The best pets for people with allergies

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We love our best furry friends so much that they can literally bring tears to our eyes, along with sneezing, a runny nose and even hives.

Pets are a common cause of asthma as well as allergic rhinitis, according to Dr. Rebecca Greenstein, Veterinary Medical Advisor for, and yes that includes that sweet, non-shedding schnoodle sleeping in your bed.

“Let’s clear up a common misconception: there is no such thing as a 100% hypoallergenic dog or cat,” says Greenstein. “If you have a cat or dog allergy, you're likely reacting to dander – aka ‘pet pollen’ otherwise known as dried skin flakes – and proteins found in the skin, urine, and saliva of pets.”

“Every dog and cat varies in the amount of allergen they produce and, surprisingly, this might not be predicted by breed, shedding, size or fur length,” says Greenstein, Chief Veterinarian, Kleinburg Veterinary Hospital, at

People can be allergic to any type of pet, although one person may suffer fewer allergy symptoms than others.

According to The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, cat allergies are twice as common as dog allergies, since cat saliva seems to be a key trigger, regardless of hair length1.

So much for getting a feline friend if you’re an allergy sufferer! Fortunately you’ve got other options when it comes to getting a pet that won’t have you miserable from nasty allergens.

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“More exotic pets, like fish, reptiles and amphibians, are much less commonly associated with allergies, particularly because they lack the key offenders of fur and dander,” says Greenstein.

“So-called pocket pets like hamsters, gerbils, ferrets, and mice have the potential to trigger allergies, but their small size means they have a proportionately smaller allergen load,” she says.

“But beware that the bedding of these pets, such as wood shavings, might be an allergic trigger for some people,” she says, adding that allergy sufferers might want to avoid taking on longer haired small mammals like rabbits and guinea pigs as pets.

And surprisingly, birds also have dander, although certain allergy sufferers may be able to tolerate smaller species that are also lower in dander load.

“Every allergy sufferer’s sensitivity is unique, so what pet to get often depends on the individual,” she says. “If in doubt, prospective pet owners should consult with their family doctor or allergist before bringing a new pet into their homes.”

Even consider undergoing allergy testing prior to pet ownership to help clarify which fur or non-fur babies could be problematic for you, advises Greenstein.

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Pets to consider:

  • Lower-dander, lower-shedding dog breeds include Bichons, Poodles, Portuguese Water Dogs, Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers, West Highland Terriers

  • Lower-allergen cat breeds include the Cornish Rex, Devon Rex, Sphinx. No cat is scientifically considered hypoallergenic

  • Frogs

  • Turtles

  • Iguanas

  • Fish

  • Hamsters

  • Gerbils

  • Ferrets

  • Lower-dander birds, including parakeets and canaries

Again, it really depends on how severe your allergies are, the symptoms you’re willing to tolerate, and the type of pet in question, stresses Greenstein. “If you have severe allergies and you dream of owning a long-haired cat, that might not be a realistic match!”

She adds that some allergy sufferers can find sufficient relief from their symptoms with antihistamines and other over the counter medications so having a pet around remains a viable and rewarding option. “Many people with allergies can talk to their doctor about immunotherapy or allergy shots to help manage symptoms of pet allergies as well.”

So don’t give up on the idea of getting a pet. Mounds of research espouse the health benefits of owning a pet, especially a dog or cat.

And there are lots of happy endings, adds Greenstein. “A very good veterinarian friend of mine who owned a cat happened to meet and fall in love with a man who was severely allergic to cats!” Options had to be considered, including choosing between the two - “obviously the cat was the clear winner.”

Her now-husband underwent allergy testing and then started immunotherapy – or allergy shots – to gradually desensitize his overzealous immune response over time. “That, in combination with antihistamines, a puffer, and patience, allowed them all to live together happily.”


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Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Available at

This article is based on an interview conducted by The Weather Network with Dr. Rebecca Greenstein, Veterinary Medical Advisor for and Chief Veterinarian, Kleinburg Veterinary Hospital, at