Allergy free pets for the whole family

Photo: istockphoto.com/Mehmet Salih

If every time you visit crazy Aunt Mildred's house with her numerous furry companions your eyes begin to water, your skin gets itchy, and your throat swells up, you are allergic to pets. But, that doesn't mean you can never own a four-legged friend.

One but not the other
Allergies to cats and dog are commonly misunderstood on two main points. It's often assumed that if you are allergic to one you are allergic to both. This is just not true. Different animals produce different allergens, so you can be allergic to Fluffy but still keep Rex.

The second misunderstood point is that pet hair is the main cause of allergies. In fact, the pet's saliva and dander or dead skin flakes are often more potent than the hair. A hairless pet does not mean that you will be cured of your allergies. In fact, that pet might be worse for your allergies if they get a serious case of dry scalp.

No sneeze dogs
So, what can a pet-loving allergy sufferer do?

For several years, pet breeders have touted certain pets as hypoallergenic, meaning low allergen producing. They still produce the stuff that could make you wheeze and sneeze but in low concentrations.

In dogs, there are numerous claims that certain breeds are hypoallergenic. Popular claims include the Cockapoo, the Hairless Khala, the Airedale Terrier and the Poodle.

No itch cats
Cat-lovers have a less options than dog lovers, but they are better bets. As long as you keep your cat well moisturized, you could perhaps keep Mr. Bigglesworth, the hairless henchcat of Dr. Evil, Austin Powers's nemesis. The Sphinx, a rare bread of hairless cats, is hypoallergenic due to the lack of hair, but they still drool and flake.

Designer cats
If you've got money to burn and a furry companion is the way you want to spend it, then check out an Allerca cat, a company in the United States specializing in breeding hypoallergenic cats.

The company specially selected cat breeds with genetic deficiencies in producing allergens, then harnessed those deficiencies to make cats with no allergens. The solution comes at a cost, however.

With a price tag of USD $5950 (CDN $9000, plus shipping), this is one expensive kitty. If you want a kitten in time for Christmas, you can shell out another $2000 to be put on the rush order list. Even then your Christmas cat may end up an Easter gift.

Cheaper alternatives
Investing in allergy resistant bedding, carpet, and furniture upholstery that prevents pet dander from accumulated is a way pet owners can overcome allergies. Plus, regular bathing and grooming for the pet and a thorough house cleaning will help.

Perhaps the best bet for someone allergic to animals is to go with unconventional animals. Lizards, turtles, fish, even guinea pigs and hamsters (as long as you keep their cages clean) are all less likely to cause allergies than cats or dogs.

My little pony
And, for all those little girls who are just dying for a pony, there is even a low allergen solution. The Bashkir Curly is a hypoallergenic horse that has a special gene that produces curly hair. The result is a Rastafarian Mr. Ed complete with dreadlocked mane.

Graeme Stemp-Morlock is a freelance science & environment writer based in Waterloo, Ontario.