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  • Writer's pictureNoel McCarthy

Hypoallergenic Pets Part One: 11 Pets to Own if You Have Allergies

Updated: Apr 28, 2022

Love animals but hate allergies? (And worse - bugs?) We get it - and, believe it or not, we get asked about this from time to time. Since we’re bug specialists here at Sterifab, people assume that we know a lot about animals. Plus, there is a strong correlation between pets who cause sneezing and pets that bring in loads of pests. Mites, for example, are a tiny bug that can cause an oversized allergic response. So in a brand new topic this week, we’ve gathered a list of the 11 best hypoallergenic pets to own. Bonus: Less hair means fewer bugs.

Before we share our detailed list of which pets to consider, a word or two about dogs and cats. I love dogs and cats, but we’re going to save recommendations about the best breed until Part #2 of this blog, which will appear next month.

Note: If you do go with a more exotic pet, be sure to find the right vet just for them. While traditional vets are amazing for cats and dogs, more unusual pets like sugar gliders and parrots need some special TLC. There are excellent avian and exotic pet veterinarians in all 50 states.

Without further ado, here is our list of the 11 best hypoallergenic pets to own:

1. Hedgehogs

I confess that, from childhood onwards, hedgehogs have been a favorite of mine. It appears that these intelligent, very sociable creatures have little effect on people with allergies, largely because they have quills; as such they shed much less dander than, say, a cat. However, the Animal Health Foundation claims that “Owning a hedgehog does a disservice to the animals, which are nocturnal and may be forced to interact with owners when they should be sleeping.” It’s also worth knowing that some states (and local authorities) have made owning hedgehogs illegal. That said, a hedgehog is a wonderful pet, as long as you allow it to come out of its cage every day for exercise and social interaction. According to Wikipedia, “The most common species of domesticated hedgehog is the white-bellied hedgehog, also called African pygmy hedgehog.”

2. Guinea Pigs

If a hedgehog seems a little too exotic for your tastes- or you have allergies to a broad range of animals- then you might consider keeping a Guinea Pig as a pet. Some of you might think that Guinea Pigs are just for kids, but they’re not. They’re fun, and, more to the point, Guinea Pig hair and dander does not cause allergies, per se. But, truth be told, their fur can become airborne and function as transporters for (possibly irritating) skin secretions. If you do decide to keep Guinea Pigs, don’t let them run wild all over the house, especially in the bedrooms. Experienced Guinea Pig owners recommend keeping a HEPA air purifier close to the Guinea Pig’s cage. Just a precaution.

3. Hamsters or Gerbils

Unfortunately, some people do have allergic reactions to rabbits or guinea pigs. In which case, you might contemplate getting a smaller pet: A hamster, perhaps, or a gerbil. Some people even consider getting rats or mice. I happen to think that rats and mice can make terrific pets, if they are treated well, i.e. properly housed, fed, and given regular veterinary care. Rats actually enjoy human company and, like mice, like cuddling up to their owners. But obviously, this isn’t for everyone. So, back to the gerbil/hamster option. One advantage to having hamsters or gerbils as pets is that they stay in their cages, for the most part, which greatly reduces your contact with allergens. Plus, they’re cute!

4. Rabbits

Okay. Who doesn’t love bunnies? Those of you old enough to remember Thumper, Disney’s adorable character from the 1942 animated film, Bambi, probably know that rabbits are 1.) smart, 2.) quick of foot, 3.) smart, and, 4.) quick of foot! What you probably don’t know is that allergies to rabbits are unusual, to say the least. But, another “however”,some people do react negatively to certain proteins that are found in rabbits’ skin and hair. But, some authorities say that one should avoid keeping rabbits if they cause, “recurring skin rashes, chronic fatigue, bronchitis, or other respiratory issues.” Well, to be honest, that applies to practically any pet I can think of. So, be warned!

5. Frogs

When I was about eight, our (lovely) teacher, Mrs. Turner, introduced us to the ‘mysteries’ of amphibians- especially frogs! What a revelation they were. For those who suffer from allergies, rest assured that frogs- land and underwater varieties, it really doesn’t make any non-allergenic difference- are easy to care for, and unlikely to irritate people with allergies. Underwater frogs are particularly easy to feed and care for. As a matter of fact, frogs- much like toads- don’t possess the kind of fur that activates allergic reactions. Instead, they possess a thin, delicate skin covering, which is another reason you should try not to handle amphibians too often. One caveat here: Some species of frogs and toads secrete toxic substances that can irritate your skin, so make sure you select the right kind of amphibian as a pet.

6. Parakeets or Cockatiels

For a good part of his 95 years, my paternal grandfather (who lived his entire life in Kilkee, a small town in the West of Ireland) kept birds. Not, I hasten to add, in small, flight-restricting cages, but expansive, well-appointed aviaries. Still, he knew that, for all their (relative) freedom, they were prisoners. Keep that in mind when, and if, you decide to keep any kind of bird. Also be aware that birds, whatever their species, will produce dander. Bottom line: Select a small bird as your pet. They will probably shed less, and cause fewer allergic reactions, than a larger bird. In this regard Parakeets and Cockatiels are the perfect choice for allergy sufferers. Plus, you can also install a HEPA filter and clean your home- regularly- to lessen your exposure to whatever allergens your chosen pet deposits in the air.

7. Turtles

Even if you and/or your children are prone to allergies, there’s at least one pet that almost never causes allergic reactions in its owners: Turtles. True, they may not have the cache of a parakeet, or the cuteness factor of a rabbit, but compared to well-liked pets like dogs and cats, dander is not a problem. Plus, unlike many pets, turtles- tortoises too, for that matter- have exceptionally long life spans, provided they are well taken care of. In fact, a recent story in The San Diego Union-Tribune introduced its readers to an amorous tortoise named Diego, who single-handedly (so to speak) “Saved his entire species from extinction3.” What’s remarkable about this transplanted Galapagos tortoise is that he is already some 100 years old and shows no sign of slowing down. So, be prepared for a long relationship if you get either a turtle or a tortoise!

8. Snakes

I can imagine some of you out there seeing the word ‘snakes’ and immediately rejecting the idea of becoming the owner of a reptile. But don’t be so hasty. I’m not suggesting you buy a Rattlesnake, or a Cottonmouth, or a Coral Snake, to name but a few of the many poisonous species of snakes out there!. In fact, there are a number of (non-poisonous) snakes that make excellent pets, such as Corn Snakes, Ball Pythons, Garter Snakes, Brown Snakes, and Kingsnakes! Best of all, their skin normally lacks the proteins that trigger allergic reactions. You just have to get used to the fact that they need special housing, that they eat peculiar foods, and that you won’t be able to interact with them in quite the same way you would with a cat or a hamster. But they are fascinating creatures nevertheless.

9. Goldfish

Okay, I have to admit: Keeping goldfish as pets seems like the lamest, nerdiest way to keep pets and avoid allergy attacks. I say ‘seems’, because keeping fish is a wonderful way to 1.) not be at the effect of animal dander, and 2.) provide yourself with an ever-changing, aquatic ‘water-scape’ that requires very little in the way of attention. Of course, you do have to be conscientious enough to keep your goldfish (as well as all the other species you can now acquire) in the right aquarium, setting up the optimal water conditions- including conditioning the water and maintaining proper pH levels ̶ and stabilizing the temperature. As a fish owner, be prepared to replace 25 percent of the water in your aquarium once a month. This keeps the tank’s water clean and nitrate concentrations at a nontoxic level. This really is a very do-able option for all of you out there with severe-to-moderate allergies. Think about it!

Read this too late?

Do you already have a house filled with mites and - gasp - fleas? Fret not!

A few quick sprays of Sterifab and they’ll be goners. Plus, the spray leaves no residue so you can go right back to cuddling with your pet on your now-bug-free couch.

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