Hypoallergenic pets are currently very popular in the designer animal industry. These pets are engineered to contain fewer allergens and are marketed toward pet-loving allergy sufferers.
Since the majority of people who suffer from animal allergies are allergic to cats, hypoallergenic cats are currently some of the most sought-after hypoallergenic animals.
But are these pets fads? Does owning one reduce the risk of allergy symptoms? Or do hypoallergenic pets still cause allergies?
Hypoallergenic cats are animals that have been engineered to carry fewer allergens. Just a few examples of such cats may include short-haired, hairless or cross-bred cats.
Many breeders cross-breed cats that don’t carry protein allergens with domesticated cats. Others simply engineer the animals to be less likely to attract environmental and seasonal allergens throughout the home.
There are few reasons why allergy sufferers buy hypoallergenic pets. The main reasons are that they have severe seasonal allergies or because they’re allergic to pet dander or proteins and don’t want to miss out on the joy of owning a pet.
In some cases, allergy sufferers may need to be around animals. Some people who would benefit from service animals don’t get to just turn their allergies off when they need help.
Hypoallergenic pets may be a solution for some allergy sufferers, though these pets aren’t the panacea animal lovers hope they’ll be.
If you start sneezing when your cat enters the room, you could be suffering from several different types of allergies — not just pet allergies.
When it comes to pets, hair and fur are usually the least of an allergy sufferer’s problems. Instead, it’s the animal dander and proteins most people are allergic to. Pets with long hair and fur may also attract other allergens and track them around the home.
Dander is one of the most common allergy triggers. It’s essentially bits of dry skin that all animals naturally shed (even humans).
This dry skin isn’t always visible to the naked eye, but it may affix itself to your pet’s hair, soft surfaces in your home — and even become airborne.
Pets that grow fur and feathers generally have dander. Some of the most common sources of pet dander may include cats, dogs, birds, reptiles and hamsters. Since many pests also have dander, rats, mice and insects may also be the source of allergies.
If you’re allergic to your pet’s dander, there’s a good chance you’re also allergic to its saliva, urine and feces, too.
Animals produce proteins that are present in their organic matter, also known as D1, D2, F1 and F2 proteins (can F1 and F2 in dogs and fel D1 and D2 in cats respectively).
These allergies are most commonly triggered if your pet licks your skin or if you become exposed to its excrement (which may commonly happen if you need to scoop your cat’s litter box or pick up after your dog on a walk). Urine and feces particles may also inadvertently get attached to long hair or fur and get tracked around your home.
Any animal with hair or fur can be a magnet for allergens. Not only can your cat accidentally track urine and feces around the house, but it may also track non-animal allergens, such as pollen, into your home.
Pollen is a sticky substance that may affix itself to your clothes, hair, skin — and even your pet. Indoor/outdoor pets may attract pollen outside (especially if pollen counts are high) and bring it back into your home.
Many cats are indoor pets only, but even these animals may attract pollen. Open windows and doors or air systems with poor filtration may allow pollen into the home. If pets are allowed on soft surfaces (such as couches and beds), they may track pollen onto your furniture.
Environmental allergies are allergies that can strike at any time, not only during allergy seasons. This category of allergies includes animal, dust, dust mite, pollution, fungus and mold allergies.
If you are allergic to any of these common allergens, your cat may be exacerbating the situation.
Essentially, pets may end up attracting and tracking any other type of allergen throughout your home — especially after hiding in small or tight spaces that don’t get cleaned regularly.
There are two ways to diagnose animal allergies: monitoring symptoms and testing. While most doctors will use a combination of these two methods to determine the source of your allergies, the only way to know for sure which allergens are causing your symptoms is to get tested.
The first step in determining if you’re allergic to animals is to take note of your symptoms.
If you notice common allergy symptoms when animals are nearby, you may be allergic to dander or proteins — though you may also be allergic to other environmental or seasonal allergens attached to animal hair or fur.
Some of the most common pet allergy symptoms may include:
Keep an eye on your symptoms and report back to your doctor. Your doctor will still probably request an allergy test to find out exactly what you’re allergic to — be it dander, proteins or other allergens.
Some allergies share symptoms with other medical conditions, and your doctor may want to rule out those, too.
There are three ways to get tested for most allergies, including animal allergies: a skin scratch test, blood test or at-home finger prick.
A skin scratch test may be performed at a doctor’s office. Your doctor will insert tiny amounts of allergens underneath the top layer of your skin and monitor your skin for any reactions. You can be tested for up to 50 allergies at one time with this method.
If you have a fear of needles or some skin conditions (such as contact dermatitis or eczema), your doctor may suggest getting a blood test. Contact your doctor for a referral and head to the closest lab testing clinic for a blood draw. Your doctor should have the results within a few business days.
Another way to get tested for allergies is with an at-home allergy test, such as Curex’s.
Order your testing kit, follow the instructions to get a blood sample with the provided lancets (you should only need a few drops) and mail your sample to the lab. Get your results within a few business days.
There are several features associated with hypoallergenic pets. Since allergy sufferers may react to pet dander, protein or other allergens trapped in pet hair, there are different features to address all of these issues.
Pet hair and fur are similar. We usually use the word “fur” for both when it comes to pets; yet, some pets have short fur more similar to other animals’ while others have hair more similar to humans’.
Certain cat breeds have hair, which is short and coarse and sheds in warmer months. Other cats have hair that may be long, short, curly, wavy or straight (much like human hair) and don’t shed because of the seasons.
Pet fur may attract more environmental and seasonal allergens, leading to more allergy symptoms. Though pets with hair may also attract other allergens (much like human hair), many allergy sufferers claim their symptoms aren’t as severe with these pets.
Certain cat breeds are considered hypoallergenic because they grow hair instead of fur.
If you’re really concerned your potential cat may attract allergens in its fur or hair, you may want to buy a hairless cat.
It’s important to note that hairless cats are only a good option for people who aren’t allergic to dander or animal proteins. While these cats may not track other allergens inside the house (or are less likely to do so), they may still cause allergy symptoms for owners that are allergic to dander and protein.
Some breeders or pet retailers will claim hairless cats are hypoallergenic because they are less likely to attract allergens in their fur or hair. If you’re allergic to pollen, mold or dust, hairless cats may cause fewer allergy symptoms.
Some animals are genetically modified to contain fewer of the proteins that most people with animal allergies are allergic to.
While these animals do often contain fewer allergens, they may not be the answer for everyone allergic to animal dander, saliva and excrement as they still usually contain a small number of allergens.
If you’re allergic to animal proteins and want to buy a cat that has been genetically modified to contain fewer proteins, you may want to make an appointment with a breeder to meet the parent animals (or the breed if possible) first to ensure you don’t experience symptoms.
If you suffer from allergies but are craving a feline friend, you may want to opt for a Balinese, sphynx or oriental shorthair cat. Depending on your specific allergies, one of these cats may trigger fewer symptoms.
Balinese are longhaired cats that carry lower amounts of allergy-inducing proteins in their skin, saliva and excrement.
Sphynx cats are one popular breed of hairless cats. They also contain fewer allergen proteins than other domesticated house cats.
Oriental shorthair cats have — as their name suggests — short hair. They also produce less allergy-inducing proteins. They’re known to be very clever, and their meows sound similar to a frog’s ribbit.
Yes, most pets, including cats, labeled hypoallergenic may still cause allergies.
While these pets are engineered to cause fewer allergy symptoms, it may not be possible to avoid all allergy symptoms — especially if you’re allergic to both animal proteins and other types of pet-related allergens (such as pollen, dust, mold and fungus).
Some allergy sufferers may actually experience a placebo effect with hypoallergenic pets. In some rare cases, it’s possible to suffer from fewer allergy symptoms simply because you believe the pet is hypoallergenic (this is common in some clinical trials where allergy sufferers reported fewer symptoms when given a placebo).
You may want to talk to a breeder and ask to meet the pets before making a down payment on a hypoallergenic cat.
If hypoallergenic pets aren’t the answer to your animal allergies, you may want to try medications to treat your symptoms or animal avoidance or allergy immunotherapy to treat the causes of your allergies.
Allergy medications, such as antihistamines and steroids, may help ease allergy symptoms. These treatments may help reduce inflammation, redness, itching, sneezing, coughing, shortness of breath and other pet-related allergy symptoms.
The only downsides to allergy medications are their cost, side effects and effectiveness.
Many of these medications were developed to spot-treat allergy symptoms. Side effects may include drowsiness, gastrointestinal issues and sleep issues. They also don’t treat the cause of allergies — only the symptoms.
If you don’t want a pet (or no one in your household wants a pet either), you may simply be able to avoid cats altogether. If you know you’re going to a home where there are pets present, you may want to treat symptoms with antihistamine or steroid medications.
If you suffer from animal allergies but can’t say no to a cat, you may want to try allergy immunotherapy. This type of allergy treatment addresses the root cause of allergies — and not just the symptoms.
Allergy immunotherapy is available as an injection or an oral treatment.
Small amounts of an allergen are introduced to the body and help the immune system learn to stop attacking them by releasing histamines.
Allergy shots may be administered once a week at a doctor’s office, and oral treatments, such as Curex’s at-home allergy immunotherapy, may be administered daily without doctor supervision.
If you suffer from pet allergies and hypoallergenic cats still cause uncomfortable symptoms, contact one of our care specialists to find out if allergy immunotherapy is right for you.