About 10 percent of the population is allergic to animals — but that doesn’t mean they can’t own pets. Here’s how to determine which pet’s best for you.
You may have heard rumors of hypoallergenic dogs and cats — pets that don’t cause trouble for people with allergies. In truth, there is no guarantee that a specific breed won’t cause allergies for a given individual. But with dog and cat allergies so common, many animal lovers are still looking for a solution. A strategic approach to selecting a pet — or managing your allergies with the pet you already have — may mean you can enjoy pet ownership and control your pet allergies.
Could You Have Pet Allergies?
Ideally, you will know about any pet allergies before you take on the responsibility of a pet. Many adults are already aware — or have a sense — that they are allergic to dogs or cats (or both), but others may still be in the dark, not sure that their ongoing mild allergies are truly due to the cat or dog dander they are exposed to through friends, family, and coworkers. Here’s how to find out for sure:
- Get tested. “Testing is readily available for assessment of whether or not one has allergic sensitization to certain animals, including cats and dogs,” says asthma and allergy researcher Gregory Diette, MD, associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at the Center for Global Health at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, MD. “The test is a measure of a specific antibody response (specific IgE) directed at the relevant allergen.” You will need to make an appointment with an allergist to get tested.
- Get a reality check. Another good way to find out if you may be allergic to a specific animal is to spend some time with it. If you are considering adopting a certain breed of cat or dog, try to arrange an hour or more when you can play with the animal, paying attention to your body’s reactions.
“The evidence for cat allergy would be quite high if one gets itchy, red eyes, runny nose, and related symptoms, whenever they have direct contact with a cat,” says Diette, adding that it is possible to have a positive allergy test result but never have allergic symptoms.
Diette also offers this caution: Just because you do not have cat or dog allergies today doesn’t mean that you may not develop them in the future. One of the most wrenching situations for pet owners is trying to decide what to do with a pet to which they have recently become allergic.
The Best Pets for People With Pet Allergies
Did the test results reveal cat or dog allergies? That doesn’t mean you will be petless forever. Diette recommends a practical approach. “If one has a pet allergy, the best advice is to not get that type of animal,” Diette says, adding that despite some reports of hypoallergenic dogs, “there are no breeds of cats or dogs that do not produce allergen, so it is not possible to recommend one breed over another.”
The American Kennel Club lists the following breeds as good options for people with dog allergies because they are thought to produce less dander than other breeds — although you should still take some time to find out if they trigger your own allergic symptoms:
- Bedlington Terrier
- Bichon Frise
- Chinese Crested
- Irish Water Spaniels
- Portuguese Water Dog
- Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier
You might want to consider a different pet entirely. For example, if you have dog allergies, you might still be able to have a cat or you could look into other types of pets to which you’re not allergic, such as ferrets, rodents, or birds.
How to Manage Pet Allergies at Home
Although the practical response to a newly developed pet allergy would be to find another home for your pet, parting with the family dog or cat could be a heartbreaking choice and may not be necessary. If you or someone in your household has cat or dog allergies, try these strategies:
- Keep your pet out of bedrooms.
- Keep your pet outside if possible.
- Groom your pet often to control shedding and dander.
- Clean your home often to pick up hair and dander, using HEPA filters on vacuums and other air filters.
- Talk to your vet about dander control shampoos or diluted doses of the sedative acepromizine, which may reduce the allergens produced by certain breeds of cat.
Pet allergies are highly individual, and it will take some time and effort to learn which pets you can have in your home. But the learning process is well worth the companionship and love a pet provides.