Thinking outside the box to find your new companion
Some people cannot imagine living life without one or more pets. For others, an animal companion—especially a furry one—can seem more like a prison sentence than another member of the family. People with pet allergies may experience anything from sneezing and a runny nose to coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath when they come into contact with certain animals, according to the CDC. There are animals that are considered to be “hypoallergenic pets,” which could be a good option for allergy sufferers. However, you may have to be willing to think outside of the box a little bit and assess what truly makes an animal “hypoallergenic.”
Millions of pet owners (and potential pet owners) across the country suffer from some form of asthma or pet allergies. Fortunately, if you or someone in your household has allergies, it does not necessarily mean that you have to rule out pets altogether.
What are hypoallergenic pets?
Asthma and allergy symptoms occur when the body’s immune system reacts to allergens, such as the proteins found in pet dander, saliva and urine. These proteins are carried on small, easily-inhalable particles that are produced by all warm-blooded animals, including breeds that some claim to be hypoallergenic.
Many people assume that certain dog and cat breeds are hypoallergenic because they are hairless or do not shed, but things are not that simple. Because pet allergies are caused by reactions to pet dander or saliva, finding the right pet for someone with allergies involves individual research and careful decision-making.
Types of hypoallergenic pets
Is there such a thing as a truly hypoallergenic pet? The answer is complicated. Below, learn which specific animals and breeds are much less likely to cause reactions in people with asthma and allergies.
Can dogs and cats be hypoallergenic?
All warm-blooded animals produce the proteins that can cause allergic reactions in people with sensitive immune systems. Some cat and dog breeds, such as poodles and sphynx cats, are often recommended for people with allergies. However, finding a hypoallergenic pet can be more complicated than picking one of these (often pricey) breeds. For example, though certain dogs are considered “hypoallergenic,” they may in fact still cause allergy symptoms because of the proteins found in their skin (pet dander), saliva and urine. In fact, a study by Nicholas et al. (2011) recommended that “clinicians should advise patients that they cannot rely on [dog] breeds deemed to be ‘hypoallergenic’ to in fact disperse less allergen in their environment.”
Cats tend to cause more allergic reactions than dogs because they groom themselves more often, but both species have the potential to release allergens into the air that you breathe, no matter which breed you choose. Therefore, there is not really a cat or dog that is truly “hypoallergenic,” though some breeds may cause fewer problems for allergy sufferers because of their grooming habits or shedding patterns.
Smaller mammals and rodents still not entirely hypoallergenic
Guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters
Smaller mammals and rodents, such as guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters and chinchillas produce dander just like cats and dogs. The main difference is in the potential to prevent the spread of allergens throughout your house. These animals are typically caged and, therefore, most of their dander can be secluded to the area in which they live.
People with allergies should not handle these small pets, but they may be able to live without complaint in the same house as one of these furry friends. This may be a good choice for homes in which one person wants a pet, but another person is allergic.
Smaller mammals should be kept in a room with infrequent traffic and their cages should be cleaned regularly by someone without pet allergies. Remember, one size cage does not fit all. Rabbits have different dietary and space requirements than guinea pigs and, likewise, mice have different requirements than rats. Research is an essential step in bringing one of these small mammals into your home.
Note: Certain small mammals, such as guinea pigs, are incredibly social animals and should only be bought in pairs.
Believe it or not, pigs are becoming an increasingly popular house pet for families across the United States. If you are considering buying a pig, be warned—they grow to be up to 500 pounds. Those that live in smaller houses often find that their pet pig quickly becomes too big for their space. Even so-called mini pigs, when fed a healthy diet, will grow much larger than you may expect.
Should you look beyond mammals to find the right animal companion?
When you think of hypoallergenic pets, your mind probably fills with images of specific cat and dog breeds, but thinking outside of the box may be the key to finding the perfect pet for you and your family.
Birds are warm-blooded, meaning that they can produce dander that may cause a reaction in people with asthma or allergies. This dander can be spread when the bird flaps its wings, preens or defecates. Because of this, a birdcage—and the area around it—should be cleaned daily by someone without a pet allergy. However, it is possible for people with allergies to live relatively symptom-free with a bird in the house.
Reptiles and amphibians
Reptiles and amphibians usually do not cause allergic reactions because they do not produce the proteins found in the dander and saliva of warm-blooded animals. These pets can be an excellent choice for people with asthma or allergies, as long as you spend the time and effort required to care for them properly.
Snakes, frogs, lizards and turtles can be interesting and unique pets. However, these types of creatures have very specific thermal, hydrological, behavioral and dietary requirements that should be researched before adding them to your home. Additionally, potential owners should be aware that turtles have the potential to spread salmonella, a contagious bacterial disease.
Note: People with allergies should wear gloves and a dust mask when handling the rodents and insects that many reptiles and amphibians need to eat to survive.
Aquariums can be a beautiful addition to any home. Fish do not produce allergens, and many species can be relatively low maintenance compared to mammals, reptiles and birds. However, large aquariums could increase the relative humidity in the room around them, which can cause other air quality concerns such as mold growth.
Best hypoallergenic pets for children
It can be difficult to tell your child that they cannot have a dog or cat because of their allergies. However, getting them excited about an alternative pet may be just the answer. For example, tropical fish can be a great way to introduce your child to the fundamentals of pet ownership. As a plus, cleaning and maintaining the aquarium should not trigger allergic reactions, so your child should be able to learn to help with the upkeep.
For smaller mammals, birds, reptiles and some amphibians, there may be allergens present in the waste that could cause symptoms in your child. You may need to be prepared to shoulder the full responsibility of cleaning the cage or terrarium.
Note: If you have a pet in your home, you should let the parents of your child’s friends know before you invite them over. This will help prevent any surprise asthmatic or allergic reactions.
Best hypoallergenic pets for small spaces
When you live in an apartment or a small house, allergens in your home may accumulate more quickly. It may be tempting to find a small pet, such as a hamster, fish or turtle that will not take up as much space in your home. However, you should make sure to research the appropriate living space needed for any pet that you adopt.
With the correct size habitat, animals that live in cages and aquariums can be great options for people with allergies that live in smaller spaces. As long as the habitats are cleaned regularly, they should not prevent you from living in a relatively allergen-free apartment.
Other ways to protect your home from pet dander
The most effective way to protect your household from pet allergens is not to have any warm-blooded pets but, if that is not a possibility, there are other things that you can do to minimize exposure. Keep in mind that no amount of cleaning will eliminate allergens completely.
By cleaning your house regularly, you can minimize the concentration of allergens that you and your family come in contact with. This includes:
- Vacuuming and dusting
- Cleaning the walls
- Washing all pet beds, cages or aquariums
- Washing clothes and bedding after coming in contact with the pet
- Keeping the pet out of the bedrooms or any rooms with carpet or upholstered furniture
- Washing your pet weekly, if appropriate and possible
If your pet is enclosed in a cage or terrarium, make sure that it is placed away from supply and return vents to keep your HVAC system from spreading allergens throughout your home. Using heating and air conditioning filters, as well as adding air purifiers to your home, can help stop the spread of these allergens. Take note: some air purifiers are better for pet owners than others. The PECO technology inside the Molekule air purifier can effectively destroy the organic compounds present in pet dander and saliva, as well as remove larger particles that come from pets. This has helped many pet owners with allergies to feel more comfortable with their furry friends.
Every home is different, and every family is faced with different challenges when it comes to choosing the right pet. If possible, spend time with any animals that you might want to adopt before you bring them home. This can help ensure that they do not cause unexpected allergic reactions in any of your family members. Owning a pet can be difficult for people with allergies, but it is not impossible. With the right amount of research and dedication, you will be able to find the perfect animal companion for you and your household.