Are Hypoallergenic Dogs and Cats Really Allergen Free?
There’s nothing worse than being a pet lover who’s majorly allergic to pets! You might have seen the hype about hypoallergenic dogs and cats—but will they really stop your sneezes?
Spoiler alert: there are no dogs or cats with zero allergens, meaning that you’ll be risking a runny nose even with so-called hypoallergenic animals. With that being said, there are strategies that can help to minimize your allergic response. To understand how and why, you first have to understand what causes pet allergies!
The Cause of Pet Allergies
Many people assume that pet hair is the cause for pet allergies—and go absolutely wild with the lint roller when allergic Aunt Linda is coming over. Well, they’re half right! Pet fur itself doesn’t contain any major allergens, but allergens do tend to hitch a ride on shed fur and help contribute to human sniffles.
While there are many substances that dogs and cats produce which can be allergens for some people, the two most common offenders are the Can f 1 protein from dogs and Fel d 1 protein from cats. These proteins are most concentrated in pet dander, urine, and saliva—meaning that every time your pet grooms themselves, they’re depositing more allergens onto their fur and skin.
When they shed, protein-coated loose hairs and dander are deposited around your house. You might think hairless dogs and cats would eliminate the problem, but they still produce dander and groom themselves, meaning their whole body has gotten a thorough coating of saliva. (It sounds gross, but they think we’re nuts for voluntarily getting in a shower.)
So how can you escape these cat and dog allergens while still getting to enjoy a cuddle sesh with your furry friend? People have tried to lower the risk with hypoallergenic animals.
What Is a Hypoallergenic Pet?
We know one thing for sure: people love pets! But what are the up to 30% of Americans who are allergic to pets supposed to do? You can always count on pet lovers to problem solve, so people set out to find hypoallergenic cat breeds and dog breeds that would be safe for allergy sufferers.
Breeders focused on one major trait when trying to perfect the hypoallergenic pet: reducing shedding. Some people honed in on dog breeds like poodles that have hair rather than fur, a distinction that comes down to hair having a longer growth cycle and lasting about 21 days before it’s shed vs. every few days with fur. Others touted hairless pets as the best hypoallergenic dogs and cats since there was no fur to shed at all! However, even hairless cats and hypoallergenic dogs have dander and produce allergens.
Even more importantly, no breeding techniques actually change the amount of Can f 1 or Fel d 1 that “hypoallergenic” pets produce! One study comparing hypoallergenic dog breeds to non-hypoallergenic breeds showed that the so-called hypoallergenic breeds actually had much higher levels of Can f 1 on their coats and there was no difference in the amount of allergens in the homes of hypoallergenic and conventional dogs.
Moreover, the study showed that the amount of Can f 1 a dog had wasn’t consistent at all within breeds and instead varied wildly between individuals. That means that you can’t count on a famously hypoallergenic Portuguese water dog to reduce your allergy symptoms. A dog of any breed may be low in Can f 1, so you might be lucky enough to find a labrador who doesn’t make you sneeze!
So are hypoallergenic dogs and hypoallergenic cats real? The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology is clear on the fact that there is no such thing as an allergy-free pet. The term “hypoallergenic” actually means “less allergenic” rather than “not allergenic,” but there’s little evidence to support any breeds having reliably lower allergen levels. Long story short, if you’re allergic to dogs or cats, you will still be allergic to hypoallergenic breeds.
How to Actually Help With Pet Allergies
If hypoallergenic pets aren’t the cure for your pet allergy, what’s an animal lover to do? While it’s unlikely that you’ll ever have zero allergy symptoms if you’re sharing your home with an animal you’re allergic to, there are proven techniques that can help to reduce the severity of your allergic reactions and make living with your animal BFF a joy instead of a constant sneeze fest.
#1. Groom Your Pet Regularly
Brushing your pet frequently helps to control shedding of fur and dander and regular baths can diminish the amount of allergenic proteins accumulated on their fur. Wiping down your pet with a damp cloth after time outside can also help to reduce the amount of pollen and other external allergens they bring inside with them. If you’re strongly allergic, you may benefit from wearing a mask and gloves while grooming your pet to help protect your immune system from those allergens you’re stirring up!
#2. Deep Clean Your Home
It’s no surprise that cleaning your home can reduce the amount of dander sitting around, but the tools you use can make a big difference! Investing in a vacuum cleaner with a certified asthma and allergy-friendly filter can help to make sure you’re actually trapping all the allergens hiding in your carpet. Air filtration, especially high-quality HEPA filtration, can make a huge difference for your breathing.
You may also consider making certain rooms in your home off-limits to your pet in order to give yourself an allergen-free zone and reduce the amount of cleaning you have to do. The bedroom is perhaps the most significant room to keep pet-free, as you (hopefully) spend at least 8 hours in there every night doing some nice deep breathing.
#3. Find the Right Pet for You
If you’re bringing home a new pet, you have a big advantage when it comes to finding the animal that will be the least irritating for your allergies. In addition to the normal considerations you should take into account when finding your perfect match, try to spend some time with any animal you’re considering adopting to see how strong your allergic response is. Since some animals are naturally low in those allergen proteins, you may find that these unique pets will produce a milder allergic response.
In addition, you may benefit from getting a smaller pet. Simple math says that a big animal is going to produce more allergens than a smaller pet, so maybe skip the Great Danes and Maine coon cats and stick with a chihuahua or petite cat. Although there isn’t a hard and fast rule about which are the worst dog breeds for allergies, you may also benefit from passing over pets who are likely to shed a lot, which will spread allergens with their fur and dander.
#4. Consider Getting Allergy Shots
While a dose of allergy medicine might help you day to day, the only proven method for actually reducing your allergies altogether is allergen immunotherapy shots. They’re typically given regularly over a long period of time to slowly reduce your allergic response and teach your immune system that the allergen isn’t a threat. Consult your doctor to see if they might be a good fit for you.
A pet-free life may seem like a bleak prospect for all the animal lovers out there, but you’re not out of hope yet! With proper preparation and the perfect companion, you might find yourself able to live happily (and with minimal sneezing) alongside your animal best friend.