That fluffy little hamster looks cute enough to cuddle -- but if you have severe allergies, it's best to stay away. Just like dogs and cats, hamsters can aggravate your allergies. Most of the time it's the basic itchy eyes or runny nose, but allergic reactions can be serious in people with diseases such as asthma.
Most animals with fur, particularly dogs, cats and rodents such as hamsters, produce dander from their skin. This dander is tiny dead skin cell flakes that float in the air and settle on items such as your furniture, carpet, bed and clothes. People with allergies are usually sensitive to pet dander, and holding or being near a hamster can cause their allergies to flare up.
Dander isn't the only problem with hamsters. As with most furry pets, you might be allergic to their saliva or urine. That means getting kisses from your hamster is a no-no, and don't let him bite or lick you. It can also make cleaning his cage problematic as dander, saliva and urine are likely in the bedding. Wearing latex gloves and a dust mask can help reduce allergic reactions when you're cleaning his cage.
The Good News
Unless you have severe animal allergies, a hamster might be a good option for you, but always check with your doctor to determine what kind of pet is safe. Hamsters are smaller than dogs and cats, meaning less dander's flying around. Using quality air filters in your home can keep dander confined to your hamster's room. Since hamsters are usually confined to their cages, their allergens don't generally pollute an entire house. For most hamster keepers, interaction with the pet is limited to a few minutes a day. Minimal contact will limit exposure and allergic reactions to hamster dander; but a hamster does need some daily care, so consider your circumstances thoroughly before making a commitment.
If your allergies are severe or you have a life-threatening condition that is triggered by allergic reactions, consider pets besides hamsters. Fish don't have dander and, while they're not cuddly, they provide a brightly colored and relaxing focal point in a room. Nontraditional pets such as lizards or hermit crabs are options. If you're determined to have a pet that you can pet, ask your doctor about dander-free ones. The sphinx cat is hairless. The Portuguese water dog doesn't shed as much dander as most dogs and so is considered allergy friendly.