Hypoallergenic Dog Breeds: Fact or Fiction?
Hypoallergenic Dog Breeds
I am frequently asked by families with allergies what is my “allergist recommended” hypoallergenic dog breed. Usually, my patients have done their research as well and are looking for:
- A hypoallergenic dog that won’t worsen their allergies
- A dog breed that won’t worsen their child’s eczema or asthma
- Usually a dog that doesn’t shed or a light shedding dog
- And I hear a lot about picking a dog with hair vs fur, etc.
Now, I’m going to explain everything you’d ever want to know about hypoallergenic dog breeds below but I feel I should get to the point first:
There is no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog
I’m sorry. I know that this is not what most people want to hear. And if you google long enough, you can find lots of articles (some with great clickbait but cute pictures) telling you what is the best hypoallergenic dog breed to get for your symptoms.
But as an allergist, I can tell you that there is truly no such thing.
But don’t lose hope!
I’d be kind of a jerk if I have the REAL solutions in this article
First, what is a dog allergy?
When someone has a true dog allergy, they are actually allergic to a specific protein that dogs make on their dander as well as dog hair, saliva and urine. These proteins are:
- Small — which makes them easy to inhale or breathe (causing allergies and asthma problems)
- Sticky — which makes them spread easily and sticks to surfaces and bedding (causing eczema problems)
As I have mentioned in a prior article, a true allergy is your immune system’s response to a trigger. The immune system is designed to respond to even the smallest trigger… so even the “hypoallergenic dog breeds” still have more than enough antigen to trigger allergies.
Myths about hypoallergenic dog breeds
Before I go through all the solutions, let’s talk about a few myths that I hear on a near daily basis.
Hypoallergenic dogs have hair, not fur, which is why they don’t cause allergies
Some dogs may have more of a traditional fur while others may have shorter fur and still others a more hair-like coat. This part is true and is different based on different breeds.
But it doesn’t matter for allergies. The problem is the protein made by the dog, not their coat. The protein can stick to any type of dog fur or dog hair.
Dogs that don’t shed (or that don’t drool) don’t cause allergies
I can personally see the appeal of a low shedding dog (since my dog Willie sheds about 2 new dogs a week) but, unfortunately, this doesn’t matter for allergies.
The dog allergen is found on their skin and saliva and that is enough to still cause allergy symptoms.
President Obama has a hypoallergenic dog so they must exist
Thanks, Obama! While it is true they have an adorable Portuguese water dog, that doesn’t make it immune to causing allergies. There is no secret presidential privilege that gets around allergies (or at least none that I know of… and I did have top secret clearance in the Air Force!)
I’m sorry, still. There are a lot of myths about hypoallergenic dog breeds. But they can still cause allergies!
Now, let me bring you some hope!
An (dog-loving) allergist’s approach to dog allergy
I have seen allergists who treat all dogs as a “yes or no” and who will tell you that if the allergy test is positive, you can never have a dog. That is lazy allergying (that’s a word, right?)
Instead, you need to approach each person as an individual to figure out the dog puzzle. This is my general approach to a patient with potential dog allergy.
Note: If you want a personalized review of your symptoms, as well as an individualized plan, click here and answer these “dog allergy starter questions” and I will give you a plan that doesn’t rely on a hypoallergenic dog!
First, what are your dog allergy symptoms?
Some people get the traditional itchy, runny, sneezy/stuffy type allergy symptoms around dogs. Others get hives (and possibly swelling) where a dog licks them.
If you get skin-only hives, then it is possible that you have something called contact urticarial. In this case, you might be able to get a dog and just wash the area after close contact (if you aren’t sure, I can try and help you).
If you get more of the traditional allergy symptoms, then move on to the next step.
Second, are your symptoms REALLY due to the dog?
Even if you have a prior allergy test showing dog allergy, you might not really have a true dog allergy.
In many cases, you might have a relatively minor or even symptom-free dog allergy BUT have severe pollen allergies. Dogs, especially those spending a lot of time outdoors, are really fantastic at capturing all the pollen in the air and delivering them right to your nose/eyes!
As a general rule, people with true dog allergies get symptoms year round (when exposed to dogs) and have a noticeable worsening of symptoms around dogs of many different breeds.
If you notice your symptoms are better around dogs that don’t shed, it is possible that your solution is NOT to get a hypoallergenic dog breed but instead to treat pollen allergies (again, you can always get a personalized allergist evaluation).
What to do if you are pretty sure you have an actual dog allergy?
If you’ve gone through these simple questions and still feel that a dog allergy worsens your/your child’s allergies, asthma or eczema, there is STILL hope (that doesn’t rely on a hypoallergenic dog breed).
I am working on a whole second post (should be out sometime next week) dedicated to all the tips and tricks to help those of you with dog allergies who still own a dog. It’s a long post and I want to make sure I do it justice (again, I’m a dog-lover and you deserve a full dog allergy prevention post).
If you want to be sure to get this post and not miss out on these simple tricks,and you won’t miss this next post!
What if you are still UNSURE if you have a dog allergy?
If you read through the above and are still unsure whether or not you have a dog allergy, or still think that there is truth behind hypoallergenic dog breeds, let me give you an alternative plan:
- First, email me and together we can review your symptoms. It might have an easier explanation.
- Second, instead of immediately adopting a dog (even a hypoallergenic dog), instead spend some time around dogs! I recommend one of the following:
- Find a friend with the type of dog you want and offer to dog-sit. That will give you a chance to spend a lot of time around a dog BEFORE you adopt the pet to see if the dog causes you problems.
- FOSTER A DOG! There is no better way to help than to foster a dog! That will give you time to see if you’re allergic to a dog, will help your local shelters and humane societies/dumb friends leagues, and will also give the dog a nice place to live temporarily. Side bonus – if you don’t have symptoms, you might be able to keep that same dog!
Other hypoallergenic dog breed questions?
If you have any other questions, either about allergies or about dogs, please email me and let me know. Either I will answer your questions or, if they are more pet specific, I will ask an amazing veterinarian that I know and get back to you.