The best breeds for allergy sufferers

It’s hard to be allergic to something you love, but furry and feathered friends can trigger reactions that aren’t so lovable, from sniffling and sneezing to asthma attacks. What’s a pet lover with allergies to do?

The obvious answer: Buy a fish. An aquarium has many advantages, but pet affection isn’t one of them. Snakes, lizards, turtles and small animals like hamsters and mice are options too, and they don’t require as much care or attention. Still, there’s no getting around the fact that cats and dogs are the most popular pets in North America.

But there is good news for pet lovers with allergies: not all cats and dogs are equal when it comes to allergies. With some careful research, it is possible for people will less severe allergies to share their home with a four-legged companion — so long as they proceed with caution.

Finding the right fit

First, it’s important to understand the cause of allergies. Despite what you may have read, no dog or cat is truly allergen-free or hypoallergenic — even those “hairless” or “non-shedding” varieties. That’s because it’s not the hair that’s the issue, according to experts. Most people react to the dander — those tiny dead skin cells that slough off. They’re so small that they can become trapped in fur, clothes, carpeting and furniture, and once they’re in the air, we can easily inhale them. It’s usually certain proteins in the skin secretions that make people sick.

In addition, these allergens are present in urine and saliva, making grooming and cleaning litter boxes dodgy tasks as well. When these fluids dry, particles can become airborne and stay in the air for hours.

However, some breeds get the nod for being more compatible than others with people who have minor allergies. There hasn’t been a lot of clinical investigation into the issue as of yet, but here are some breeds to consider.

Better breeds for allergies — Cats

If you’re dreaming of a fluffy kitty in your lap, you might be a little disappointed by this list — at least until you get to know the breeds a little better. According to the experts at, these cats are thought to be less allergenic:

– Rex breeds (like the Cornish Rex, Deven Rex and Selkirk Rex). When it comes to fur coats, these breeds are missing a layer. There’s no top coat — just a short, fine undercoat that won’t hold as much dander and saliva from grooming.

– Sphynx cats. With big ears and nearly bald bodies, these cats look eerily like felines straight out of ancient Egyptian artwork. While the term “hairless” isn’t quite accurate — these cats are covered in a fine down — they won’t shed much and allergens could be kept to a minimum with a regular rub-down.

– Siberian blue and Russian blue. If you prefer some hair on your cat, these might be your breeds. While there isn’t a lot of scientific proof, it’s thought that these cats produce only negligible amounts of the Fel d1 protein, the allergen that most cats produce, or at least they produce less than the average house cat.

(For more information, visit

Better breeds for allergies — Dogs

When it comes to canines, it’s also dander — not shedding or hair length — that’s usually the culprit. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), breeds that produce the least amount of dander include:

– Bedlington terrier
– Bichon frise
– Chinese crested (a mostly hairless breed)
– Irish water spaniel
– Kerry blue terrier
– Maltese
– Poodle
– Portuguese water dog
– Schnauzer
– Soft-coated Wheaten terrier
– Mexican hairless dog (or xoloitzcuintli, also a hairless breed)

(For more information about these breeds, visit the AKC website.)

What about designer mixed breeds that claim to be hypoallergenic? Pet parents should be warned there’s no guarantee the puppies will share the characteristics of their non-shedding parent. For instance, a Labradoodle pup — a cross between a Labrador retriever and a poodle — may not take after the poodle parent.

Allergens, of course, are only part of the issue. Experts warn that finding the right dog is also about making sure their temperament, instinctual behaviours, activity levels and size are right for your home and family.

Other factors to consider

Breeds can provide some guidelines, but they’re only part of the solution. Some other factors to include in your thinking are:

Individual chemistry. Believe it or not, it’s possible to be allergic to one member of a dog breed but able to tolerate another. Scientists aren’t quite sure why, but it may have to do with certain proteins in the saliva and skin secretions (or combinations thereof) produced by the individual pet — and how they react with an individual person. These proteins can differ between breeds, and among members of the same breed. (With cats, there’s a universal allergen.)

If you’re adopting, experts advise to spend some time with the pet and see how you feel — though symptoms may not show up until hours later.

Health issues. Some problems like dandruff are more common in certain varieties, but they aren’t limited to specific breeds of dogs. Again, there’s isn’t a lot of evidence, but some breeds like German shepherds and cocker spaniels could be worse for allergies because the dogs are thought to turn over their skin at a faster rate. Other issues like incontinence could also be a problem.

The environment. If you’re sniffling when Fluffy or Fido jumps in your lap, it might not be due to dander. Dust mites — one of the most common allergens — can cling to animal fur and end up everywhere your pet goes. Likewise, common outdoor allergens like pollen and moulds can hitch a ride on your pets.

How can you tell what the cause is? Allergy testing can get at the root of the problem, and help you target ways to cut down on allergens.

Cleanliness. Are you willing to make some adaptations to your home and routine? You can reduce allergens by installing a HEPA filter, creating pet-free zones and replacing carpeting with flooring. Regular baths for your pet (yes, your cat too) can also make a big difference. (For more tips, see Dodge the dander.)

Above all else, the safety and comfort of your household should be top priority. Experts agree that pets shouldn’t be introduced into homes where a family member has an allergy — especially if asthma and breathing problems are a risk.

For more information about pet allergies, visit:
American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology

Additional sources:, WebMD Pet Health Center

Photo © Patrick Heagney

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