About 12 percent of Americans are allergic to cats and another 12 percent to dogs, according to the most recent data in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Yet 100 percent of folks in the U.S. are obsessed with cute, fluffy animals (based on our highly unscientific estimates), which puts allergic animal lovers in a terrible predicament. If you've got allergies, though, you don't necessarily have to shun (wo)man's best friend. Brush up on this info before you head to the pound or pet store.
Sorry, there are no hypoallergenic dogs or cats
When the First Family got Bo, a Portuguese water dog, because President Obama's daughter Malia has allergies, reports claimed that it was the perfect "hypoallergenic dog" (meaning it wouldn't cause an allergic reaction).
"But there is no such thing," said Jessica Vogelsang, DVM, a veterinarian in San Diego. "The allergic reaction is triggered by the proteins in their saliva and skin, which of course all dogs and cats have."
A study in the American Journal of Rhinology & Allergy confirmed this, finding no evidence that supposedly hypoallergenic dogs have less allergen. However, some breeds that shed less may be less likely to trigger reactions.
Every dog or cat is different
Just because your neighbor's Labrador makes you sneezy doesn't mean you're going to have the same reaction to all Labradors.
"It's very individual which dogs or cats will set someone with pet allergies off—and one dog of a certain breed could cause a reaction when another one may not," said Camille DeClementi, VMD, a veterinarian at the ASPCA.
DeClementi suggests spending some time at the shelter with a dog or cat you're interested in or fostering one first to see how you react, rather than ruling out a particular type or latching onto a breed you think will be OK across the board.
It's worth checking whether you're actually allergic to animals
You may think you have a pet allergy, but "an outdoor dog or cat might just be bringing in pollens or mold spores, which could be what's really causing your flare-ups," said Dr. Clifford Bassett, an allergist and the medical director of Allergy & Asthma Care of New York. Visit an allergist and get tested so you know exactly what it is you're reacting to. If results for pet allergies come back negative, still make sure to clean your pets and keep cats inside. On that note...
You'll need to make cleaning a big priority
For those who suffer from severe pet allergies, it's probably not wise to own a dog or cat—period. But if you've got mild allergies and think you can manage, you must be extra scrupulous about scrubbing your house down. Invest in a HEPA air purifier, Dr. Bassett advises, which will help trap dander, as well as a HEPA vacuum (the regular kind often just blows allergens back out). Also key: making bedrooms a pet-free zone to minimize your exposure to dander. Though it's impossible to completely rid the room of pet allergens, you'll sleep much better, as well as have a safe haven if you feel an allergy attack coming on. Finally, avoid heavy drapes and carpets—allergens love to make their home there—and opt for blinds and hardwood floors you can easily wipe down.
Pets with (some) benefits: Nonshedding dogs, like poodles
The dog hair itself doesn't cause a reaction, but the skin cells that do trigger allergies, also known as dander, bind to the hair. So having less fur around can make a difference.
Pets with (some) benefits: Hairless (or practically hairless) dogs and cats
They may look a little silly, but a hairless Sphynx cat or hairless dogs like the Chinese Crested and Xoloitzcuintli might expose you to less dander.
Pets with (some) benefits: Fancy dogs that require grooming
Veterinarians theorize that getting washed once a week and brushed regularly can help the dog lose some of the allergen-containing dander built up in its fur. Prefer mutts? Be just as diligent.