Are hypoallergenic pets a reality?

The world is full of animal lovers who must enjoy animals from afar. In fact, approximately 10-20% of the world’s population is allergic to dogs, while 10-14% of Americans are allergic to cats. Allergy symptoms include nasal congestion, sneezing, runny nose, red and watery eyes, itching, and other forms of discomfort and pain. As your body fights off your immune system’s overreaction to pet dander, the rest of your health suffers. While some choose to endure the misery, many allergic pet lovers wish for a world where they could spend time with their furry companions (who, in a post-climate change world, will need more care than ever) and do not endure allergies.

“There is no published scientific evidence to indicate that such animals really exist.”

Such is the promise of so-called hypoallergenic dogs and cats, or animals that are supposed to be bred not to trigger allergic states in humans. The idea of ​​a hypoallergenic breed of dog or cat has become relatively normalized. In 2009, President Obama adopted a famous Portuguese Water Dog, Bo, because his reputation as a hypoallergenic breed meant he would foster his allergic daughter Malia.

That there is a market for hypoallergenic dogs like cats is self-evident. The problem? “Hypoallergenic” dogs and cats do not exist.

It all comes down to biology. When a human experiences an allergic reaction to dander produced by a dog or cat, it is because of a protein produced by that specific animal. This same protein can, it is no coincidence, also be found in other bodily fluids produced by the animal. The animal’s hair or fur has no bearing on whether the allergen detaches from its body.

Salon contacted Dr. Richard Lockey of the University of South Florida, who in 2012 co-authored an article on the subject for the peer-reviewed journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Aptly titled “Do hypoallergenic cats and dogs exist?” Lockey and his fellow researchers explained their conclusion in no uncertain terms: “There is no published scientific evidence to indicate that such animals really exist.”

Lockey and his co-authors explain that 60-90% of people with cat allergies react to an allergen known as “Fel d 1”, leading to symptoms of allergic rhinitis and allergic asthma. The main allergenic proteins produced by dogs, “Can f 1” and “Can f 2”, have similar effects on susceptible patients.

Lockey and the other researchers strongly urge removing a pet from a home if someone living there is allergic. Because most of those who cohabit with pets are averse to leaving a pet behind, they suggest thorough cleaning regimens and regular bathing for the animal as less effective substitutes.


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“Animal allergy can affect allergic eczema, allergic rhinoceros conjunctivitis, and allergic asthma,” Lockey wrote to Salon. Lockey reiterated that he advises removing a dog or cat from an allergic person’s home; but, if this is not possible, he suggests keeping the animal out of the bed and the room.

“It takes up to six months to remove the cat or dog from a home, after the animal is excluded, regardless of where the animal lives in the home. There is no documented evidence that keeping the cat or dog out of the bedroom helps, but it makes sense,” Lockey added.

Locky was sensitive to the strong underlying resistance that many people with pet allergies have to get rid of in their pets.

“The emotional attachment to an animal today is very different from what I was when I was a resident,” he said. “Animals were mostly kept out of homes in those days because homes were contaminated with fleas – hard to get rid of – and we didn’t have as many great drugs to treat hay fever, allergic eczema and asthma.”

Now that drugs and “shots” exist, Lockey observed, there’s less risk in living with an animal while you’re allergic — but still far from zero risk.

“Can f 1, the main dog allergen, is present in all breeds of dogs, even hypoallergenic ones.”

“All are highly effective, but of course avoidance of any potential allergens – in this case cat and dog dander and other animal dander – is the treatment of choice,” Lockey wrote.

Dr. Molly H. Sumridge, assistant professor of anthropozoology at Carroll College, told Salon via email that the evidence on the subject is “mixed”, noting that “most owners of hypoallergenic dogs perceive fewer symptoms even if the exposure to allergens is the same”. and that this is also true “with hypoallergenic cats and the feline allergen Fel f 1”. Yet Sumridge added that the science still backs them up.

“Most of the scientific literature asserts that there are no true hypoallergenic pets,” Sumridge wrote to Salon. “Can f 1, the main dog allergen, is present in all breeds of dogs, even hypoallergenic ones. It is also found in many dog-free or dog-restricted spaces such as classrooms, airplanes, and in homes. people who don’t own dogs. Dogs are so common that their allergens are everywhere.”

The underlying ethical question, therefore, is whether it is harmful for people with pet allergies if they buy a dog they believe to be “hypoallergenic”. If they think their symptoms are lessened around the animal, does that count for anything? Is it ethical for these dogs to be sold as hypoallergenic?

Lockey doesn’t think so.

“Selling anything that isn’t what the customer thinks they’re getting or wanting is fraud and should be treated as such,” Lockey told Salon. “It’s like selling me a car or a house without disclosing what you know of the flaws, one or the other.”

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