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Do ‘hypoallergenic pets’ really exist?

Is that the answer to my allergies and love for pets?
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Pets are man’s best friend. What if you have allergies and have always wanted a cat or a dog? These days, we commonly hear the term ‘hypoallergenic pets’. Is this truly the solution for pet lovers with long-standing allergy symptoms? 

This article explores the term 'hypoallergenic pets' and clinical and non-clinical treatment options for managing pet allergic symptoms.

hypoallergenic pets
Do hypoallergenic pets really exist?

How does a pet cause allergic symptoms in humans? 

An allergic reaction is an exaggerated body response towards an innocuous substance upon exposure to the substance through the respiratory system, skin or mucous membrane. In the case of pet allergies, it is often not the ‘dander or fur’ of the pet that causes the allergic reaction but rather the protein in the pet’s urine or saliva. These proteins can attach themselves to the pet dander. When the hair is shed periodically, the particles will be disseminated onto the surrounding environment, such as the carpet, linen, bed, sofa, furniture, etc. When a person is in contact with the particles through direct touch onto the skin or mucous membrane or breathing, the body mounts an inflammatory exaggerated immune response leading to allergic symptoms.

To make things worse, pet danders also create an environment to capture various airborne particles such as dust mite particles, mould spores, or pollen that may also potentiate allergic reactions. 

What does it mean by 'hypoallergenic pet'? 

Pets such as cats and dogs have been marketed as ‘hypoallergenic breeds'. Essentially, this means the hypoallergenic pets shed less than other ‘normal breeds’. Less dander shedding will lead to less or minimal protein allergens released in our living environment, hence reducing the risk of allergies. 

However, it is worth noting that even hypoallergenic pets are not entirely ‘shed-free’; hence, they are not ‘allergen-free’ either, and one can still develop allergic symptoms. Also, the length and amount of the animal fur do not determine the allergic response. Allergic symptoms can still occur even if a person obtains a hypoallergenic pet.

sphynx cat
It is a common misconception that hairless breeds of cats are hypoallergenic.

What is the common allergic response due to pet dander?

Allergy can present a spectrum of symptoms affecting various organs of the affected person. The severity of individual allergic symptoms varies from person to person – some may present with mild symptoms. In contrast, others may develop symptoms that disrupt their daily function or require clinical intervention.

Allergic reactions from pet dander allergies include:

  • Itching 
  • Watery/runny/blocked nose 
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness
  • Chest pains
  • Cough
  • Asthmatic symptoms 
  • Red rashes 
  • Watery, itchy, and red eyes

Pet dander allergic symptoms are usually exacerbated when a person is in contact with the animal. However, the allergic symptoms frequently persist even when the pet is no longer physically present. This is due to the remnants of the dander in the surrounding environment and the impracticality of removing or altogether avoiding the allergen (dander).  

pet allergy
Pet allergy symptoms include sneezing, coughing, wheezing, itching, watery eyes, etc.

How can I confirm my allergies?

You are advised to see your doctor, who will obtain a medical and social history to understand the possible correlation between the triggering allergens and your symptoms. Depending on your condition, your doctor may offer you a skin prick test or IgE RAST blood test to rule in or rule out the concerning allergens.

When pet dander allergies are of concern, your doctor may offer an allergy test to test for pet dander, dust mites, mould and other common airborne allergens. Your doctor can advise you further on treatment and management of the allergies from the results.

How can I manage pet dander-related airborne allergies at home?

Here are some tips to reduce pet allergens in your living environment: 

  • Get an air purifier (with HEPA filter), dehumidifier, and air filters to minimise the allergens in your living space. 
  • Minimise using carpets, linen, fluffy and furry-based sofas, bedding, and furniture. Linen sheets and bed sheets should be changed regularly – ideally weekly. They should be washed under high temperatures >60℃ and air dried under the sun. 
  • Consider confining a pet-free area in your main living space, such as your bedroom. 
  • Your pet should be showered weekly. 
  • Your pet is encouraged to go for regular grooming and brushing. Well-groomed coat care of pets generally can reduce the presence of allergen particles.
  • Avoid getting licked by your pets.  
saliva pet allergy
Saliva contains a protein that causes pet allergies.

Are there medical treatments to manage pet dander allergies?

Patients do commonly seek medical support for pet allergies for two reasons:

  • Impracticality of giving the pet away due to logistic issues or pure affection towards the pets
  • Persistence of allergic symptoms

Thankfully, there are effective medical treatment options to manage pet allergy symptoms. 

Your doctor must understand your history and the correlation of the allergy symptoms with the pet. Depending on individual risk of exposure, your doctor may offer an allergy test in the form of a skin prick test or blood RAST test to confirm the pet allergies or possible concurrent air-borne allergies such as dust mite or mould allergies. 

Your doctor may offer symptomatic medications such as antihistamines, steroidal tablets, topical creams, nose sprays and inhalers to relieve your symptoms immediately. In patients with positive allergy tests for pet allergies or airborne allergies, your doctor may discuss the medical option of immunotherapy

The role of immunotherapy in managing pet dander allergies

The idea of immunotherapy is re-educating and re-setting the immune system. As mentioned, in allergy, the body’s immune system develops an exaggerated inflammatory response towards a generally harmless substance. In immunotherapy, one strives to re-challenge the immune response with repeated small dose exposure of an allergen to the body and de-sensitize the immune response towards the allergen. Over time, this leads to a down-regulation of the immune response against the allergen, significantly reducing or resolving the clinical allergic symptoms. 

When used under the proper supervision of a physician, immunotherapy is safe and is a clinically evidence-based long-term treatment for airborne allergies. It has been proven to alleviate and treat allergic rhinitis, allergic conjunctivitis, and asthma associated with air allergens. Immunotherapy reduces reliance on symptomatic or 'rescue' medications in allergy patients and minimises the patient's medication burden in the long run. With allergy symptoms under control, the affected person's quality of life can be improved.

Final word for pet lovers and allergies…

If you struggle between your allergic health and your love for your pets, consider speaking to your physician to understand more about allergy testing and immunotherapy treatment. 


  1. Virtanen T. Immunotherapy for pet allergies. Hum Vaccin Immunother. 2018 Apr 3;14(4):807-814. doi: 10.1080/21645515.2017.1409315. Epub 2017 Dec 21. 
  2. Persaud Y, Memon RJ, Savliwala MN. Allergy Immunotherapy. [Updated 2023 May 1]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK535367/
  3. Corren J. Allergic rhinitis and asthma: how important is the link? J Allergy Clin Immunol. 1997 Feb;99(2):S781-6. 
  4. Klimek L, Pfaar O, Bousquet J, Senti G, Kündig T. Allergen immunotherapy in allergic rhinitis: current use and future trends. Expert Rev Clin Immunol. 2017 Sep;13(9):897-906. 
  5. Şahin E, Bafaqeeh SA, Güven SG, Çetinkaya EA, Muluk NB, Coşkun ZO, Lopatin A, Kar M, Pinarbasli MO, Cingi C. Mechanism of action of allergen immunotherapy. Am J Rhinol Allergy. 2016 Sep 1;30(5):1-3.
  6. Oktemer T, Altıntoprak N, Muluk NB, Senturk M, Kar M, Bafaqeeh SA, Bellussi L, Passali D, Cingi C. Clinical efficacy of immunotherapy in allergic rhinitis. Am J Rhinol Allergy. 2016 Sep 1;30(5):4-7.

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