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Paws for thought: The truth about pet hair and allergens

12 July 2022

Furry and friendly, it is no surprise that pet ownership has exploded since the pandemic. Pets bring moments of joy, but they also bring a few microscopic surprises into the home. Skin flakes, known as pet dander, can be an invisible source of indoor air pollution for those with pets. Working from advanced lab facilities, Dyson’s in-house microbiology team go to extraordinary lengths to understand how pet hair, dander and allergens can affect you and your environment. Their research is crucial to designing technology that supports a healthier home. Here is what they have discovered along the way.

Feeling itchy? The science behind pet allergens

As many as 1 in 2 pet owners in Singapore allow their pets to sleep on their beds as revealed by the Dyson Global Dust Study[1]. If you have found yourself becoming itchy after getting up close to a furry friend, it’s a common misconception to think that their hair or fur was the culprit of your discomfort. Instead, it is the proteins on pet hair that come from their saliva, urine or faeces which are the allergens. If you didn’t know that, you’re not alone as only 2 in 10 pet owners in Singapore are aware that house mite faeces can reside on their pets!

  • When pets groom themselves, they can deposit minute allergy-triggering protein particles from their saliva and onto their hair and skin. These microscopic skin cells dry and flake off on a regular basis to form pet dander, which is then carried on their fur and coats [2]. Dander is especially problematic. Because of its microscopic particle size, it is how these dried-on allergy-causing proteins can become airborne, spread through our homes and settle on surfaces [3].

Despite increased popularity of so-called hypoallergenic pets, for those with pet allergies, there is no such thing as a non-allergenic cat or dog. Whilst there are breeds that shed far less hair, even hair-less animals contribute to dander and allergens in the air[4].

Monika Stuczen, Senior Microbiologist at Dyson is one of the scientists responsible for analysing pet hair to better understand its behaviours.

“Most dander is invisible to the human eye. And it has distinctive aerodynamic characteristics. Because of their microscopic size and light weight nature, pet dander can float through the air or accumulate in the corners of your home. When airborne, they can remain in the atmosphere for hours and even be inhaled. Their jagged shape means that these flecks of dander easily stick to furniture, bedding, fabrics and items carried in and out of the home. If disturbed, these allergens can be released into the air and remain suspended for a long time. What’s more, dust mites feed on pet dander. They multiply and produce more allergens that can get into the air – causing further issues for allergy sufferers.”

From donkeys to dogs, Dyson understands animal hair

With our own in-house microbiology labs in Dyson, these facilities enable Dyson engineers to better understand the impact of pets on household dust and ensure that Dyson machines have the advanced technologies needed to effectively remove dust and pet dander from homes and keep it in the machine.

As part of their research, Dyson microbiologists have built a library of animal hair imagery captured by our advanced Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM). This database includes a variety of animals such as cats and dogs, as well as more unexpected animals such as alpaca, donkey, horse and rabbit.

This provided the team with a detailed understanding of size, texture and structure of hair across animal species and breeds, as well as the invisible allergens and bacteria they can introduce to the home.

  • Labrador: Spinous scale pattern, also seen in cat hair

  • Boston Terrier: Imbricate scale pattern, similar to human hair

  • SEM imagery of human hair (background) compared to cat hair (foreground)

    As shown here, cat hair is on average 33% smaller than human hair.

  • Countless microscopic fragments are also visible in this horsehair sample. These may be, or carrying, allergy-causing proteins.

  • Cat hair and cat dander

    Cat allergies are nearly twice as common as dog allergies [5]. Despite their reputation for being cleaner than dogs, cats groom themselves more regularly, increasing the amount of pet dander they carry on their fur.

  • Dyson microbiologists have also used agar plates to measure the growth of bacteria colonies around pet hair. The higher the bacterial growth, the higher the likelihood of allergy-causing proteins.

  • Agar plate showing bacterial growth from pet hair strands.

Designing technology for a healthier home

Through this research, Dyson engineers can better understand the visible problem of pet hair and invisible problem of dander on the make-up of household dust. This knowledge has been applied to Dyson’s latest floorcare technology and tools, which have been designed to deal with the conditions they face in real homes.

  • Dyson’s new de-tangling Motorbar™ cleaner heads that comes with the Dyson V15 DetectTM feature hair removal vanes, precisely angled to help migrate all hair types directly into the cleanerhead. These polycarbonate teeth, combined with a set of spiralling nylon bristles, anti-static carbon fibre filaments, and strong suction power, captures and tackles troublesome tangles, as well as larger debris and microscopic dust.

    Learn more about the Dyson V15 DetectTM.

Across Dyson’s latest machines, powerful suction pulls dust, dirt and pet hair into the bin, while whole-machine filtration ensures that the air being expelled from the vacuum is clean – with allergens and bacteria from pet hair staying trapped. Dyson’s advanced filtration captures up to 99.99% of particles as small as 0.3 microns. To put this in context, this is 16 times smaller than pet dander, while pollen particles are approximately 10 microns in size.

  • The Pet Groom Tool, compatible with select cordless machines[6], has flexible bristles which self-clean in an instant to captures loose hair and dander as you brush your pet, so it doesn’t drop around your home.

    Learn more about the Pet Groom Tool.

[1] 32,282 respondents across 33 countries: United States, Canada, Mexico, Great Britain, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Turkey, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Sweden, Poland, Austria, Switzerland, KSA, UAE, Russia, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, and India. Fieldwork conducted from 15th to 24th November 2021 and 14th February to 7th March 2022. Data has been weighted at a ‘Global’ level to be representative of different population sizes.
[4];; Allergic to Your Pet? Learn about Dog and Cat Allergies (
[5] Allergic to Your Pet? Learn about Dog and Cat Allergies (
[6] Compatible with V8, V10, V11, V12, V15 and Digital Slim vacuums.

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Heidy Tang