Are you one of those people that think life without a furry friend is unimaginable? You aren’t alone. In fact, millions of dedicated pet owners even suffer through pet related allergy symptoms because life without a fur-baby isn’t an option for them. In a growing trend, many steadfast animal lovers are turning to “hypoallergenic” pets in hopes of keeping the allergy symptoms at bay.

What Does Hypoallergenic Mean?

Pet allergies can display in many ways including sneezing, runny nose, coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and even allergy induced asthma. The term hypoallergenic is defined as “designed to reduce or minimize the possibility of an allergic response; as by containing relatively few or no potentially irritating substances.” Applying this term to personal care products such as lotions and detergents makes sense. However, applying this label to animals is a little more difficult.

Most often, people believe the pet’s fur and shedding causes the pet allergy. Typically, because of this belief, pets that are hairless, do not shed, or shed minimally are called hypoallergenic. However, the main trigger for pet allergy is in the protein produced by the pet, not their fur. These proteins are carried on small, easily inhalable particles with the highest concentration found in the pet dander. Pet dander is the dead flaky skin that all warm blooded mammals produce. Substantial amounts of protein are also found in the animal’s saliva and urine.

Are Hypoallergenic Pets a Real Thing?

Some breeds may cause fewer problems for allergy sufferers. Because of grooming habits or shedding patterns, allergen exposure can be less in these cases. Both dogs and cats have the potential, however, to release allergens into the air you breathe. The proteins are present in all breeds, including those that some claim to be hypoallergenic. Cats tend to cause more allergic reactions than dogs because they groom themselves more often. Unfortunately, birds, and smaller mammals such as guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters, and chinchillas also produce dander. On the bright side, because these animals are much smaller and typically dwell in contained spaces, they may provide less allergen exposure and therefore less symptoms. Snakes, frogs, lizards, turtles, and fish do not have the dander issue. Reptile friends can be great options for allergy sufferers desiring pet companionship.

There are Options

Everyone is different, and every family is faced with different challenges when it comes to choosing the right pet. The most effective way to protect your household from pet allergens is not to have any warm-blooded pets. For millions of animal lovers, though, this is unlikely option. Researching animals that produce less dander, saliva, and are low/non shedders is a great start.

Although there is no amount of cleaning that will eliminate all dander from a home, there are some best practices. Cleaning your house and bathing your pets regularly is the first step. Also, keeping pets out of bedrooms, off carpets, and off upholstered furniture can help. The goal is to minimize the concentration of allergens and in crucial places such as family gathering rooms and sleeping areas.

Another option of course, besides the avoidance measures listed above, is to consider the benefit of allergen immunotherapy for anyone suffering a pet allergy.


Amanda Hofmann, MPAS, PA-C, is a graduate of Duquesne University, in Pittsburgh, PA, and spent  8 years in clinical practice before joining United Allergy Services. She is the Vice President of Clinical at UAS and the past president of the Association of PAs in Allergy, Asthma, and immunology. 

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