Hypoallergenic Dogs and Cats

Smiling shih tzu dog laying down outdoors
Purple Collar Pet Photography / Getty Images

Allergic diseases are extremely common in developed countries, with allergic rhinitis affecting nearly 30% of the population and asthma affecting nearly 10%. Pet allergy, especially to household dogs and cats, has also become increasingly common over the past few decades in the United States.

In fact, 17% of U.S. cat owners and 5% of dog owners are allergic to their pets. Since many people view their pets as "part of the family," they are reluctant to get rid of them, even if it means worse allergy symptoms.

Hypoallergenic Dogs and Cats to the Rescue?

Because pet allergies are so prevalent, it is quite common for people to inquire about finding a hypoallergenic dog or cat, meaning one that would produce less allergen, and therefore would cause fewer allergy symptoms than a "typical" dog or cat. As a result of poorly designed studies, it was once believed that certain dog breeds were hypoallergenic. Those breeds included dogs with fur instead of hair or with a "single coat" instead of a "double coat," such as poodles, schnauzers, Shih Tzus, and Yorkshire terriers. (Find out which breeds of dogs are considered by some to be hypoallergenic.)

Early studies showed that the major dog allergen, Can f 1, was found in a lower amount when collected directly from these types of dogs. A more recent study, however, found no difference in the amount of Can f 1 in a home regardless of the type of dog that lives there – "hypoallergenic" or not.

The major cat allergen, Fel d 1, is found in all felines, including domesticated cats, lions, tigers and other wild cats. There haven’t been studies showing that one breed of cat is less allergenic than another breed; in fact, the length of a cat’s hair (or complete lack thereof) doesn’t seem to make a difference in the amount of Fel d 1 that a cat produces.

Enter science. Technological advances have led to various companies, such as Allerca Lifestyle Pets, to offer genetically altered hypoallergenic pets for sale. The company’s website states that their dogs and cats have a rare but naturally occurring gene mutation that reduces or eliminates the pet’s ability to generate the major allergen.

According to Allerca, studies have shown that cat-allergic people experienced no symptoms when exposed to their hypoallergenic cats. While these pets cost thousands of dollars, they may represent a way for people with allergies to own a dog or cat without being miserable or having to frequently take allergy medicines.

Ways to Make Dogs and Cats Less Allergenic

Many people with dog or cat allergies choose to keep their pet but look for ways to reduce allergy symptoms. Recent studies have sought to determine the characteristics of cats that make them produce more or less cat allergen.

Of all the characteristics studied, only neutering a male cat resulted in a significant drop in the amount of allergen in the home. Surprisingly, spaying a female cat did not show any effect on allergen levels. Other characteristics of cats that had ​no effect on Fel d 1 levels in the home included the length of their hair and the amount of time they spent indoors.

Dogs were a different story. Studies have found a number of characteristics that affect the amount of Can f 1 produced, especially where a dog spends much of its time. Compared to a dog that has the run of the house, keeping the dog to one part of the home, such as the kitchen, reduces Can f 1 levels. Making the dog stay exclusively outdoors also lowers the amount of allergen - but even those levels are higher than in homes without a dog -- probably as a result of the dander being carried into the house on shoes or clothing.

Unlike cats, however, having the dog spayed or neutered actually resulted in higher amounts of Can f 1.

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  • Butt A, Rashid D, Lockey RF. Do Hypoallergenic Cats and Dogs Exist? Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2012; 108:74-76.