By Katherine Butler, MNN.com
If you love animals and you are allergic to them, caring for pets can seem like walking an endless tightrope. Given the bottles of allergy medication lining your medicine cabinets, you feel as if you’ve half-earned a medical degree in dosages, side effects, and pet dander. “Just one pet and then I’ll wash my hands” is a phrase common in the mind of an animal allergy sufferer. Then there is the frustration level when dealing with over-eager pet owners who don’t understand your allergies.
But not to worry — we have a list of some animals that are a little friendlier to your allergies.
Despite many claims otherwise, veterinarians urge that there are no completely hypoallergenic pets. While no dogs are allergy-free, some experts refer to hypoallergenic dogs as breeds that produce less allergens than some others. In fact, there are some breeds that may incite a lesser reaction in allergy sufferers — and here are 10 of them! (If you are allergic to animals, be sure to consult a medical professional before procuring a pet that may induce an allergy attack.)
Portuguese water dog
A common misconception about pet allergies is that people are allergic to fur. But as the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America points out, “People with pet allergies have supersensitive immune systems that react to harmless proteins in the pet’s dander (dead skin that is shed), saliva or urine. These proteins are called allergens.” Further, these allergens can remain potent for several months. They seem to be sticky and can travel distances on people’s clothing. However, some animals are better tolerated because of their fur. Some dogs either do not shed a lot, or they require so much grooming that their dander is washed away more frequently. This is the case with the Portuguese water dog, an active breed with a robust coat requiring regular maintenance. White House dog Bo Obama is a Portuguese water dog, chosen to accommodate Malia Obama’s allergies.
Most cat allergies are a result of the Fel d 1 glycoprotein, which is present in cat saliva and skin excretions. So the runny eyes, watery noses, and scratchy throats endured by most allergy sufferers are virtually unavoidable if they are exposed to cats. Southern California-based company Allerca claims to have bred a hypoallergenic cat, which was engineered to have modified versions of the Fel d 1 glycoprotein. However, as The Scientist reports, “Allerca published no scientific proof that their pets are in fact hypoallergenic, and subsequent investigations conducted by The Scientist found several disappointed customers who were essentially told that they were too allergic to receive Allerca cats.” While not hypoallergenic, the Sphynx is recommended by some breeders as better for allergy sufferers, simply because they don’t deposit allergen-laden hair.
Read more about coping with cat allergies.
Kerry Blue Terrier
The Kerry blue terrier is considered a low-allergy dog because it sheds less dander than some other breeds. It has a trademark soft, wavy coat that is black at birth but fades to a blue gray as the puppy grows. Originating from County Kerry in Ireland, the blue terrier is known for its retrieving skills and ability to hunt small animals. In fact, the Kerry blue terrier was used by Irish peasantry to silently hunt nobles’ lands in Ireland. They are considered energetic and fun-loving animals that fit easily into a family, though due to its hunting instincts the Kerry blue terrier may not embrace the family cat.
The Standard poodle has a long hair-growth cycle, which typically means it will shed less. The animal originated in Germany and is considered to be a great water dog. Experts tend to recommend this dog to allergy sufferers because “these coats tend to be both tightly curled, and usually lacking in undercoat. This combination tends to keep dead hair from detaching and floating in the air, and it tends to retain the dander, which is the most common source of allergens.” Because of this, their coat can easily matt or tangle. Therefore, the standard poodle usually requires professional grooming.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Devon rex cat
The Devon rex, first spotted in 1960 living in Devon, England, has a short, rippling coat made of down fur. As some experts point out, “the Devon rex is also a good potential choice for people who are allergic to cats. While no cat can be truly hypoallergenic, many people with allergies to cats discover they can live comfortably with a Devon rex.” Cats tend to irritate people with pet allergies more than dogs. First, they spend more time in close contact with people. Second, as their saliva contains proteins that act as allergens, cats can cause allergic reactions simply because they lick their fur more than dogs. But as the Devon rex has less fur than some other breeds, they aren’t required to clean themselves so frequently.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
The Bichon frise is a lower-allergen dog in the same way as poodles. Because they have a curled coat, it is harder for their dander to escape. Further, as they are groomed quite often, they shed less dander into a home environment. The Bichon frise a small dog that is generally known to have a happy temperament. The ASPCA has tips on living with small dogs, including how to control barking and aggression issues.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
The American labradoodle, a cross between a Labrador retriever and a poodle, is a popular low-allergen dog. It is a different from the Australian labradoodle, which is being bred with the goal of creating a purebred Australian labradoodle and avoiding the quarantine period required of imported dogs. Some experts urge a dog diet high in omega-3 fatty acids to help cut down on allergens. This keeps a pet’s skin hydrated, decreasing dander flaking. You can also replace carpets with tile or wood floors, as carpet tends to be a holding ground for pet allergens.
Syrian hamsters, the most common pet hamster, are an excellent choice simply because they are generally confined to a small living space. As such, they do not have constant interaction with the home environment. (If you do have a dander allergy, you still may be allergic to the hamster.) The same is true for pets such as gerbils, guinea pigs, mice, chinchillas and rats. Syrian hamsters were discovered in Syria, but received their “hamster” name for the German word hamstern, which means to hoard. The Syrian hamster is a nocturnal animal and prefers digging, scraping, and running on its wheel in the middle of the night.
Read more about keeping a hamster as a pet.
Lizards make excellent pets for people with allergies simply because they are hairless and relatively low maintenance. It is extremely uncommon for a person to be allergic to lizards. (Though keep in mind many lizards require live feeding, which may not fit into everyone’s understanding of low maintenance.) Leopard geckos are considered extremely easy pets because they are small and have minimal care requirements. They are native to Pakistan, India and Afghanistan and prefer a dry and rocky terrain.
Ultimately, perhaps the only hypoallergenic pet that experts can agree on would be a fish. Yes, a fish surrounded in a watery enclosure will certainly be as allergen-free as can be. But if you are determined to get a cat or dog as a companion? Consult your doctor to set up a proper course of medication. Invest in a HEPA filter. Keep certain areas of your home pet-free. Clean both your living space and your pet frequently. Spay or neuter your pet, simply because the sebum produced by a neutered cat is lower than in an unaltered cat. Not to mention, nearly 4 million cats and dogs are euthanized each year because there just are not enough homes for them all. Finally, don’t forget to enjoy your pet from time to time. People can learn to cope with pet allergies in a healthy way, all the while with a companion by their side.