If just the sight of a cat or dog seems to make you wheeze, sneeze, or break out in a rash, rest assured, you're not alone. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, one out of every four people struggles with allergies and asthma on a regular basis, and 15 to 30 percent of these cases are dog- or cat-related.
For the animal lovers who fall into this category, the idea of hypoallergenic pets probably sounds like a dream come true. But is there really any truth to it? There are certainly many cats and dogs marketed as hypoallergenic, to the extent that the concept has become the subject of national headlines -- by way of U.S. President Barack Obama's highly publicized search for a family dog, for example. Certain companies even claim they have created hypoallergenic pet breeds through selective breeding, and they attach a hefty price tag to them as well: Just one these pets goes for anywhere from thousands to tens of thousands of dollars. Some doctors, however, argue the validity of these companies' methods, maintaining the only way to create a truly hypoallergenic cat would be by eliminating the feline protein that sets off the allergic reaction.
The hypoallergenic label is usually associated with breeds that tend to shed less or hardly at all, which in theory sounds right…right? Sure, if the actual culprit behind the allergies was pets' fur. In reality, for dogs, the guilty party is a secretion transmitted through their skin glands that keeps their fur nice and smooth. With cats, allergens are in their saliva and get transferred to the fur by the tongue through licking. In both cases, when the animals shed dead skin cells -- known as dander -- the allergens become the core part of it. While particles of this dander may rest in the fur, the allergen itself does not actually originate within the hair follicles.
So unless someone genetically engineers an animal with allergen-free saliva and secretions, the concept of getting a truly 100 percent hypoallergenic pet will continue to be nothing more than a nice idea. However, allergic reactions may be minimized somewhat with dogs that shed less, because they theoretically release less dander into the air. Here are a few breeds that fall into that category, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC):
- Bedlington Terrier
- Bichon Frise
- Chinese Crested
- Irish Water Spaniel
- Portuguese Water Dog
- Schnauzer(including Miniature, Standard or Giant)
- Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier
- Xoloitcuintli (Mexican Hairless)
With cats, it's a little trickier since the allergen is transmitted through their saliva, and their shedding patterns and hair length don't necessarily dictate or diminish the frequency of their personal grooming. However, there are some breeds that produce less of the allergy-inducing Fel D1 protein, such as the Balinese, or those with shorter and less fur, such as the Devon Rex, that may prove to be better choices.
Regardless of the breed, with both cats and dogs, maintaining a regular grooming routine (including brushing, trimming and bathing) can also help decrease the amount of dander in the fur, on the skin, or in the air, helping pet allergy suffers to perhaps breathe a little easier.