A couple of years ago, my family adopted a little white dog from the Orange County Animal Shelter. We brought him home and he quickly got comfortable. Our house now caters to the dog. He has a bed for lounging in almost every room and his toys litter the entryway so that he’s always prepared to greet whoever comes through the door. He’s a terrier-poodle mix, but he still sheds a lot. Little white fur balls get into the weirdest places and we have to vacuum a lot to keep it under control. We love him to death, but the house needs a complete scrub down every time anyone with allergies comes over. Even though our family seems immune to his shedding, he is definitely an allergy nightmare.
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, 10% of Americans suffer from dog allergies. The truth is: No dog is truly hypoallergenic. Many breeds today are advertised as “hypoallergenic,” but even these dogs can trigger allergic reactions in some people.
What Causes the Allergy Response?
People with dog allergies have “allergic rhinitis,” which means that exposure to dog dander can cause symptoms such as burning eyes, running nose, and itchy skin. A common misconception is that the allergic response is caused by the dog’s fur. However, even dogs with little or no hair can cause symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Allergic reactions are triggered by two sources—pet dander or a protein. The pet dander comes from the dead skin cells shed from the animal when they shed their fur. Dogs with more fur will shed more dander with it, which could result in worse allergic reactions. Some people are allergic to a protein found in dog’s saliva and urine. This is spread to their fur when they lick themselves. Undercoat shedding can spread both pet dander and this allergy-inducing protein, so dogs with a single coat may produce less allergy responses.
What does Hypoallergenic mean?
We hear the term thrown around, but hypoallergenic is not a medical term, so there are no standards or certifications to govern use of the term. Any breeder can call their dogs hypoallergenic.
The only truly hypoallergenic pet is a fish.
However, what they are referring to is any item that produces below normal allergic reactions. This means that the person shouldn’t have the hypersensitive reaction to it. However, allergic responses are different in everybody, so it is difficult to determine what an acceptable level of the allergen is so as not to elicit an allergic response.
“I don’t believe there is truly a hypoallergenic dog,” says Dr. Laurel Fritzen, a veterinarian at Deerfield Animal Hospital, “There are breeds that shed less hair but a lot of times people are allergic to the dander, which is the skin and all animals shed skin cells.” For those with extreme sensitivities, pets without fur or feathers, such as reptiles or fish, could prove to be a better option for them.
When referring to a dog as “hypoallergenic,” the breeder is usually referring to the dog’s fur. A typical dog has two coats. Their undercoat is what sheds and spreads pet dander throughout the house. Dogs termed “hypoallergenic” will have more human-like hair, meaning no second undercoat and less shedding. Some of these dogs also produce less saliva, so the saliva won’t spread as much of the protein that causes the allergic reaction.
However, a 2011 study published in The American Journal of Rhinology & Allergy found that hypoallergenic dogs produced the same levels of dog allergens in the home as other breeds. Despite evidence that suggests that hypoallergenic dogs produce less allergic reactions, it is still important to take preventative measures against pet dander.
Which Dog is Best for Allergies?
Although the American Kennel Club won’t deem any breed to be “hypoallergenic,” they recommend the following dogs for allergy-sufferers because they produce less dander:
- Bedlington Terrier
- Bichon Frise
- Chinese Crested
- Irish Water Spaniel
- Kerry Blue Terrier
- Portuguese Water Dog
- Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier
The AKC also recommends that allergies only be one of the factors considered when selecting a dog. Prospective pet owners should also consider the breed’s temperament, energy level, and size. Imagine trying to live with a Portuguese water dog (50-60 lbs.) in a one bedroom apartment just because you thought it would help your allergies!
Choosing a smaller dog will mean less surface area for fur and shedding, which means less dander. Mixed breeds are also a good alternative to purebred dogs. Any breed mixed with a poodle will shed less because of the type of hair that poodles have.
If You Have Allergies…
Before bringing a dog home to be part of the family, you should consult a doctor to see if you allergy responses can be controlled. A doctor may recommend allergy shots, antihistamines, or intranasal steroids. If you’re worried that someone in your family might have a sensitivity to dogs, an allergist can confirm animal sensitivities through prick testing.
If you already have a dog and you want to reduce your allergen exposure, consider the following tips:Consider fostering a dog before you adopt. An allergic response can sometimes take two to three weeks to become fully known. When adopting a dog, it’s important to understand that you are committed to caring for that dog for its entire life. Both you and your dog deserve the best home possible, so take your time in determining if a dog is a good fit for you and your family.
• Get your dog regularly groomed, or have a non-allergic family member give regular baths (about once every week). Brushing a dog’s fur can prevent some dander from entering the air.
• Have your dog’s skin checked by a veterinarian for dryness. Dry skin means more shedding and dander, so keeping him/her skin moisturized could reduce allergens.
• Keep your dog off bedding or pillows that you use to reduce your exposure to allergens.
• Replace pet beds annually and give them a thorough cleaning on a regular basis.
• Carpet-free flooring can be easier to clean and don’t trap allergens in fibers like carpet. Vacuum and wash floors to get rid of pet dander.
• Use washable covers when your pet sits on the couch or in the car. Even throwing down a blanket before they sit on the couch can reduce the amount of dander that settles on the couch.
• If you have the option, keep your dog outside.
• Wash your hands after petting your dog.
The Mayo Clinic recommends using a HEPA air purifier to reduce the airborne pet allergens if you suffer from pet allergies. The Luma Comfort AP400W air purifier is equipped with a carbon pre-filter, HEPA filter, VOC filter, TiO2 filter, and UV light to ensure that your family is always breathing the cleanest air possible. It eliminates over 99% of particles from the air, so your furry friend can still be man’s best friend, instead of man’s biggest cause of allergies.