By Dr. Judith Herman
Q. My kids want a dog, but one of them is deathly allergic to them. Is there a breed that is hypoallergenic?
A. Good question. Many breeds and mixes are touted as hypoallergenic but that is not quite true. We need to first look at what causes people to be allergic and then the why dogs are not hypoallergenic.
More than 10 million pet owners are allergic to their pets. Many have an irritant response which have similar symptoms to those truly allergic. Truly allergic people develop antibodies to the protein in the dander of the dog. There are different proteins that make up the dander. That is why some people are more allergic to one dog or breed than another.
People who are sensitive to certain proteins from the dog can develop sneezing, increased mucus production, asthmatic reactions, congestion, itchy eyes, runny nose, and hives. These symptoms are the reaction of the immune system, which is developed to protect the body by releasing histamines. The histamines cause the production of mucus and discharges to coat the lining of the membranes to protect the body from the offending proteins. These proteins are not just in the dander, but also in the saliva, and urine.
According to the AKC (American Kennel Club), “Although some individual dogs may indeed elicit fewer allergy symptoms than others, studies suggest there is no specific breed that is truly hypoallergenic.” There are studies, which looked at the primary dog allergen, Canis familiaris (Can F1) and found no difference in homes with dogs considered hypoallergenic and those considered allergic. Another study showed that Poodles, a breed thought to be hypoallergenic, had a higher level of Can f1 than Labradors, who are considered a highly allergic breed. The researcher also found the same amount of Can f1 in either home.
Here is the difference between dogs deemed hypoallergenic or not. It boils down to the amount of shedding the dog does. Some breeds shed very little, like the Poodle, and Bichon Frise. More breeds are considered hypoallergenic because they are regularly groomed such as Schnauzers. So low, no-shedding, or hairless dogs are the more likely breeds you can try out.
Here are some tips on living with a dog if you have allergies. For the human, allergy shots may be considered. For the environment, carpets hold more dander than wood floors, so removing the carpet or buying a low pile carpet may help. Remember to regularly steam clean it. Using a HEPA air filter with routine vacuuming the house may work. When cleaning or interacting with your dog, try wearing a mask. You can upgrade your vacuum with a certified asthma and allergy-friendly filter. Frequent bathing of the pup has not shown to be beneficial in reducing allergy symptoms.
When you are looking for a dog, have the person who is allergic spend 15-20 minutes with the breed of interest. You will know within this time the level of reaction they produce. Go with a pure-bred dog verses a mixed breed and poodle cross because of the unpredictable genes of the latter, which may not result in low shedding dogs.
Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH
Animal Wellness Center
Augusta, ME 04330