequented by other animals, so that the allergy sufferer can see if he or she reacts to the animal's dander.

To reduce the risk of experiencing allergic reactions, it is a good idea to bathe a hypoallergenic pet on a regular basis in a hypoallergenic pet shampoo, which will cut down on dander. It is also advisable to ban the animal from the bedroom, and from furniture like the couch, to avoid accumulations of hair and dander which could trigger allergies.

For people with severe allergies to furry friends, there are some alternative pets to consider. Reptiles and fish generally do not cause allergies, and they can make very interesting, engaging, and entertaining pets.

Pet allergies in humans are often caused by dander, the dead skin and hair shed by animals like dogs and cats on a regular basis.
Pet allergies in humans are often caused by dander, the dead skin and hair shed by animals like dogs and cats on a regular basis.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

Mor

@pastanaga - I don't know if there are any bare dogs, but there are dogs that don't really shed. There are dogs that grow their hair out in dread-like curls, for example. Or any dog with a long coat will shed less as long as you brush and groom it regularly because the hair takes a long time to grow and fall.

pastanaga

@irontoenail - I actually think people would be more likely to find a suitable cat because you can get cats that have no long hair at all and they must be much easier on allergies than normal cats (if they set them off at all).

Although I have found that the times when I can't have pets (usually because of housing, not because I'm allergic) I've felt better if I was volunteering at a shelter anyway, because I got to have a lot of contact with the animals. I imagine if you don't want to take antihistamines all the time, you could take them once a week and go in to play with the kittens and puppies or walk the dogs as a volunteer. Then you'd be doing your good deed for the week as well.

irontoenail

I would try going to local breeders and see if you can figure out which dogs set off your allergies and which do not. It might be difficult to determine this at a shelter, but if you can, I would try there too, because hybrid dogs might be a better bet.

I've known a few people who have managed to find a dog type that doesn't set off their allergies, or at least, is tolerable to them. I haven't heard of the same thing in cats, but I imagine hypoallergenic cats exist for a lot of people as well.

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