Hypoallergenic Dog Breeds: Is There Such a Thing?

By Malcolm Weir, DVM, MSc, MPH; Lynn Buzhardt, DVM

Ahh choo!! Sneezing, itchy eyes, runny nose…it must be allergy season. Or is it? Did you know that your inhalant allergies can last all year if you are allergic to your dog? According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, approximately 10% of people are allergic to man’s best friend.

Pesky allergies can interfere with the fun of owning a dog. How can you enjoy walking your dog if you can’t see the path through teary eyes? How can you play a game of fetch if you are fetching a tissue every 60 seconds? Although there is no magic wand to make your allergies disappear, there are a few tricks that may minimize your problems.

What causes allergies to dogs?

Many allergens are protein particles. Some people are allergic to the proteins found in canine saliva and dander. Saliva sticks to the hair when a dog licks himself, then invades the household environment when he sheds. Dander lies on the dog’s skin and coat, and is left behind when the dog sheds hair or shakes. People with dog allergies mount an immune response to these allergens that result in typical allergy symptoms.

Are certain dog breeds hypoallergenic?

There are varying opinions on the matter, but it is generally thought that even though there is no canine breed that is 100% hypoallergenic, there are breeds that are less likely to stimulate allergies in people. All dogs have saliva and dander but some breeds produce less dander and saliva than others.

"Even though there is no canine breed that is 100% hypoallergenic, there are breeds that are less likely to stimulate allergies in people."

Some studies illustrate that the production of allergens varies by breed, making certain dog breeds more compatible with allergic owners than others. Still other studies claim that there is no real difference regarding breeds and allergen production. Even with opposing views, there is agreement on why some breeds fair better with allergic owners.

Breeds that shed less are less likely to make their owners sneeze, because the dander and saliva remain on the hair that stays in the hair follicle. Less shedding means less allergens in the house. In general, dogs that shed less have longer hair. Dogs that visit the groomer frequently for haircuts like Schnauzers fall into this category. On the opposite end of the spectrum are dogs that have relatively little hair, like the Chinese Crested. But even hairless breeds produce dander. It is the in-between, short haired dogs, like Labrador Retrievers or Beagles, that really play havoc with allergies.

"How hypoallergenic a dog is may depend on the individual dog and person."

And consider this. How hypoallergenic a dog is may depend on the individual dog and person. Not all dogs produce the same proteins, so some people are allergic to a specific dog, not a specific breed. That means that a person could react to one Poodle and live symptom-free with a different Poodle. So, while some dogs are less likely to provoke allergies in people, there is no universal hypoallergenic dog breed. It all depends on the dog and the person.

"Certain breeds are more suitable partners for allergy sufferers."

The good news is that certain breeds are more suitable partners for allergy sufferers. Here are a few breeds that are less likely to put your immune system into an uproar: Bichon Frise, Afghan Hound, Schnauzer, Poodle, Chinese Crested, Maltese, American Hairless Terrier, Irish Water Spaniel, Yorkshire Terrier, Bedlington Terrier, Shih Tzu, Wheaton Terrier, and the Portuguese Water Dog. Just remember that any dog can stir up allergies, so do not depend on picking a certain breed to eliminate your allergy problems. There are precautions you can take to minimize the impact of your dog on your immune system.

How can you reduce the allergic impact of your dog?

Decreasing the allergenic contamination of the environment will minimize exposure and may help sensitive people. Simply put, anything that reduces the amount of dander, saliva and dog hair in your home is a plus. With that in mind, consider trying some of these easy tips.

Bathe your dog frequently. Weekly baths will reduce the amount of allergen-related protein on a dog’s coat, and will also minimize the amounts of airborne allergens. Severely allergic people may opt for rubber gloves when giving Fido a bath. The ease of bathing hairless breeds allows more efficient removal of dander, which may be a factor in why they are considered to be hypoallergenic. Consult your veterinarian before deciding on a bathing schedule. Excess bathing may dry out your dog’s coat and result in skin issues. Moisturizing shampoos are available to prevent dry skin.

Brush your dog regularly. Brushing will not stop the shedding, but will remove loose hairs in a controlled manner. Better to have that hair contained in a brush rather than dispersed all over the house. Allergic people may want to wear a mask and rubber gloves when brushing their dog.

Remove outside contaminants before your dog comes indoors. Many people who suffer from dog allergies are also allergic to pollen or mold particles that hitch a ride on Fido and enter the home. Walking through the grass, rolling in the flower bed, or just lying on the patio allows particles to attach to your dog’s fur. Wiping your dog with a damp cloth before he comes inside will reduce the amounts of allergens tracked indoors. If wiping the entire dog is too much trouble, focus on the body areas that are most likely to come in contact with allergens, like the feet and underbelly. Many people find that baby wipes are convenient to use, especially when stored by the back door.

Consider the size of your pet. When it comes to dog allergies, the size of the dog does matter. It makes sense that a 70-pound dog will disperse more allergens than a 7-pound dog. The total body surface area of a larger dog simply harbors more particulate matter, i.e., dander. Also, larger breeds may produce more allergen-laden saliva.

Practice healthy home care. Change the air filters in your home often, and consider using filters specially designed to reduce air-borne allergens. Vacuum rugs and floors frequently, and damp-mop wood or tile floors. Restrict your dog to areas of the home that can be thoroughly cleaned.

With a little forethought and effort, allergy sufferers can certainly enjoy canine companionship. Plus, the health benefits of dog ownership may outweigh the aggravation of sneezing, runny noses, and itchy eyes!

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