Do you or a member of your family suffer from allergies when around dogs? Perhaps you sneeze, get itchy or watery eyes, hives on your skin, or even more serious respiratory issues. If you are a dog lover, you may have avoided owning one because of this problem, especially if the allergy symptoms are extreme.
In recent years, people have been referring to types of dogs as “hypoallergenic.” Given that up to 20% of western country populations are allergic to dogs, it’s no surprise that this “hypoallergenic” label has grown in popularity. But, if you have been pinning all your hopes on one of these dogs being the perfect solution, don’t believe the hype.
True Hypoallergenic Dog Breeds Don’t Exist
Although some individual dogs may indeed elicit fewer allergy symptoms than others, studies suggest that there is no specific breed (or mix of breeds) that is truly hypoallergenic.
Dr. Tania Elliott is an allergist and a spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. She explains that “somewhere along the line, the fact that a dog didn’t shed became synonymous with the word hypoallergenic. While some people can be allergic to dog hair, others may be allergic to the dander (skin cells) and even their saliva.”
In 2011 the American Journal of Rhinology and Allergy published a study that found no major differences in the levels of the primary dog allergen, Canis familiaris (Can f 1), in homes with dogs labelled as hypoallergenic compared with those that weren’t. While the study authors state that there is a need for more research to confirm these findings, the results threw a wrench in most allergy sufferers’ plans.
The results of a further study in 2012 actually found low-shedding Poodles had some of the highest levels of Can f 1 present in their coat samples. Surprisingly, Labradors Retrievers, often regarded as a breed more likely to trigger allergies because of their excessive shedding, had significantly lower allergen levels. This study also found no major difference in the amount of Can f 1 found in the air of homes with “hypoallergenic” and other dog breeds.
Dog Breeds Commonly Mislabelled as Hypoallergenic
While no dog is 100% hypoallergenic, it’s possible to find less-allergenic purebred dog breeds that are better suited for allergy-sufferers. Some popular purebred dogs frequently referred to as “hypoallergenic” include Poodles, Yorkshire Terriers, Bichon Frise, Maltese, and Schnauzers—all low, no-shedding or hairless dogs. Unlike Labs or Huskies, for example, these dog breeds do not molt excessively. While these breeds are typically better for allergy sufferers, and can help minimize the amount of vacuuming and clothes brushing you may have to do, there are no guarantees they will result in fewer allergy symptoms in all people. There may be less hair, but you can’t avoid their dander and saliva!
Mixed-breed dogs marketed as “hypoallergenic” are just that – marketing. No dog, whether purebred or mixed-breed, is actually hypoallergenic, no matter what fancy name or “designer” label someone tries to put on it.
What Can You Do to Help Cope if You Are Allergic to Your Dog?
For some allergy sufferers, their reaction to the Can f 1 allergen is too severe to consider owning a dog. For others, their desire to share their home with a furry friend could become a reality.
You may hear other dog owners referring to how they have built up a tolerance to the allergens. However, as Dr. Elliott says, “many people who report “tolerance” have mainly learned a new normal of everyday congestion and rhinitis.” Encouragingly, though, allergen immunotherapy shots are an option for building up true tolerance against allergens. “By giving you very low levels of what you are allergic to and building up tolerance over time—you essentially train your system to no longer be allergic,” she explains.
Good housekeeping habits can also help to keep allergies at bay. Some of these include keeping your pet out of your bedroom, using a HEPA air filter appropriate for the size of the room, and regular vacuuming. Dr. Elliott even suggests wearing a mask while interacting with your pet, and this could also be a good option when vacuuming. It is also possible to get a vacuum cleaner with a certified asthma and allergy-friendly filter.
It is worth noting that in the 2012 study mentioned above, homes with carpets had higher levels of the Can f 1 allergen present than those with hardwood floors. If you prefer to keep carpets in your home, opt for one with a low pile and regularly steam clean it.
One suggestion for allergy-sufferers looking for a new pet is to spend 15-20 minutes with a breed to see what level of reaction they produce. While someone might have a great reaction to, say, a Schnauzer, their reaction might be less with an American Hairless Terrier or even a Portuguese Water Dog. Allergy sufferers will also be better off with a purebred dog than a mixed-breed dog. Mixed-breed dogs or dogs mixed with Poodles have unpredictable genes and do not result in non-shedding dogs.
Some people opt to bathe their dogs more regularly. However, this might not reduce the symptoms, and over frequent bathing could strip the coat of its valuable oils.