Does your heart want to say yes to bringing home a cat or dog, but your body says no?
An estimated 15 percent of the American population has some sort of pet allergy, according studies cited on Petfinder.com. Yet, a survey by the American Pet Products Association and the U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook shows nearly 80 million households (or 65 percent) own a cat or a dog.
People with animal allergies who still want to bring a pet into their lives may have hope thanks to “hypoallergenic” dogs and cats — breeds that produce fewer symptoms than other animals.
Dispelling pet allergy myths
Despite their label, a “hypoallergenic” or “allergy free” dog or cat does not actually exist. This is due to the fact that all animals have some form of allergens on their bodies. An allergen is a type of protein or chemical that triggers symptoms such as runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing and itching which are all too common for allergy sufferers.
Sources of allergens include:
· Dander — scales of dead skin shed by the animal
· Saliva — exposure to the allergen can come directly from the pet’s mouth or from dried saliva leftover on the fur from the pet grooming itself
· Sebaceous cells — the area connected to hair follicles which produces oil to keep skin and hair moist
Contrary to popular belief, an animal’s hair or fur does not directly cause allergic reactions. Instead, it is what the fur or hair carries (dander, saliva, urine, etc.) that causes the health problems.
Best breeds for people with allergies
While no animal is 100 percent allergy-free, a variety of cat and dog breeds have proven to be a better match for people with pet allergy sensitivities.
Here are five canine breeds the American Kennel Club says are the best option for people with allergies thanks to the dogs’ non-shedding coats (resulting in less dander):
1. Afghan Hound: This dog requires twice-weekly baths and brush outs to reduce allergens. They also need regular exercise.
2. Bichon Frise: This is a gentle, playful dog. Its hair constantly grows and never sheds, which means mandatory regular grooming to prevent tangles and mats.
3. Irish Water Spaniel: A dog with a water-repellent double coat only requires brushing every few weeks. This breed is intelligent and lots of energy.
4. Maltese: Their long, silky white hair needs to be brushed every day to avoid mats. Don’t be fooled by their small stature; the Maltese has a playful and fearless reputation.
5. Poodles: This breed comes in three sizes: toy (small), miniature (medium) and standard (large). Their curly coats require regular professional grooming and owners can expect a highly intelligent and active dog.
On the feline side, PetMd.com recommends the following cat breeds to reduce a potential owner’s allergic reactions.
1. Bengal: This breed is known for its soft, full coat, which has hints of shimmering luminescence. These cats enjoy children and likes playing games and being social.
2. Burmese: The Burmese are so social that some people call them “dog-like” for their personality and ability to learn to play games like fetch. Their shorter-hair coats range from brown to red (more common in European Burmese cats).
3. Ocicat: Resembling a cat of the wild, this spotted breed has a short, soft coat that can come in one of twelve colors. Despite its jungle-type appearance, the Ocicat loves giving affection and has enough intelligence to learn its name and a few commands.
4. Siamese: This well-known breed has a short coat made of fine hair. These vocal and social cats come in four distinct colors: seal grey, chocolate, blue and lilac.
5. Sphynx: Even though it’s best known as the “hairless cat”, some of these cats have a fine, downy coat that can barely be felt by owners.
Before bringing a dog or cat home, potential owners with allergies should spend some time interacting and holding the furry friend. Most places will allow some bonding time with a possible new pet to see what type of physical reactions result from close contact.
With a little time and research, people with allergies can finally find the right dog or cat to welcome into their family.