Hypoallergenic pets: An answer for animal lovers with allergies?

WASHINGTON — Families living with pet allergies have a hard decision to make when a child starts pleading for a dog or cat.

Hypoallergenic pets have been offered up as an answer, but some allergists say parents need to think twice before shelling out the cash for one of these more expensive breeds.

“There is no truly hypoallergenic dog or cat,” says Dr. Rachel Schreiber, an allergist in Rockville, Maryland. She says no breed is 100 percent allergen-free, although some dogs and cats shed less, and thus release fewer allergens into the air and a sensitive person can still come down with the telltale symptoms of a pet allergy, like sneezing and red, itchy eyes.

While shedding is a concern, it is not the pet’s fur that causes the allergic reaction. The problem is dander — those little flakes of skin that adhere to the coat. Pet secretions and saliva also play a role, as does urine.

Schreiber says there is a test for pet allergies, and some people want a dog or cat so badly that they even agree to allergy shots to keep their immune reaction in check.

As far as she is concerned, however, it is just not worth the risk.

“In general, if a person has allergy to pets and we know it — I would advise them to not get a pet,” Schreiber says.

She faced this dilemma with her own family. When her kids pressed for a cat, Schreiber had to tell them “no,” not because there was an allergic person in the house, but because cat allergens might stick to her body and her clothes, creating problems for her patients.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America says that 15 to 30 percent of people with allergies are allergic to dogs or cats. For most, being exposed to the allergen creates annoying symptoms, but for patients with asthma the consequences can be severe.

Someday, science may be able to create a dog without allergy-causing dander. Until then, the American Kennel Club says, certain breeds shed less and may work for some allergy sufferers.

Scroll through our gallery to see which dogs may be best for those with allergies.

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