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Can Pets Be Hypoallergenic?

You may have heard that some pets are hypoallergenic – that is, not as likely to cause an allergic reaction. Some people believe that dogs who shed less hair are hypoallergenic. But this is a myth.1-6

No studies have proven that certain pets can be hypoallergenic. In fact, studies have shown that dogs commonly thought of as hypoallergenic may not have fewer allergens at all. This was true even for dogs who do not shed as much hair, such as poodles, schnauzers, and Yorkshire terriers.1-6

A 2012 study found that poodles and Yorkshire terriers have a lot of Canis familiaris allergen 1 (Can f 1). Can f 1 is the main allergen that dogs release. On the other hand, Labrador retrievers, who lose a lot of hair, had less Can f 1 than other dog breeds.1,4

A 2011 study looked at the levels of Can f 1 in the dust of homes with dogs. The study found that homes with so-called hypoallergenic dogs had as much of this allergen as homes with other types of dogs.1,6

How pets cause allergies

All cats and dogs make allergens. Can f 1 comes from dogs. A protein known as Fel d 1 is the main allergen that comes from cats.1,2,5

Saliva is the most common source of pet allergens. Dander (loose skin cells) and urine also contain allergens. These allergens can stay in the air for a long time and spread easily on pet dander and hair. They can also be moved to other places after they settle on clothes and other objects.1-5

Some people think a dog is hypoallergenic because they react less to that dog than to other dogs. But several factors can affect a person’s reaction to a pet:1-3,5

  • The person's risk of allergies
  • Type of allergens the animal makes
  • Number of allergens the animal makes
  • The amount of allergen the person is exposed to

Rate and symptoms of pet allergies

Millions of people suffer from pet allergies. Between 15 percent and 30 percent of people in the US are allergic to cats and dogs. Twice as many people are allergic to cats as are allergic to dogs. People can also be allergic to other furry pets, such as ferrets and hamsters, or to birds, insects, or reptiles.2,5

Symptoms of pet allergies include:1,2

  • Breathing problems, such as chest tightness, cough, or wheezing
  • Hives
  • Rash
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Rhinitis: itching, a runny or stuffy nose, and sneezing

Some people have mild allergy symptoms. Others have severe symptoms. Pet allergies can even cause anaphylaxis – a sudden and serious reaction that can lead to shock and death.1,2

Treatment and management of pet allergies

There are several ways to treat pet allergies. Certain drugs can ease symptoms. Some of these drugs may require a doctor’s prescription.2

Allergy immunotherapy is another treatment. With this treatment, a doctor will give you shots that contain tiny amounts of the specific allergen that you have been reacting to. These shots can increase your body’s ability to handle more of the allergen over time.1,2

Limiting contact with animal allergens may benefit people with pet allergies. Below are some ways to lessen pet allergens in your house or your exposure to them. Most are free or do not cost much. You can use 1 or several of these as part of your overall plan to deal with pet allergies.1-3,5

  • Add a system to filter the air in your house using high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters.
  • Bathe cats and dogs once a week.
  • Choose hard, smooth floors instead of carpet.
  • Clean your home thoroughly and often.
  • Clean hard floors with water.
  • Do not let pets in the house or on furniture.
  • Keep pets out of your bedroom or commonly used areas.
  • Remove old carpet and furniture.
  • Use vacuums with HEPA filters to keep allergens out of the air.
  • Wash bedding weekly in hot water.
  • Wash your clothes after contact with your pet.
  • Wash your hands after touching your pet.
  • Wear a mask around your pet.

Tips for finding a less allergenic dog

If you are set on having a dog, you may be able to find one that works for you. But rather than rely on "hypoallergenic" labels and other people’s suggestions, do some research of your own.1,3

Spend time with various individual dogs. These could be big, small, short-haired, long-haired, mixed-breed, and pure-breed dogs. See how you react after spending at least 15 minutes with each of them. Your reaction to that particular dog is probably the best clue to what it will be like to live with that dog.1,3

If you think you are allergic to your dog or another pet, see your doctor. Your doctor can help you figure out whether you have an allergy. A thorough medical exam and tests can help pinpoint exactly what triggers your allergies. Your doctor can then advise you on how to best prevent or treat your allergies.

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