For people with pet allergies, the idea of finding a hypoallergenic pet can be encouraging. However, are “hypoallergenic animals” really hypoallergenic, and do they really make a difference for people with allergies? Let’s go into some of the basic information (and misinformation) about these animals.

What Defines “Hypoallergenic” Pets?

The term hypoallergenic is used to describe animals that are considered less likely to cause an allergic reaction in people, such as sneezing, itching, wheezing, or hives. The term is commonly used to describe certain breeds of dogs or cats, but it can also be applied to pets like reptiles or amphibians.

However, using “hypoallergenic” as an umbrella term can be tricky and misleading, because it has been widely marketed to mean “will not cause allergies.” In reality, dogs and cats that are described as “hypoallergenic” would be more accurately described as “low-allergen.” Most cat allergies are caused by a protein in their saliva called Fel d1, which spreads to their fur when they bathe themselves and spreads to your home when they shed. Similarly, most dog allergies are caused by a protein called Can f 1 in saliva, urine, and dander—which also spreads when they shed. Low-shedding breeds of both animals may be less likely to spread allergens throughout your home and cause fewer allergic reactions, but there are no known nonallergenic cats or dogs.

Tips to Manage the Effects of Pet Allergies

Cats are a little tricker than dogs when it comes to managing allergens, but if you’re determined and committed to having a dog, there are a few things you can do to manage the number of allergens in your home.

  • Adopt a small dog, which will produce less dander than a bigger dog due to its size
  • Adopt a dog that is known to be a low-shedding or low-allergen/”hypoallergenic” breed
  • Keep your bedroom and/or home office off-limits to your dog
  • Remove carpet or rugs, or vacuum/shampoo your carpet very frequently to remove allergens
  • Bathe your dog regularly to remove dander
  • Change your HVAC filters frequently to reduce airborne allergens

Depending on the severity of your allergies, you may want to consult with your primary care physician before making the commitment to adopt a pet into your family.

If you’re looking into adopting a pet despite your or a family member’s allergies, be sure to do your research and talk to pet experts when it comes to pets that are described as hypoallergenic.

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