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How to pick a pet if you have allergies

Posted by Jennifer on April 8th, 2013

What do you do when you know you have allergies to some or most pets, but still want to adopt one? Maybe cats make your eyes itch and nose run, but you’ve lived with a dog before and didn’t have any allergic reaction to that particular pet. There are as many possible scenarios as there are types of pets! Some people find that they are allergic to some pets – or more or less allergic to some pets – and it can even be more or less to certain pets even within the same breed. Cats definitely top the list as causing the most allergic reactions, but that doesn’t mean you can’t beat an allergic reaction to a cat (see our blog article here: How Love Helped Me Beat My Cat Allergies). The Asthma Center says about 5-10% of Americans are allergic to pet allergens.  How do you pick a pet if you have allergies? Read on for our pet picking tips!

  1. Check with your doctor. If you are going to be testing out your allergic reactions to different pets, you should have preventative medications on-hand, such as fast-acting antihistamines, and/or inhalers.
  2. Go slow with your testing. Don’t give that dog a big hug and then rub your eyes! Start with limited contact, such as touching the pet with one hand, then wait to gauge your reaction. Some allergic reactions are immediate, while others may take some time. You may want to rub a pet at a shelter or rescue with a paper towel (with staff permission and help of course!), and take the towel home with you to try extended, repeated exposure.
  3. Meet a female pet, or a male that has been neutered for at least 2 months. Sebaceous glands in the skin produce the protein allergens. Male mammals have greater amounts of secretion and are often more allergenic than females or neutered males.
  4. Consider small pets. If you’d enjoy and would commit to a small pet for their entire life, you may find a smaller pet, with their smaller volume of allergens, may be easier for your system to support. 
  5. Meet different pets. If one Poodle or Persian sets off your allergies, that doesn’t mean another Poodle or Persian will necessarily will do the same. 
  6. Hypoallergenic breeds? It is true that some individual pets or entire breeds may cause less of a reaction in some people. Check out our Hypo-Allergenic Dogs: Whats True, Whats Not.
  7. Time desensitization. Just like allergy shots, some people find that living with a pet can reduce their allergic reaction to that pet! Check with your local shelter or rescue to see if they offer a “foster-to-adopt” program to see if your allergies will subside over time.

Before you decide to adopt a new pet, make sure to read our Tips to reduce allergies to pets so you’re prepared with great advice on how to give yourself the best chance possible at finding a pet to adopt that you can happily live with, allergy free.

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