The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America estimates that one in five Americans suffers from all types of allergies, and of these between 15 and 30 percent have allergic reactions to cats and dogs. With so many people affected by allergies, it has become a growing trend to market pets as hypo-allergenic or suitable for people with allergies.
Dr. Mark Stickney, Director of General Surgery Services at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, discusses the causes of these allergies and how to keep them at bay while enjoying the companionship of a cherished pet.
“While there are dogs and cats that are marketed as hypoallergenic, there is really no such thing,” notes Stickney. “People can be allergic to anything and it varies by person.”
The most common causes of pet allergies from dogs are flaking skin, called dander, and seasonal allergies can be caused by pollen spores that have attached to a dogs fur and brought into a house.
The kinds of dogs that are probably less likely to cause allergies are those with short hair and those that are less-likely to shed. These include terriers such as Yorkies and Westies, Poodles, and Schnauzers.
“There are really no breeds of cats that are better for people with cat allergies because these allergies are usually caused by the cat’s saliva,” states Stickney. “When a cat grooms itself, the saliva dries on its fur and is then transferred to the pet owner.”
There are some breeds of pets, such as the Chinese Crested dog and Sphinx cat, that are mostly or completely hairless. These pets may be less likely to cause allergies as the fur will not hold onto allergens.
“While hairless pets may be an option for people with allergies, these types of animals come with their own problems,” warns Stickney. “Hairless dogs have to be washed very often as they tend to have very oily skin and other skin problems.”
There also alternative pet options for people with allergies if they are willing to be a little adventurous. Reptiles, birds, rats, guinea pigs and fish are among the possibilities.
“It may take some experimentation to find the right pet as different people are allergic to different kinds of animals, but reptiles and fish should be safe for just about anybody,” says Stickney.
However, if one has their heart set on owning a dog or cat there are a few steps that they can take to alleviate some of the allergy risks.
“Bathing your pet once a week and vacuuming your house often are two precautions you can take to cut down on the allergens attached to your pets and floating around your house,” notes Stickney. “If possible, grooming should be left to someone who is not allergic as to minimize your contact with the pet’s fur and dander.”
Owning a pet is a fulfilling experience and something that many of us could not bear to live without. While allergies may dictate the breed or type of animal one can live with, everyone should be able to find a pet that they can love and that doesn’t make them sneeze.
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.