Sharing your life with a dog is a special experience. After all, they’re adorable, perceptive, and provide unconditional love. But what about allergies? Recent research has shown that owning a dog may help prevent the development of related allergies in children. However, if you already have a dog allergy, having a dog won’t improve your symptoms. In fact, it will trigger them. So, if you’re allergic to dogs, are you destined to live dogless, or is it possible to have one as a pet?
Many breeds are touted as hypoallergenic, but the reality is, no breed truly fits that definition. For most people with dog allergies, it isn’t the dog’s fur that triggers their immune system, but the dander. Dander is the tiny, even microscopic, bits of skin that are shed from the dog, like dandruff in people. And even hairless dogs produce dander. For other people, allergies can be caused from proteins found in the urine, feces, and saliva of the animal. These proteins can become airborne, particularly when your dog licks himself when grooming, or can be directly transferred to you when you pet your dog or if your dog licks you.
“Hypoallergenic” dogs are often defined as those that either don’t shed or are hairless. These dogs may cause less of a reaction because it’s the shed fur that carries the proteins and dander throughout your house. However, in general, these dogs may produce as many allergens as their shedding, furry cousins, so they are no guarantee that your allergies won’t be triggered.
The real issue to consider is the severity of your allergies. If your symptoms are inconvenient, but tolerable, then there is likely a place for a dog in your life. And in that case, a hypoallergenic breed might be the safer choice. Look for one that fits your lifestyle. There are a wide range of hypoallergenic breeds, from the large, intelligent, and protective Giant Schnauzer to the tiny, calm, and hairless toy Xoloitzcuintli. Here is a list of the American Kennel Club’s recommended breeds for allergy sufferers:
Peruvian Inca Orchid (hairless)
When selecting your breed, be sure to interact with several dogs before you purchase your puppy. Only by petting and being near a given breed can you determine how much you will react. You might find that one breed produces less of a reaction than another. In addition, be sure to meet each puppy before you make your final decision. Not all dogs produce allergens equally. For example, one Maltese might have less dander than another. So, meet all of the littermates before making your final choice.
Regardless of the breed you choose, there are steps you can take to lessen the severity of your allergy symptoms, once you bring your dog home. First, manage your household. Pet allergens are tiny and lightweight, so they easily stick to curtains, furniture, carpets, and bedding. Minimize those surfaces in your home. For example, use blinds rather than drapes and have hardwood or linoleum floors rather than rugs. Second, vacuum frequently, preferably with a machine with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, and launder any fabrics your dog comes in contact with, such as his bed, as often as you can. In addition, keep your dog off the furniture and out of your bedroom, and install a home air filtration system.
Whenever you touch your dog, be sure to wash your hands afterward to keep allergens off your skin. It’s also important to keep your dog well groomed. Weekly bathing and regular brushing are helpful. If possible, have somebody else in the family do the grooming, so you don’t suffer a reaction. And consider having your dog brushed outside to minimize getting additional dander in your home. Alternatively, use the services of a professional groomer.
Finally, there are many medications available to ease allergy symptoms like itchy eyes and a stuffy nose. Consult with your doctor about suitable treatments. It may also be helpful to see an allergist for immunotherapy, the use of allergy shots to build tolerance to dogs over time. With the use of medical intervention and the above recommendations, a hypoallergenic breed could become a beloved member of your household, even if you have an allergy to dogs.