Want to cuddle cats but can’t stand the coughing? Want to romp with Rover but avoid the red eyes? Allerpet markets itself as the product for you! Sadly, though, it doesn’t work.
Allergic reactions occur when your immune system comes into contact with an allergen to which it is hypersensitive. In the case of cats, these allergens can be a few different things. The two biggest culprits are the proteins Fel d 1, secreted by cats’ sebaceous glands (which are found over their entire body) and Fel d 4, found in cats’ urine and saliva. Dogs also produce multiple proteins in their hair, dander, saliva and urine, and those can trigger allergic reactions.
The allergens produced by sebaceous glands are present in dander (animal dandruff) and tend to be the most annoying to allergy-suffering pet owners. Dander is made of microscopic skin flakes and can float in the air for hours, just waiting to be inhaled by an unsuspecting human. It can quickly spread to every surface an animal has contact with and readily collects on soft items like beds and couches. The amount of dander an animal gives off increases with their age, hence why some pet owners are fine for years before they develop allergies to their companions.
One study estimated that 26% of European adults are sensitized to cats and 27% to dogs. Cats’ reputation as allergy-enhancers comes from their ability to spread their allergens much more effectively than their canine counterparts. Cats tend to have access to entire homes and to stay inside 24/7, whereas dogs may be contained to an area of the house and often leave for walks or visits. Dogs are usually bathed more often than cats, which removes some allergens whereas cats spend a significant portion of their day grooming themselves, during which the allergens from their saliva are spread throughout their fur, and released into the air along with dander.
So what can you do If you’re allergic to your fluffy best friend? One product, Allerpet, is marketed as a “pet dander remover” to “people with allergies to pets.” It’s a damp wipe that can be applied to pets of all kinds while they sit in your lap, and its maker claims that it can cleanse your pet of dander and other allergens, thereby restoring your ability to play with them sneeze free.
Their website states that “Allerpet products have been recommended by Allergists & Veterinarians for over 25 years!” and that they are “recommended by veterinarians for all pet allergies,” which leads me to question if these veterinarians have read the studies testing the product, since they’re not very positive.
A 1995 study compared weekly washings with distilled water and weekly treatments with Allerpet. Researchers sampled the Fed d 1 protein given off by each cat twice a week for eight weeks and concluded that there was no significant reduction in allergens. Similarly, a 1997 study compared brushing and wiping cats with either Allerpet, water or nothing on a cloth and found no difference between the amounts of allergens removed by these methods. They concluded that, while wiping a cat is easier than washing one, wiping with Allerpet, water, or nothing is five times less effective than washing a cat.
Allerpet contains ingredients similar to conventional shampoos (although it is much more expensive), as well as aloe vera which is actually toxic to cats and dogs and which can irritate guinea pigs intensely. Since the concentrations of the ingredients aren’t known, it’s impossible to know if the aloe in Allerpet could really pose a risk to pets. Since the animal product industry has relatively little oversight in North America, it’s possible that this product is being marketed for animals on which it was never tested.
Even if this product did work for dander, the allergens present in animals’ urine and saliva would still be present, ready to cause your runny nose. Reviews of it on Amazon are littered with stories of its failure to relieve allergy symptoms, as well as a few cases of it making cats vomit and giving dogs hives. Anecdotes are not evidence, but taken with the evidence that Allerpet doesn’t work, they’re enough to make me wary of even trying this product on my pets.
Sadly, truly hypoallergenic breeds are a myth. No cat or dog breed is completely allergen free, but there are various breeds that produce fewer allergens. Since dander attaches itself to hair, an animal that sheds less or is hairless will likely spread fewer allergens throughout your home. In the same vein, an animal that’s physically smaller has fewer sebaceous glands with which to produce allergens, so will likely trigger fewer allergies.
So if snuggles with Fluffy cause you to sneeze, there are a few things you can do. Most importantly, skip the pseudoscientific products. Consider a low-shedding small cat or dog for your next rescue. Install a HEPA air filter or two around your house. Wash your companion regularly (so long as they aren’t a rabbit or chinchilla). Keep them out of the bedroom, vacuum lots, and ask your doctor about allergy shots or prescription medicines.
Or get a pet fish.