There are many articles on the internet identifying certain breeds of cats and dogs as hypoallergenic. The Portuguese Water Dog, Poodle, Chinese Crested, Devon Rex, and Sphynx are some of the most commonly cited breeds, to name a few. Many families with allergy sufferers may see these breeds as providing a path to pet ownership; however, after bringing the pet home, it may not be as allergy proof as expected. This can be an incredibly emotional and financial disappointment for everyone.
Hypoallergenic means that something is relatively unlikely to cause an allergic reaction. Unfortunately, there is no true hypoallergenic cat or dog. All furred animals have the potential to cause a reaction in an allergic individual and no breeds have been shown to be allergy proof.
Dog allergies come from six different proteins that can be found in the dog’s dander (shed skin), saliva, urine and blood. These proteins are very small, lightweight and sticky which makes them difficult to remove from shed hair, carpet and upholstered furniture. Some theories suggest hypoallergenic dogs have coats that don’t shed so the allergens don’t hang around the house stuck to the shed hair. Others suggest these hypoallergenic breeds produce less allergen, however, scientific research has not supported this. In fact, two studies have demonstrated a higher level of Can f 1, the major dog allergen, in households with hypoallergenic dogs compared to households with non-hypoallergenic dogs.
Cat allergies are the results of an allergic response to one of the eight allergenic proteins from cats. These allergens are found in the cat’s saliva, oil glands of the skin, urine and blood. Individual animals may produce lesser amounts of the allergenic proteins but this has not been identified to be breed specific. Research has suggested that females and neutered males may produce lower amounts of these allergenic proteins.
Ultimately, any furred pet can contribute to symptoms in the person allergic to that animal. So what options exist for the millions of individuals who are allergic to cats and dogs but would like to bring a pet into their home or keep the pet they already have.
Take measures to reduce the levels of allergen in the home:
- Keep the pet out of the bedrooms and limit the pet to one room in the house, preferably with hard floors.
- A high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) in-room air cleaner can help remove allergens.
- Use a HEPA vacuum cleaner or central home vacuum once or twice a week throughout the home.
- Bathe your pet at least once a week to remove allergens from his skin and hair. This may be challenging with cats but can be successful if gentle training starts when they are kittens.
- Wear a mask when changing litter boxes.
- Wash your hands or take a shower after handling your pet.
These allergen reducing measures may not be sufficient to control everyone’s allergy symptoms. There are over the counter and prescription nose sprays, eye drops and tablets that can help ease allergy symptoms.
Dr. Moore’s family learned their oldest son had developed a dog allergy the night they brought a puppy home from the animal society. “He was sneezing with itchy eyes, just miserable. We washed the dog but his symptoms didn’t get any better. We were all heartbroken when we had to return the dog.” The family got a fish and then Dr. Moore’s son started allergy shots. After 3 years of monthly allergy shots they were able to welcome a dog into the family. “After doing allergy shots he didn’t have any symptoms around dogs but we didn’t want to take any chances. We found another family with a dog that didn’t cause allergy symptoms in our son. We ended up getting our dog from the same breeder and family line to maximize our success. We have had our dog for over 2 years now with no allergy problems.” For many people, allergy shots (immunotherapy), may be the best long term treatment option. Allergy shots have been proven to be effective in treating allergies to cats and dogs, allowing many allergy sufferers to live comfortably with their beloved pet. Your board-certified allergist can help you figure out which treatment options are best for you. If none of those options fit your lifestyle, there is always fish, the ultimate hypoallergenic pet.