Allergic to Pets?

True or False

A Pet-related Allergy Quiz
The following pet allergy quiz is excerpted from Allergic to Pets? The Breakthrough Guide to Living with the Animals You Love by Shirlee Kalstone, ©2006, published by Bantam Dell,  Division of Random House, Inc., New York, N.Y.

It is the first book to provide effective advice for cohabiting with cats, dogs, rabbits, ferrets, small furry rodents and even horses. This is an indispensable resource for animal-loving allergy sufferers. The sensitivities that we know today as allergies were first recognized thousands of years ago by prominent Greek physicians of the ancient world such as Hippocrates and Galen. By the mid 1500s, Italian physician Pietro Mattioli recorded symptoms of a patient suffering from “cat fever,” in what may be the first specific reference to pet allergy. He noted that the patient suffered agitation, sweating and pallor in the presence of the cat and reacted the same way even when the cat was concealed from him.

Scientific understanding of our immune system and what causes an allergic reaction is still rather recent, so it’s not surprising that myths about pet allergies abound. Some are true; others are totally incorrect and frequently influence our attitudes and knowledge about dealing with sensitivities to pets. How many of these common beliefs about pet allergies can you identify correctly as true or false?

 Answers follow questions

1.     A pet’s hair or fur causes allergies.

2.     Shorthaired dogs and cats may trigger fewer allergies than longhaired ones.

3.     Kittens and puppies cause fewer allergy problems than adult pets.

4.     You can be allergic to some breeds of dogs and cats and not to others.

5.     You can become desensitized to your pet.

6.     Dogs that shed excessively cause more problems for allergy sufferers.

7.     Poodles, Bichon Frises, Maltese and certain other purebreds are good choices because they shed little or no hair.

8.     Cornish, Devon Rex and Sphynx cats are hypoallergenic because they don’t shed hair.

9.     Black cats trigger more allergies than other colors.

10.   Some bird species can trigger more allergy symptoms than others.

11.   Rabbits do not cause allergies because they are very clean animals.

12.   Rodents and other small furry pets are recommended for allergy sufferers.

13.   You can’t ride horses if you are allergic.

14.   Pets that live outdoors cause fewer allergy problems.

15.   Restricting a pet to one or two rooms of your house will make it easier to tolerate.

16.   You can be more allergic to your pet in the spring and fall.

17.   You can be allergic to clothing and furnishings made from animal fur or feathers.

18.   People who are allergic to their pets must find new homes for their animals.


1)  False. Allergic sensitization to pets is caused by dander, sebaceous skin gland secretions, saliva, and urine, not by hair or fur.

2)  True. Although all dogs and cats – shorthaired, longhaired, wire-haired, curly-haired and even hairless – can trigger an allergic response, the shorter hair shafts of shorthaired breeds usually carry less dander.

3)  True. Baby animals have much less dead skin to shed and consequently little dander. They usually do not produce allergens in sufficient quantities to cause major sensitivities. However, from birth up to six weeks, while baby animals are nursing, they may temporarily be coated with more allergens due to their mother’s licking and cleaning and from the excessive amounts of urine in their whelping box.

4)  True. Your tolerance level or sensitivity will not necessarily be the same to all breeds of dogs or cats. There can be significant variations even within a specific individual breed. For example, researchers at the Mayo clinic found that some cats shed one hundred times more allergens than others.

5)  True. Many individuals can live comfortably with their own pets but experience symptoms outside of the home, probably due to natural desensitization related to years of exposure to their pets.

6)  True. All dogs shed, but double-coated breeds, like Akitas, Collies, German Shepherd Dogs, Samoyeds, Shetland Sheepdogs, seem to cause more sensitivities than others. They have two kinds of hair: a thick outer coat and a softer undercoat. They can shed excessive amounts of hair, contaminated with allergens, throughout the home, especially during peak shedding seasons in late spring and early fall.

7)  True. No dog – purebred or mixed-breed – is truly hypoallergenic. However, Poodles, Bichons Frises, Maltese, Kerry Blue, Bedlington and Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers, Portuguese Water Dogs and other breeds with soft, silky or curly single coats, seem to be less allergenic. They have no undercoat, consequently they shed very little. Instead of finding hair throughout your house, it stays in the coat until it’s brushed or combed out. Keep in mind, too, that many of these breeds require regular professional bathing and hair trimming, making it easier for owners to keep them clean. Like dogs, there are also both single- and double-coated cat breeds.

8)  False. Even though Rex cats shed little hair and the hairless Sphynx cats shed no hair, they both still have dander, allergen deposits from their saliva, sebaceous gland secretions, and urine on their hair and/or skin, and in their litter boxes.

9)  True. According to report published in the December 2000 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, cats with dark coats may provoke more allergic reactions than those with lighter-colored coats. Researchers found the odds for a reaction were six times higher with a dark cat.

10)  True. Cockatiels, cockatoos, African grays and pigeons (known as “powder down” birds) can produce large quantities of white powdery dust on a daily basis. The powder becomes airborne every time a bird preens (runs its feathers through its beak), shakes its body or ruffles its feathers. Misting the bird with water several times a week will keep the powder at a bearable level.

11)  False. While it’s true that rabbits are very clean animals and make wonderful pets, they can cause as many allergic reactions as cats because they constantly groom themselves with their tongues and coat their fur with saliva, a major pet allergen.

12)  False. The spreading of allergens may be less of a problem with small furry animals that live in cages, but even they can trigger allergic responses.

13)  False. Allergic individuals can ride horses, especially if someone else does the tacking and the allergic individual mounts the horse outside of the barn. Horses themselves may not be the only source of allergens; sensitive individuals are often are more allergic to mold spores and pollens in barns.

14)  True. Taking a pet out of the home does help to reduce the indoor allergen load, but it doesn’t get rid of it entirely. The best alternative is to learn how to “allergy-proof” your pets and your house.

15)  False. Isolating a pet to one or two rooms in the home does not contain their allergens because they can be carried into other rooms on the owner’s shoes and clothing, circulate naturally through the air, or spread via air conditioners, heating ducts and fans throughout the house.

16)  True. In most parts of the country, tree and grass pollens from the spring into summer, and ragweed and other weed pollens in the fall, are triggers of hay fever or seasonal allergic rhinitis. Individuals sensitive to both pets and pollens may find their pet allergy symptoms are worse during pollen season because of double exposure to both types of allergens. Additionally, pets can carry pollen indoors on their coats, further exposing their owners to additional pollen.

17)  True. Allergy sufferers can be sensitive to the animal fur and wool or feathers in clothing, fabrics, sweaters, glove linings, toys, cushions, blankets, and rugs. Items made of rabbit fur can be particularly irritating because the fur is too delicate to remove all traces of dander and dried saliva. Feather- and down-stuffed pillows, comforters and duvets also trigger allergic reactions. The culprits are not the feathers and down, but more commonly, the dust mites that are hiding and growing in them.

18)  False. According to an interview published in Allergy & Asthma Health magazine, Robert A. Wood. M.D, Director of the Pediatric Allergy Clinic, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine said, “There are no convincing studies demonstrating the direct clinical benefits of removing an animal from the home. No research has focused on whether finding a new home for a pet will eliminate the pet-related asthma or allergy symptoms.” While symptoms may not go away, they can be very manageable. Most people with pet allergies can live with their pets if they take certain precautions that will minimize allergens on the pets themselves and in their homes.

The book “Allergic to Pets?” explains in detail how to allergen-proof your home, room by room. If you are sensitive to pet allergens, you are probably allergic to other airborne non-animal sources found in your home, especially dust mites. Reducing or eliminating these from your environment will greatly help to lower your allergic threshold and make living with your pet more comfortable.  We also have a webpage that shares Housekeeping Tips designed to help you reduce allergens in your home environment.