Animal Allergies - Fact & Fiction

by Lee Chambers


When the Obama Family lived in the White House, Bo, their Portuguese Water Dog received a great deal of publicity as their choice because of daughter Malia’s allergies. But is there such a thing as a dog or cat that won’t cause an allergic reaction in someone who is susceptible?

Staff at Dakin’s Adoption Centers regularly get questions from prospective pet owners looking for “hypoallergenic” animal companions. To get some answers, we spoke with Dr. Jonathan Bayuk, a board-certified allergist and clinical immunologist, as well as a board-certified internist, who is Medical Director of Allergy and Immunology Associates of New England with offices in Northampton. Dr. Bayuk is also Director of Allergy and Immunology Curriculum at Baystate Medical Center and Tufts University School of Medicine, assistant professor of medicine at Tufts, as well as an instructor at Springfield College, where he teaches the allergy component of the Physician Assistant program, and is Chief of the Allergy and Immunology Division at Baystate Medical Center.

Is there such a thing as a hypoallergenic dog or cat? Are some breeds less likely to cause allergy problems? Are there things a potential adopter should look for if they are concerned about allergies? e.g., shorter fur, or in the case of the Sphinx cat, no fur.

Dr. Bayuk: There isn’t really such a thing as “hypoallergenic.” However, less fur helps significantly since less fur means less shedding of dander, which is what causes allergic reactions to dogs.

What factors in animals cause allergies? 

Dr. Bayuk: Factors are skin (dander) in dogs; and saliva, urine, and fur in cats.

Can young people outgrow pet allergies? 

Dr. Bayuk: Yes! 

Does some exposure to animals help them build resistance to allergens? 

Dr. Bayuk: Not typically. 

Conversely, can pet allergies develop in someone who hasn't had them? 

Dr. Bayuk: Definitely, this is very common.

What advice can you give a patient who wants to adopt a pet but has allergy concerns? e.g. air filters, vacuums with those HEPA filters. 

Dr. Bayuk:  My best advice would be to get allergy tested and do immunotherapy (preventive treatment for allergic reactions). Also wash pets regularly. We often advise HEPA filters to our patients.

And finally, do you have any pets yourself. If so, what?

Dr. Bayuk: YES!! My German Shepard, Luna.


Want to learn more about pet allergies?  Here is some additional information from the Mayo Clinic and from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

Thanks to Marianne Gambaro for contributing this story.  Marianne is a published poet and manages her husband Jim's fine art photography business. Learn more about her at

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