Are There Hypoallergenic Dogs and Cats?

Goldendoodle sitting on a couch
Though no animal is truly allergen free, certain breeds and hybrids, such as Goldendoodles, Maltipoos and Shih Tzus, may be more tolerable to people with pet allergies.

Day after day, allergy-suffering animal lovers comb breed descriptions in search of their Holy Grail: a hypoallergenic dog or cat — one that doesn’t produce sniffling, sneezing, wheezing, itchy eyes, skin reactions or an asthma attack.

All Pets Produce Allergens

Though an Internet search will surface all kinds of animals said to be hypoallergenic — from hairless creatures to those with curly or wiry coats to animals with hair instead of fur and those who don’t shed heavily — the truth is that all animals produce allergens, says Dr. Oren P. Schaefer, an allergist at Mass Lung & Allergy in Worcester, Massachusetts. “The impression of a hypoallergenic pet is one that does not produce allergy, and that doesn’t exist,” he says in a sympathetic tone. “There are some animals that are less allergenic, but they all make the allergen that can cause trouble. It’s a matter of how much they make.”

Dogs, for instance, make six allergens, which are found in varying amounts in their dander (skin flakes), saliva and urine, explains William H. Miller, VMD, a dermatology specialist and professor of medicine at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York. “You can be very allergic to one dog and not another. This can be within the same breed or between breeds.”

But what about breeds created to be hypoallergenic, such as Labradoodles, Goldendoodles and other Poodle mixes? They were bred with the idea that the Poodle's curly (and supposedly hypoallergenic) coat would diminish the likelihood that they would cause allergies. Like any other animal, however, they vary in the amount of dander and allergen they produce. Reputable breeders don’t guarantee their animals will be hypoallergenic.

How to Find a Pet Less Likely to Cause Problems

If you’re allergic but still want to add a pet to your family, these tips can help you find one that may be less likely to leave you sniffling, sneezing and wheezing.

  • Do a test run. To find out if a particular breed or hybrid sends your allergies into overdrive, Dr. Miller recommends visiting someone who has only that breed in his or her home and see if your symptoms flare. “If they don’t, that doesn’t mean that breed is OK for you, but it increases the likelihood that you might be able to live in harmony with that [type of] dog,” he says.
  • Look for certain features. Smaller animals and those that shed less tend to spread fewer allergens in their wake. But someone who is sensitive to a particular allergen may still react to it.
  • Watch out for lickers. “If you’re allergic to dog saliva and the dog is a licker, you’re likely to have issues with him,” Dr. Miller says. 
  • Consider gender. If you have a mild allergy to cats but still want to adopt one, gender may be something to factor in when making your choice. Male cats, especially those who are not neutered, make more allergens than females.

Living With Pets If You Have Allergies

How allergy sufferers respond to allergens varies, but a few simple strategies can help ease the burden. Many people find that taking medications or getting allergy shots helps them better tolerate the presence of animals. Also smart: having your pet groomed frequently, either by a professional or someone in the household who doesn’t have allergies.

One caveat from Dr. Miller: If your pet allergies cause asthma attacks, which can be dangerous, you’re better off not trying to live with a dog or cat.

Breeds to Consider

Though it’s true that no animal is truly allergen free, there are breeds or hybrids that may be less likely to stir up sensitivities because of their type of coat or the amount of allergens they produce. 

Dogs: Bedlington Terrier, Bichon Frise, Chinese Crested, Coton de Tulear, Goldendoodle, Irish Water Spaniel, Italian Greyhound, Labradoodle, Maltese, Maltipoo, Miniature Schnauzer, Toy or Miniature Poodle, Poochon, Portuguese Water Dog, Shih Tzu, Silky Terrier, Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, Yorkshire Terrier, or a Toy or Miniature Xoloitzcuintli.

Cats: Balinese, Bengal, Cornish Rex, Devon Rex, Javanese, LaPerm, Oriental Shorthair, Russian Blue, Siberian and Sphynx.

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