Hypoallergenic Dogs and Cats

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.

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

In fact, 17% of U.S. cat owners and 5% of dog owners are sensitized 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. Unfortunately, no dog or cat breed has been found or created that is truly hypoallergenic.

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.

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 detected, 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 in other areas of the home. 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, one study found that having the dog spayed or neutered actually resulted in higher amounts of Can f 1. However, more studies are needed to validate this finding and to determine its clinical relevance.

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  • Nicholas C, Wegienka G, Havstad S, Zoratti E, Ownby D, Johnson CC. Dog characteristics and allergen levels in the home. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. 2010;105(3):228-233. DOI:10.1016/j.anai.2010.06.019

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

By Daniel More, MD
Daniel More, MD, is a board-certified allergist and clinical immunologist. He is an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine and currently practices at Central Coast Allergy and Asthma in Salinas, California.