We are often asked if animals can be hypoallergenic. Is there such a thing? Do they really exist?
Here we answer your questions on what makes animals hypoallergenic and what to look out for. We also go deep into the definition of hypoallergenic vs non-allergenic in relation to animals. It’s not easy finding the right info!
So we’ve designed this to be the only guide you’ll ever need to know what makes an animal hypoallergenic. It has been medically reviewed, is in plain English and answers all your questions. You’re welcome.
We also have more specific guides on types of hypoallergenic dogs, hypoallergenic cats and other hypoallergenic pets. Feel free to check these out at any time!
Can Animals and Pets be Hypoallergenic?
Yes, they can! Some animal species, and breeds of popular pets, trigger less allergic responses in people who suffer from allergies. But, in most cases, there is still a risk of allergic reactions, especially if you have severe allergies or asthma.
Sadly that means that there is no animal that is guaranteed not to trigger your allergies.
Your allergies are triggered when your immune system is overloaded. But there’s still hope for you if you want a pet! You just have to find the right one for you that won’t overload your system.
What Makes an Animal Hypoallergenic?
First things first, hypoallergenic probably means something different to what most people think it means.
Most People: hypoallergenic means it won’t (or is guaranteed not to) trigger my allergies.
Truth: hypoallergenic is used to show a reduced likelihood to trigger allergies, but there’s still a risk.
When it comes to pets, things get a bit murky. All pets can trigger allergies. This is why they aren’t considered to be non-allergenic (i.e. don’t trigger any allergies).
Scientists have also found that common allergens are found in all types of breeds, even ones advertised as hypoallergenic.
That’s not the real question here though. It comes down to if they will trigger your allergies.
So, when it comes to finding a pet that is really, actually, hypoallergenic for sure, it comes down to you and what your immune system reacts to. Do you suffer from breathing allergies or asthma? Do you get contact dermatitis or skin allergies?
Some pets and breeds are thought to be hypoallergenic because they don’t trigger skin reactions but they have been found to trigger other allergies, like bronchitis.
That’s why it is very important to know your sensitivities!
Finding a pet that is less likely to trigger your allergies is how you’ll find a hypoallergenic pet. Lucky for you, that’s what this guide is all about!
Hypoallergenic means a reduced likelihood to trigger allergies. The only way you can measure that in relation to hypoallergenic pets is to know your sensitivities and to see what animals or breeds trigger them and how.
Does Hypoallergenic Mean They Don’t Shed?
A common misconception is the belief that animals that don’t shed are hypoallergenic.
That’s not really the case. While some animals that don’t shed can be hypoallergenic, others may still cause allergies due to the proteins they produce found in:
- Hair roots
There’s no way to stop animals producing these allergens and that’s why there isn’t a type of animal that’s guaranteed to not trigger allergic reactions.
That being said, there are certain types of our favourite pets that can be hypoallergenic.
Yes – even if they shed!
If you have breathing allergies or asthma, shedding will definitely be a factor that affects your allergic responses. It is likely that non-shedding pets are the better way to go.
If your allergies are skin related and based on contact, shedding may be a risk factor but mainly in the sense that it spreads more of the protein you are allergic to throughout your home.
Some animals have a coat type that means they naturally shed less than other animals of the same species.
Take cats, for instance. There are particular cat breeds that have a coat with multiple layers of fur and others that have a single layer.
There are also animals and breeds that have hair instead of fur, like pigs. In some cases it is a matter of the type of coat being less prone to producing allergic reactions, though in most cases it can be that dander and allergy forming proteins do not get trapped in it as much.
Some pet breeds also have hair that is the same pH level as human hair and trigger less allergic reactions in some people.
Absence of Fur
Another factor that may lead to reduced allergies from animals is the complete absence of fur.
Think, hairless cats.
It isn’t always the case that no hair or fur means the animal won’t trigger an allergic reaction though. Again, it comes down to your sensitivities. How much dander and what types of proteins the animal produces are things to consider even if it has no hair or fur.
Absence of the Gene Producing Certain Proteins
Most allergies to pets are due to the proteins they produce.
Many advertisers and blogs note that certain breeds produce less of the allergy forming proteins than others. It is on this basis they label a pet as hypoallergenic.
Know that this is not backed by evidence!
Scientists have tried to prove hypoallergenicity of certain breeds by testing for the major proteins in dogs and cats that cause allergies. They have run multiple tests on different breeds and they come up with nothing that can stand as proof.
They also find that the variance within the same breed is too high. This means two dogs or cats of the same breed can produce very different amounts of the protein.
Again, it comes down to your sensitivities.
Be wary of companies claiming that their pets are hypoallergenic because they don’t produce the protein most people are allergic to.
There is too much variance within animals of the same breed to draw conclusions about each breed as a whole. Even in tests between different breeds, there is still no evidence that the levels of protein production differ enough to claim that one breed is more hypoallergenic than another.
Dander and Saliva
Since most, if not all pets, will produce the protein that causes allergies, the next best thing to look for are breeds that are likely to spread less of it around.
Any kind of secretion the animal produces will have the protein in it. This includes dander (skin flakes), saliva, urine, mucus etc.
When it comes to dogs and cats, look for one that has a lower tendency to spread such substances around.
- Does it drool?
- Does it self-groom by licking itself every 5 seconds?
- Does it produce a lot of dander?
- Is it prone to skin conditions that create more dander than usual.
- Does the coat type trap dander or saliva?
- Can you contain the areas the pet will come into contact with?
With some types of pets, you might be able to adjust their living conditions to help contain the spread of allergens. Some pets might only stay outdoors while others might fit in a cage, hutch or other enclosed space.
When it comes to cats and dogs in particular, we also suggest you invest in extra training and obedience classes. You can train them not to lick you or enter certain zones in the house. These learned behaviours can go a long way to help keep the spread of allergens to a minimum!
Can Gene Silencing or Selective Breeding Make Pets Hypoallergenic?
Over the years there have been companies that have claimed to produce hypoallergenic animals, especially cats. They claim these cats lack the Fel d 1 glycoprotein responsible for most allergic reactions to animals.
There has been much controversy around the effectiveness of the practices used by these companies. Typically, they claim to use gene silencing, patented biotechnological methods or selective breeding to describe how they create hypoallergenic cats.
It is unclear to what level many of these cats have been genetically modified and what level of success these companies experience.
Despite what such companies claim, be wary of any reports of any animal that won’t trigger allergies.
As noted throughout our content, the hypoallergenic status of an animal depends just as much on your specific sensitivities as it does the features of the animal itself. Given these cats can run into the tens of thousands of dollars, it pays to dig deeper with your research!
Some animals may produce less substances that trigger allergies, like less fur, dander or saliva.
The best bet for finding a hypoallergenic pet is to know your sensitivities. Then look for pets that have a combination of features or tendencies that will ensure minimal opportunity for those sensitivities to be triggered.
Go beyond online.
Meet with an allergist who can help you determine your sensitivities to pets. Hang out around the animal or breed type you’re thinking of bringing home and assess if your allergies are triggered.
These are the real secrets that will make sure a pet is hypoallergenic to you and won’t trigger your allergies!