Having allergies can make you think twice before getting a pet — and that’s fair. No one wants to willingly welcome something into their home that will make them sneeze, cough and generally feel uncomfortable on a regular basis. But doctors say you’re not necessarily doomed to a pet-less existence if you have allergies.
Having a pet when you have allergies “is possible, but it isn’t always easy,” Dr. Tiffany Owens, an allergist-immunologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life. For some people with a pet allergy, the issue can be easily resolved by taking allergy medications, she says. For others, more intensive treatment may be needed.
Have allergies to cats, dogs or other animals, but still want to get a pet? There are a few things to consider.
Technically, there’s no such thing a hypoallergenic pet
While you’ve probably read about how some dog breeds are hypoallergenic, that’s technically not a thing, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI). Many of these claims are linked to pet fur, but pet allergies are actually caused by pet dander, saliva and urine, Dr. Catherine Monteleone, an allergist-immunologist and professor at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, tells Yahoo Life. Some pets may shed less than others, such as Bedlington terriers and Bichon Frise. But “there’s no data that shedding less does anything for pet allergies,” Monteleone says. Still, she adds, “it’s aways better to have less hair around.”
“Pets — literally any pet — can adversely affect allergy symptoms,” Dr. David B. Corry, professor of pathology & immunology and medicine and vice chair for immunology at the Baylor College of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life.
OK, so how can you find a low-allergy pet?
Everyone’s allergies are different and that includes pet allergies. That’s why Owens recommends that you undergo allergy testing before you make any decision about a pet. “Testing may help to confirm or refute the allergy concern, and you can discuss a treatment plan,” Owens says. Testing can also help you determine how severe your allergy is to particular pets, Monteleone points out.
Again, there is no particular breed of dog or cat that’s considered the best for people with allergies, but you may find it helpful to get a smaller pet since they shed less dander, Monteleone suggests. Some ideas: parakeets, gerbils, and hamsters. Also, consider a short-haired pet while you’re at it.
“Pets that shed less — e.g. a short-haired tabby as compared to long-haired tabby — are preferred for those with allergies,” Corry says. “The reason for this is not that short-haired pets make less of the allergens that provoke allergies, but rather they tend to shed less hair. It is the shed hair that becomes airborne, transferring allergens — usually proteins present in saliva and skin — onto your clothes, skin, bed sheets, etc., that you then inhale, leading to the allergy symptoms.”
If you really want a particular dog or cat but are nervous about how you’ll do with them, Owens recommends trying to foster a pet first and seeing how it goes. If you seem to do fine with the pet, then great. But if you’re miserable, maybe that particular type of pet isn’t for you.
How to minimize allergy symptoms with a pet
If you decide to welcome a pet into your home, there are a few things you can do to minimize your symptoms, according to the AAAAI:
- Keep your pet out of your bedroom
- Use a HEPA air purifier to trap dander
- Clean your carpeting regularly or opt for wood, tile or linoleum flooring
- Keep your pet outside when possible (and safe to do so)
- Speak with your vet about a balanced diet for your pet, which can prevent dry skin and excess shedding
- Keep your pet off the furniture
- If your dog rides in the car, use covers on the seats and wash them frequently
It’s also a good idea to check with your allergist about your treatment plan. They may recommend allergen immunotherapy, Owens says. These regular shots administered by a physician gradually expose you to more levels of your pet allergen and “can help to desensitize you to your pet,” Owens says. As a result, she says, “the allergy symptoms are much more tolerable.”