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Girl playing with cat

I just reviewed an interesting article in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology entitled Do hypoallergenic cats and dogs exist? I hear this question frequently in my New York allergy practice. I have patients that know they are allergic to these pets, but erroneously believe that the dog that doesn’t shed that much, or a “hairless” cat will help them evade their allergic symptoms.

There are several US-based companies that market “hypoallergenic pets”. These companies include Siberian Cat Breeder and Allerca Lifestyle Pets. However, only 1 company has boldly stated that it has produced, “the world’s first scientifically-proven hypoallergenic cat, followed by a truly hypoallergenic dog.” This company, Allerca Lifestyle Pets, based out of San Diego, California began to market these animals in 2004. The company doesn’t guarantee a 100% success rate, but their price-tag would make you think otherwise: the price for a hypoallergenic dog is 7,950 dollars and the cats can vary from 6,950 to 22,950 dollars per cat. The company claims that by breeding their cats and dogs with animals that have gene mutations (genetic defects) that stop the animal from producing the potent allergens that trigger symptoms in their owners. This claim, to the best of my knowledge, in reviewing the article is not well supported.

Feld 1 is the major allergen produced by cats and it comes from the feline salivary, sebaceous (skin), and perianal glands. These allergens make their way to the cat’s epidermis and fur through self-grooming. Because this allergen is very small and light, it can embed itself in bedding, furniture, and carpets, and is easily transferred from one person to another through their clothing. In one study, cat dander that was found in the homes of children who did not have pets could be traced back to the children’s” classmates at school who did. Significant levels of Feld 1 have been found in cinemas, cars, planes, and even hospitals!

The dog issue is a bit trickier, due to a lot of anecdotal evidence for one dog is more or less hypoallergenic than another. Dogs are basically divided up into “low dander” types and “high dander” types. Low dander dogs include American Hairless Terriers, Chinese Crested, Peruvian Inca Orchids, and the Mexican Hairless. Other allergy-friendly breeds include the Bolognese, Havanese, and Lowchen. Unfortunately, the high dander dogs are the more familiar, family-friendly dogs: the Irish setter, German Shepard, Cocker Spaniel, and the West Highland White Terrier. The dog allergen proteins, Can f1 and 2, are derived from the salivary glands and the saliva, dander, and fur are where the allergens reside. If you start to itch or get red welts after a nice lick on the face by a dog, you can be sure you are allergic.

If you are allergic to cats or dogs but are determined to have one in your life, there a few things you can do to minimize your symptoms.

  • Try to keep your pets out of your bedroom. If animal allergen builds up in your bedroom, you will be inhaling the allergen all night while you sleep. While you sleep you don’t clear your secretions and the allergic inflammation can intensify.
  • Purchase an air-filtration device to remove these airborne particles on a daily basis. Medical studies have shown these to be beneficial. A company called Rabbit Air makes some beautiful models that are very effective.
  • Consider sublingual allergy immunotherapy, also called allergy drops. I have been doing this for 15 years and have successfully desensitized many patients that previously couldn’t stand to be around a dog or cat for even 15 minutes. I even have a cat and dog allergic patient married to a veterinarian, and after a year of allergy drops, he is feeling well, even around animals. I have to admit that it’s hard to live without these lovable critters.

Dr. Dean Mitchell
Mitchell Medical Group, NYC & Long Island