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The best pets to adopt if you have allergies

by Jesse Roddy

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Of the many human behavioural trends to emerge from the COVID-19 lockdown, one of the least surprising was a spike in pet adoption. Let’s face it — as much as we want to believe we’re rugged individualists, humans are social creatures and we need community. Whether you live alone, have kids that have been cooped up since March, or even if other humans aren’t your cup of tea, adopting a pet can be a great way to add some love into your home during a stressful time. However, if you suffer from allergies to pet fur, you certainly don’t want to make your life even trickier. Thankfully, there are plenty of great pet options for the more sinus-afflicted among us. Here are the best animals to adopt for the allergy-prone.

Sphynx cat

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These hairless felines look like the wrong end of a grocery-store chicken, which often means they get passed over for their furrier compatriots. But nixing a Sphynx for superficial reasons means pet owners are losing out on a potentially wonderful companion. Sphynx cats are known for their intelligence and affectionate personalities. If you like snuggly pets, their constant search for warmth (hey, it’s cold without a fur suit) means your lap is probably going to become their furnace of choice. And while they’re technically not hypoallergenic, they don’t have any fur to shed, which means you can toss your lint brush, and they’re perfect for people who live in a constant death match with dander.

Fish

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It’s hard to think of a better choice for allergy sufferers than adopting a pet that is safely encased in a tank and a gallon of water. Fish aren’t the ideal companion for the more tactile among us, but they’re about as low-maintenance as you can get and many find their laid-back, hypnotic swimming quite relaxing.

Ferret

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It’s tempting to lump ferrets in with the rodent family. They share a similar size and, if you squint, they even look a bit like very long, tall mice (sorry for your nightmares). But these playful creatures are actually related to the weasel family (Mustelids) and have been domesticated as pets for thousands of years. If handled properly, ferrets demonstrate characteristics similar to cats or dogs, even learning how to use a litter box. They also shed only twice a year and do not produce too much dander, which makes them a good choice for your nasal passages.

Spider

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Finding a spider in your home tends to elicit one of three reactions. The most common is to grab a shoe. For the gentler sort, it’s to coax the spider onto a piece of paper and send it on a one-way trip back to nature via the window. Then there’s a third category: people who think the eight-legged, multi-eyed creatures make adorable companions. For those whose take on the world veers closer to Charlotte’s Web than Arachnophobia, spiders are a fascinating and practically allergen-free way to enjoy the company of a non-human creature.

Guinea pig

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These mid-sized rodents are adorable and docile (and in some countries also considered delicious). While guinea pigs do have fur that can trigger allergies, their small size and confinement to one area of the house means they can be a good compromise for people on the lower end of the histamine scale.

Hedgehog

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It’s tempting to lump these small, quilled creatures in with the fearsome porcupine, but hedgehogs don’t actually belong to the same genus as the animal equivalent of Hellraiser. Instead, hedgehogs are small, omnivorous little guys who are pretty chill and don’t have a tendency to run around trying to stab you with their bodies. As long as you don’t pet them in the wrong direction, they can even be soft and cuddly when relaxed and make a good choice for many allergy sufferers. Just please, for the love of all that is holy, try to refrain from being the eight-millionth person to name yours Sonic.

Frog

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These champion high jumpers make for low-maintenance and interesting pets. Like all amphibians, they’re mercifully fur-free and their enclosure in a terrarium gives the allergy-prone a bit of extra breathing space. But as with the pet choice in the previous slide, the deal with taking a frog into your home is that you are not permitted to use the name Kermit or you will be visited by the SPCA.

Corn snake

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A fun game to play is to count how many movies feature a cliché bad guy who keeps a snake for a pet. Snakes have gotten a bad rap because they’re scaly, they’re terrible flyers, and some of them will gladly kill you. That last point is valid, by the way. However, not all breeds are murderous and they can make for interesting pets to the right people. Like their fellow reptiles, they’re fur-free and therefore low on allergens. Some, like corn snakes, can become quite docile with repeated handling and are relatively low-cost to keep, although they’re not for the squeamish: snakes require a diet comprised of dead prey, which means you’ll be handling a load of rodents that have seen better days.

Leopard gecko

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People with a low threshold for snakes generally find that they can handle geckos, if only because they associate these colourful lizards with lower car insurance rates. People with a low threshold for allergens also generally find that they can handle geckos because they’re hairless and don’t require much in the way of care or grooming. Leopard geckos tend to be a popular choice for their small size and docile nature. Despite their skill at self-care, however, keep in mind that geckos shed their skin quite frequently, so if the idea of disposing of your pet’s skin suit every few weeks freaks you out, they may not be the right choice for you.

Mouse

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Mice in the house tend to be accompanied by screaming, but that’s always been a bit unfair. Sure, the wild ones are disease-carrying rodents, but mice are far too often lumped in with rats, which are genuinely terrifying. Domesticated mice have a smaller amount of allergen-producing fur than cats or dogs and can be kept in cages to avoid the spread of dander. Plus, they’re adorable, relatively easy to care for, and can be tamed with proper care.

Hamster

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Hamsters are basically the deluxe version of mice. They’re small and can be kept confined to their cages, which makes them a good choice for allergy sufferers. But while they share many of the same characteristics as mice — furry, adorable, interactive, and smart — they’re just a little fluffier, a little cuddlier, and they come with their own exercise equipment that serves double duty as a metaphor for your unsatisfying modern life.

Chinchilla

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OK, have you seen these little guys? They are ridiculously adorable. How come they’re not more popular? They’re like hamsters with balloons for ears. They’re also a decent choice for allergy sufferers due to their very soft, but relatively small amount of fur. Chinchillas haven’t been domesticated for as long as some of their rodent relatives, which means it’s important to do research on how to care for them properly, like what to do if your chinchilla jumps six feet in the air and lands on top of your refrigerator.

Turtle

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Like their fellow amphibians, turtles are mercifully hair-free and easy to look after. But as is the case with any animal adoption, it’s important to do your research before bringing one home. Experts suggest adopting a turtle that has been bred in captivity, as wild turtles (understandably) may not take too kindly to their new tank living quarters. It’s also important to go with a reputable seller, as many turtles are sold illegally. With all these factors in mind, there is a bright side: if your turtles ever escape, you can probably catch them before they get too far.

Portuguese water dog

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The fact that the Obamas chose this breed of dog to join their family is enough of an endorsement in itself, but these sweet, social canines are also one of the best choices for allergy sufferers. Portuguese water dogs are considered hypoallergenic (i.e., low on the allergen front) because they’re single-coated. This means they don’t have an undercoat that sheds, which is what causes most people to reach for the Nasonex. Just keep in mind that despite their relatively low fur grade, they’re not allergen-free and people with severe allergies or asthma may still have a hard time around them.

Bichon Frise

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Like their fellow single-coated pals in the previous slide, Bichon Frises are a popular pup choice for the allergy-prone. These pups are cheerful, small, and obscenely adorable and everyone at some point has unilaterally mistaken them for a stuffed animal.

Devon Rex cats

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The popularity of The Mandalorian has inspired a new generation of cuteness lovers to wish for their own Baby Yoda to love and cuddle (rumour has it that Devon Rex cats inspired director Steven Spielberg as he created the characters of E.T. and Yoda.) Unless you’re a member of the Lucas family, however, you’re probably not going to be able to fulfil that wish. But there is some good news for people who are both Star Wars-obsessed and allergy-prone: with their giant pointy ears and adorable little faces, they are a low-shedding breed that will bring loads of love into your home. Exciting that is.

Parakeet

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Unless you literally stick their feathers up your nose, birds can be a great pet choice for sneezers and wheezers. Parakeets are a popular pet choice because they’re very social, super smart, good singers, and can live up to 25 years.

Cockatiel

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Like their fellow Australians in the previous slide, cockatiels are a solid choice for allergy sufferers. These beautiful birds are companionable, affectionate and also love to talk. If they’re handled with care, they can be wonderful company and you can probably even get to the point where you’re swapping commentary with them on your favourite TV shows. “Hated it. Squaaaaaaak.”

Pig

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Do you have enough space for a roommate that can grow to weigh hundreds of pounds, likes to root in your belongings and costs a ton of money? If so, a housebroken pig may be the right allergen-free pet for you. These intelligent creatures have hair instead of fur, which is easier on the adenoids. Just be sure you really do your research before you bring one home, as their care requires more specialization than a typical house pet.

Joy for All Companion Pets

Joy for All Companion Pets / Ageless Innovation

And hey — some households just aren’t cut out for live animals. If you don’t think responsibility for the well-being of a fellow creature is the best choice for you, there are a few interesting alternatives like these lifelike, electronic companion pets that mimic the purrs and barks of a furry friend but without any of the accompanying costs, furniture gnawing, and poop handling.

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