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Hypo-Allergenic Cats or Dogs

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This information was reviewed and approved by Carah Santos, MD (12/6/2022).

Up to 10% of the general population, and 40% of people who have been diagnosed with allergies, are allergic to dogs and cats. Additionally, between 20% and 30% of people with asthma also have dog or cat allergies. In fact, a recent National Institutes of Health study concluded that 30% of all asthma cases are attributable to cat allergies.

It’s not necessary for the animal to be present in order for a person’s allergies to be triggered.  Dog and other furry pet allergens can linger in a house for a year or more after the pet is gone. Allergic individuals may experience symptoms caused by dander from pets that inhabited their houses before they did, especially since dogs or cats are present in 70 percent of all households.

Dog Allergies

Some people say there are breeds of dogs that won't trigger allergies. However, there appears to be a major dog allergen found primarily in the sebaceous glands in the skin of dogs.

The allergen is very sticky and clings to shed skin and hair — which means the animal's hair is the carrier, not the source.

Every dog breed shares this allergen. All other warm-blooded animals with fur or hair (rabbits, gerbils, hamsters, horses and cats) produce similar allergens. When animal hair is shed on sofas or carpets, humans pick up the dander as they come in contact with it.

Although a person may say their own dog doesn't cause an allergic reaction while other people's dogs do, it's difficult to determine how much of this is real and how much is perceived. But there is a minor difference between dog breeds.

Chihuahuas may produce a lesser amount of the allergen, and golden retrievers may produce more. But this is only because one is small and the other quite large. No breed is entirely free of the allergen. Breeds that shed less — like the standard poodle, for example — are not allergen-free, but they do leave less of it behind.

Washing a dog twice weekly decreases the allergic protein in the air, but this isn't very practical. You could get a certain breed to try it out, but it's hard to give up a pet once it lives with you.

Cat Allergies

Cat allergies are more common — and often more severe — than dog allergies. Cats lick and groom themselves frequently. The saliva that accumulates on their fur can dry and become airborne, causing allergic reactions when it’s inhaled. Cat dander is smaller and stickier than dog dander, so it’s easy for it to accumulate on porous surfaces.

People often unwittingly transport cat dander from place to place on coats and shoes.

Allergic individuals have been known to have allergic reactions to cats just from working with cat-owning coworkers carrying cat allergens on their clothing.

The best solution is to avoid having dogs and cats if you find you are allergic to them. Anyone who has already been diagnosed with allergies to anything at all should think twice before getting a furry pet. Animal allergies can develop with exposure even in previously non-allergic individuals, taking up to 2 years to develop after the pet’s been introduced.

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