If you have pet allergies, you’ve likely considered getting a hypoallergenic pet. But what does hypoallergenic mean? The dictionary definition is "designed to reduce or minimize the possibility of an allergic response, as by containing relatively few or no potentially irritating substances."1
The United States is a pet-loving country — around 70% of households in the U.S. have at least one pet. In fact, 69 million households have dogs, and 45.3 million have cats.2 With as popular as pets are, pet allergy sufferers looked for an option that wouldn’t leave them sneezy and itchy. Thus, hypoallergenic pets became popular and were praised for their non-allergic potential.
While some pets and breeds cause allergies less than others, we’re here to dispel the myth that there is a truly hypoallergenic pet. Here, we’ll discuss the facts about hypoallergenic animals, and show you how it is still possible to own a pet and manage your allergies.
1. There’s No Such Thing as a Truly Hypoallergenic Pet
To the dismay of those with pet allergies, there is no such thing as a truly hypoallergenic pet. There are some breeds that cause fewer or less severe allergy symptoms than others, but a completely allergy-free pet is not possible. These pets have non-shedding coats that are better for allergies than others that shed lots of fur and dander.3
2. Cats or Dogs Without Fur Can Still Trigger Allergies
As hypoallergenic pets became more popular, information became misconstrued about some breeds and whether they cause allergies. A common myth is that "dogs that do not shed are hypoallergenic." However, we know that it’s not the hair or fur that’s responsible for allergies. Instead, it’s dead skin flakes (dander), saliva, or urine that cause an allergic reaction. These substances contain proteins that set off allergies in some.3
In dogs, the protein Canis familiaris allergen 1 (Can f 1) is responsible for causing symptoms in people with pet allergies. It is found primarily in dander, not fur or hair. All homes with dogs will have this allergen - surprisingly, one-third of homes without dogs will also have it. If you interact with a dog or if someone who has a dog comes to your home, this can introduce the allergen.4
There are several proteins responsible for cat allergies, but the main one is Felis domesticus 1 (Fel d 1). It is found in the saliva and dander of every cat, no matter if they are hairless or have fur. In some people, this allergen can also trigger asthma symptoms or an attack.5
3. Pet Dander Is the Main Cause of Pet Allergies, Not Fur
What is pet dander? It is the dead skin flakes that fall from an animal. Commonly, we think of cats and dogs as having dander. However, any mammal can shed it - including rabbits, guinea pigs, and hamsters.6 Dander tends to be sticky and likes to cling to all kinds of surfaces in your home, including carpeting, curtains, upholstered furniture, and even the walls. Even if you don’t have a pet at home, dander can stick to your clothes from other places, taking a trip back with you.7
If you find yourself dealing with pet allergies in your home, check out our handy indoor allergy tips to kick them to the curb.
4. Some Cat and Dog Breeds Can Be More Allergy-Friendly Than Others
While no pet is truly hypoallergenic, there are some breeds that are more allergy-friendly that can be great for people with pet allergies. These breeds shed less dander than others, which is what makes a dog or cat "hypoallergenic." However, they still make allergen proteins in their saliva and urine, making them less than 100% hypoallergenic.
The American Kennel Club recommends these hypoallergenic dog breeds, as they don’t have active shedding seasons where they molt fur and dander:8
- Afghan Hound
- Bichon Frise
- Spanish Water Dog
Hypoallergenic cat breeds make less Fel d 1 protein than other breeds, making them more allergy-friendly. Like dogs, this protein can also be found in their saliva and urine, so they will still generate some allergens. This is especially true when cats lick their fur to clean themselves, then the saliva dries and can become airborne. Some other factors that influence how allergenic a cat is include:9
- Sex: Male cats secrete more allergens than females
- Neuter status: Unneutered male cats produce more allergens than neutered cats
- Coloring: Cats with darker fur make more allergens than those with lighter fur
- Age: Older cats secrete fewer allergens than kittens
Petfinder recommends these allergy-friendly cat breeds:9
- Oriental Shorthair
- Devon Rex
- Cornish Rex
5. Owning a Pet with Pet Allergies Is Possible
Even if you have mild to moderate pet allergies, it is possible to own a pet! Taking steps to help manage them and prevent the spread of dander and other pet allergens around your home can help limit your symptoms. These steps can include:
- Choose a non-allergenic animal: If you are severely allergic to pets and their dander, consider getting a non-allergenic animal; these can include fish, amphibians, or reptiles. While these animals may molt, they do not shed skin flakes that trigger allergies.6
- Choose an allergy-friendly dog or cat breed: As we’ve discussed, there are no truly hypoallergenic dog or cat breeds out there; however, you can choose from the list of allergy-friendly breeds, which are less likely to cause more severe allergy symptoms.8
- Use an air filter in your home: If you do have a furry friend at home, using an air purifier with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter can help eliminate pet dander floating in the air. Using the air purifier at least four hours per day can help keep the air clean and fresh.7
- Frequently clean areas where pets are: If possible, try to keep your pets out of your bedroom and off of furniture that dander can stick to; in areas where pets are, vacuuming and wiping down surfaces regularly can help prevent the buildup of dander.
- Take BENADRYL® for pet allergies: To help treat pet allergy symptoms at the source, try BENADRYL® Allergy Ultratabs or BENADRYL® Allergy Dye-Free Liquigels to fight your runny nose, itchy, watery eyes, and itchy throat; for allergy symptoms along with congestion, try BENADRYL® Allergy Plus Congestion.
For more tips on managing pet allergies at home, read our guide on pet allergies here.
- Dictionary.com. Hypoallergenic. Accessed from: https://www.dictionary.com/browse/hypoallergenic
- Insurance Information Institute. Facts + Statistics: Pet Ownership and Insurance. Accessed from: https://www.iii.org/fact-statistic/facts-statistics-pet-ownership-and-insurance
- American Kennel Club. Does a Completely Hypoallergenic Dog Exist? July 20, 2021. Accessed from: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/dog-breeds/do-hypoallergenic-dog-exist/
- Konieczny A, Morgenstern JP, Bizinkauskas CB, et al. The major dog allergens, Can f 1 and Can f 2, are salivary lipocalin proteins: cloning and immunological characterization of the recombinant forms. Immunology. 1997. 92(4):577-586.
- Bonnet B, Messaoudi K, Jacomet F, et al. An update on molecular cat allergens: Fel d 1 and what else? Chapter 1: Fel d 1, the major cat allergen. Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology. 2018. 14:14.
- American Lung Association. Pet Dander. February 8, 2022. Accessed from:https://www.lung.org/clean-air/at-home/indoor-air-pollutants/pet-dander
- Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Pet Allergy: Are You Allergic to Dogs or Cats? October 2015. Accessed from: https://www.aafa.org/pet-dog-cat-allergies/
- American Kennel Club. Best Hypoallergic Dog Breeds for People With Allergies. November 12, 2021. Accessed from: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/dog-breeds/hypoallergenic-dog-breeds/
- Petfinder. What are the Best Hypoallergenic Cat Breeds for People with Allergies? Accessed from: https://www.petfinder.com/cat-breeds/collections/hypoallergenic-cats/