Are Hypoallergenic Pets the Solution to Allergies?
A Fredericksburg doctor gives advice for pet lovers with pet allergies.
The United States has the highest percentage of household pets in the world, and the numbers continue to increase with approximately 62 percent of U.S. households having one or more domestic pets, according to the American Pet Products Association.
Along with the rise in pet ownership, the prevalence of human allergy to pets has increased over the past several decades, with the most frequently reported animal sensitivity being to cats and dogs. Human diseases most commonly associated with environmental allergens include asthma, seasonal allergies and eczema.
Despite having an allergic sensitivity, the majority of pet owners choose to put aside their daily inconveniences to keep their beloved pets.
What types of symptoms are associated with pet allergies?
Itchy and watery eyes, runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing, a dripping or tickling in the back of the throat and/or recurrent sinus infections do not deter many “pet lovers” from living with their “furry friend.” The use of prescribed medications, herbal treatments, excessive cleaning of one’s home (or pet) may provide some relief, but often these measures do not completely control the aggravating symptoms encountered by pet allergic individuals.
Although the most effective way to treat pet allergy is to remove the pet from the home, patients and their families often refuse to do so because up to 90 percent of American pet owners perceive their pet to be a family member, according to statistics on Petfinder.com. Greater than 90 percent of Americans, including non–pet owners, believe that a pet contributes to a more satisfying lifestyle.
Are “hypoallergenic” animals the solution for pet allergic individuals?
More recently, an alternative approach being considered by many pet lovers involves purchasing a "hypoallergenic" animal. Several U.S. based companies market “hypoallergenic” pets and claim to help millions of people with cat and dog allergies enjoy their household pets without suffering from allergic symptoms.
But, these pets come with a costly price tag. Some have been sold for up to $22,950, according to Allerca Lifestyle Pets. Misconceptions have persisted amongst physicians, health care professionals and the general population about pet dander allergy, which makes the marketing of “hypoallergenic” pets a lucrative business.
In regards to cats and dogs, allergens are derived from the skin particles or flakes that are shed from the animal’s skin. Some companies market their “hypoallergenic” pets by claiming they breed only those which produce lower quantities of pet dander. Others state they breed those with “hypoallergenic fur.”
Regardless of the proposed rationale behind producing “hypoallergenic animals”, websites of professional organizations including the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, as well as the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, do not support these claims.
To date, scientific evidence does not support the concept of “hypoallergenic” pets; therefore, the utilization of more established practices in preventing or controlling pet dander allergy should be considered.
In addition, a thorough evaluation by a doctor trained in allergy and immunology may help diagnose the cause of your symptoms. A proper diagnosis followed by specific therapy tailored to treat the underlying cause of your symptoms may allow you to live a healthier, symptom free life with your beloved pet.
Dr. Ahmed Butt
Allergy & Asthma Center of Fredericksburg
This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.