Hypoallergenic, meaning "below normal" or "slightly" allergenic, was a term first used in a cosmetics campaign in 1953. It is used to describe items (especially cosmetics and textiles) that cause or are claimed to cause fewer allergic reactions. Hypoallergenic pets still produce allergens, but because of their coat type, absence of fur, or absence of a gene that produces a certain protein, they typically produce fewer allergens than others of the same species. People with severe allergies and asthma may still be affected by a hypoallergenic pet.
The term lacks a medical definition, but it is in common usage and found in most standard English dictionaries. In some countries, there are allergy interest groups that provide manufacturers with a certification procedure including tests that ensure a product is unlikely to cause an allergic reaction, but such products are usually described and labeled using other but similar terms. So far, public authorities in no country provide an official certification that an item must undergo before being described as hypoallergenic.
The cosmetic industry has been trying for years to block an industry standard for use of the term; in 1975; the USFDA tried to regulate the term 'hypoallergenic", but the proposal was challenged by cosmetic companies Clinique and Almay in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which ruled that the regulation was invalid. Thus, cosmetic companies are not required to meet any regulations or do any testing to validate their claims.
"Hypoallergenic pets" are breeds of pet animals (e.g., some breeds of dogs) that are less likely to trigger allergic reactions in people who are sensitized to the pet species (e.g., in people generally allergic to dogs).
With regard to allergy sufferers, a hypoallergenic pet would presumably enable them to have a pet in their home, whereas most dogs, cats, rabbits, and other fur-bearing animals can cause an allergic reaction. The proteins that cause allergies are found not only in the animals' fur or hair but also in saliva, urine, mucous, and hair roots and in the dander sloughed from the animals' skin. Thus, the widespread idea that "hypoallergenic pets" are those that have less hair or shed less is a myth.
Some dog breeds have been promoted as hypoallergenic because they do not shed their hair, shed very little, or have the same pH as human hair. However, no canine is known to be completely nonallergenic. Yorkshire Terriers, Portuguese Water Dog, Poodles and Poodle hybrids are commonly mistaken as being hypoallergenic, when in reality they are known to cause different forms of allergies, including bronchitis, as does any breed of dog.
Cat breeds such as the LaPerm, Sphynx, Devon Rex and Cornish Rex, which lack some or all of the normal layers in cats' fur, are believed by mild allergy sufferers to be significantly less likely to provoke an allergic reaction than other breeds. Siberian cats and Russian Blue are also believed by some to have such properties.
A company called Allerca recently claimed to be able to produce a so-called hypoallergenic cat using gene silencing, but it has now instead used traditional breeding methods, starting with cats that naturally lack the gene that produces the glycoprotein Fel d 1 causing an allergic reaction in some people. However, no peer-reviewed studies have confirmed the company's claims and some scientists are skeptical of the company's assertions. Allerca is currently accepting orders for hypoallergenic kittens. Another company, Felix Pets, also claims to be developing a breed of hypoallergenic cat.
There is only one known hypoallergenic horse breed. The Bashkir Curly horse has a uniquely textured coat that lacks the protein (present in all other horse fur) believed to be the source of allergic reactions to equines. Many people with severe allergies to horses can handle Bashkir Curlies with no reaction.