If you love animals but hate allergies, you may be tempted to spring for a pricey hypoallergenic pet.
Not so fast. Studies suggest hypoallergenic cats and dogs can cause just as many symptoms as the regular kind, says Dr. James Seltzer, a spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. That's because skin and saliva proteins, not just hair, trigger allergy symptoms.
The only pets proven to be hypoallergenic have scaly skin - like iguanas and snakes, he says. That said, if you're dead set on a furry pet, our friends at Health.com have come up with a few that are touted - but not proven - to be better for people with allergies.
Think your best bet is a short-haired dog? Surprise! You'll find short- and long-haired breeds populate the American Kennel Club's (AKC) list of dogs that do well with people with allergies.
That's because it's not the dog's hair per se that causes allergies, it's the saliva, skin, or other proteins. Allergens (particularly saliva proteins) can latch on to the hair, so less shedding in general - rather than the length of the hair - may be helpful.
Bedlington terriers have curly, wooly coats with an extra mop on the top of the head, and weigh 17 to 23 pounds.
This pup sheds little to no hair, which again can lower - but not eliminate - allergens in the home.
One member of the breed, Sam, had the dubious distinction of being voted the unofficial world's ugliest dog for three years in a row.
Chinese crested dogs comes in two versions - hairless, which have hair on the head, feet, and tail; and powderpuff, which have a soft coat over the entire body.
The dogs weigh 10-13 pounds.
The Devon rex has big ears, an elfin face, and a coat that can be either thin and suede-like or a mop of loose curls, according to the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA).
These cats have a "dubious" reputation for being hypoallergenic, and symptoms will vary "according to an individual's personal allergies," says the CFA.
In general, kittens shed more allergens than cats. Although the levels seem to drop at 6 to 12 months of age, "they still cause allergies," says Dr. Seltzer.
Labradoodles are created by crossing a poodle and Labrador retriever. The original intent was to produce a seeing-eye dog that was also hypoallergenic.
It is a popular choice for those with allergies, but the American Kennel Club does not recommend such "designer dogs."
"There is no way to guarantee a litter will produce puppies with equal poodle coats, making the high prices unjustifiable and the claims of these dogs being ideal misleading at best," according to the organization.
Poodles come in three sizes - toy, miniature, and standard. How to choose?
While there's no rock-solid evidence that smaller dogs trigger fewer allergy symptoms than large, experts say they probably produce fewer allergens.
"Clearly a smaller dog should shed less total dog allergen than a larger dog," says Dr. Seltzer, who is an allergist-immunologist at the Fallon Clinic in Worcester, Mass.
The most famous Portugese Water dog, Bo, is currently residing in the White House.
However, the high-profile pooch - selected because Malia Obama has allergies - may have helped fuel the myth of the truly hypoallergenic dog.
The perception that you can side-step allergies by "something as simple as getting a shorter-haired animal or even a hairless animal is just not accurate," says Dr. Sublett.
And spending a few hours with an animal won't tell you if it will pose future problems, he says. Daily exposure can trigger a new allergy or "keep the fire stoked" on chronic problems.
These cats can be hairless or just have hair on the nose, tail, and toes. However, they still produce dander - the skin and saliva proteins that are powerful allergens.
In general, cat allergens tend to be more potent than dog allergens, for those who are sensitized.
The good news? Allergy shots - routine injections of allergens that can result in tolerance over time - are more likely to be successful for those allergic to cats than those who are allergic to dogs, says Dr. Seltzer.
"Allergy shots for cat can be effective in as many as 65% of people," he says. "But it does take a year or two often to start working."
Like the hairless cat, a hairless dog like the Xoloitzcuintli will still produce skin dander. (It also comes in a coated version.)
Like the poodle and schnauzer, this ancient breed comes in three sizes - toy, miniature, and standard.