If you’re looking for a hypoallergenic dog, you might also want to look for a unicorn, a mermaid or a leprechaun. They’re also myths and worthy of a good tale.
Today’s tale began a few decades ago when there was a quest to create a hypoallergenic dog. Today, that dog still doesn’t exist. We’ll tell you why … along with some tips to live with your allergies to your loving dog.
What Causes An Allergic Reaction To Dogs?
It’s usually not your dog’s fur that causes your allergies. It’s his dander and the protein it carries.
All dogs produce the same proteins and there are 29 identified in dog dander, hair, urine, serum and saliva. Of those, there are 7 major dog allergens, Canis familiaris 1 to 7 (Can f 1-7), and the most common reactions are to …
- Can f 1 and Can f 2 in dander, saliva and skin
- Can f 3 in serum
- Hair, dander and skin containing Can f 4
- Can f 5 in urine
Can f 1 is the major dog allergen, with 50–75% of those with dog allergies reacting to it. Some people have an immune system that is sensitive to this protein, which is usually harmless to others. And they are the people allergic to dogs.
The Can f 1 protein in dander is in flakes from your dog’s skin that ends up sticking on his fur. It’s like dandruff in people. So it’s not actually the fur you’re allergic to. It’s the dander carried on the fur. It brushes onto things and moves through the air. It’s lightweight and microscopic and easily sticks to clothing, bedding, furniture and carpet. That makes it easy to spread through your dog’s surroundings and your home. It’s even airborne so when you vacuum you often release more into the air.
There may be dogs that shed less fur or don’t shed at all. That means the dander is just less mobile. But your dog still has it. And it’s still released, even from a hairless breed. Of course, various breeds produce different types of dander … so you can be more allergic to some dogs than others.
And it’s an old wives’ tale that exposing newborn babies to the family dog can cause pet allergies. In fact, the opposite may be true. There are several studies that show early exposure doesn’t increase allergies or asthma … but it might offer protection as your child grows.
What’s the Difference Between An Allergic Reaction And An Irritant?
People can develop allergic reactions to pet dander. The body reacts to proteins within them and develops antibodies. Repeated exposure causes the body to have an immune response which releases histamines. That’s when you have itchy eyes, sneezing, a runny nose and possibly a rash. This is how your body mounts a response to the proteins trying to invade.
Those who are highly allergic can react to the dog’s saliva or urine when touching or licked by a dog. They can develop those symptoms as well as have asthma attacks, congestion and hives. The hives can appear anywhere on the body, not just where there was contact with your pet.
(Writer’s note: This can even happen with second-hand saliva. My dog Jack greeted a friend by licking his face. Later, his girlfriend kissed his cheek in the same spot and immediately broke out in welts along her mouth.)
An irritant might look the same as an allergic reaction on the surface. The skin is inflamed and itchy, red and swollen, even blistered. But it only occurs in the area where the irritant has been in direct contact. Plus, irritants don’t cause antibodies to develop.
What Is A Hypoallergenic Dog?
There’s really no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog. So-called hypoallergenic dogs don’t shed or shed very little. A dog with a hairless, low-shedding or non-shedding coat passes on less dander. If there’s less fur, then there’s less dander. And it’s protein in the dander from the skin that causes allergic reactions, not the fur. But, according to scientists, you can’t breed away the protein in dogs that causes allergic reactions. And so … hypoallergenic dogs do not exist.
Regardless, breeding “hypoallergenic” dogs began a few decades ago. There was a notion that combining one breed that sheds with another that doesn’t shed would result in a non-shedding dog. Some breeders of these specialized designer dogs will tell you their dogs are hypoallergenic. But they are also the first to say “there is no guarantee.”
It does beg the question, why not get a non-shedding breed to start with?
Of course, there are major fails when creating non-shedding dogs. This is especially true among irreputable, opportunistic breeders who capitalized on these dogs by breeding without knowledge or experience. And because these dogs are crossbreeds, there is a lot of variation as breeders ride the wave of popularity. And they failed… not only by producing shedding dogs, but by breeding dogs with unpredictable temperaments and traits.
Do You Need A Hypoallergenic Dog?
Demand for hypoallergenic dogs originated with dog-loving allergy sufferers. The saliva, fur and urine could create allergic reactions that made having a dog uncomfortable and downright unbearable for many.
But then the demand grew from other dog buyers: those who didn’t want to deal with dogs who shed … which is most dogs. (Perhaps these people should get a goldfish instead of a furry pet.). Of course, any dog, regardless of its potential to shed, still requires grooming.
To make life easier, smaller dogs who drool less, have less fur and are easier and faster to groom are favorable pets for allergy sufferers.
What Does A Hypoallergenic Dog Cost?
There was a time before the Covid-19 pandemic when it was possible to get a short-haired, low-shedding dog for as little as $500. With people staying home during 2020-21, the demand for dogs increased and so did prices. If you stick with a reputable breeder of a purebred low/no-shedding dog, you are still likely to get a puppy for a few thousand dollars. For those who know you’ll pay anything to get a “hypoallergenic” dog you could be looking at $3,000 to $5,000 or even more. And remember, there’s no guarantee you won’t get allergies from your hypoallergenic dog.
Do Hypoallergenic Dogs Really Exist?
No. That’s what experts in allergy study and immunology say.
“There’s no such thing” says The Mayo Clinic. They advise you to choose a breed that sheds less, if you want a non-allergenic dog..
A 2012 study showed hypoallergenic dogs had higher Can f 1 levels in hair and coat samples than the control breeds. That showed there was no evidence certain dog breeds should receive the label “hypoallergenic.”
Professional medical organizations like American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) and American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) say don’t buy this specialty breed either. The AAAAI website states “there are no truly hypoallergenic breeds.”
A paper published in July 2011 examined dog allergen levels (Can f 1) in homes with hypoallergenic vs. non-hypoallergenic breeds. It stated “there was no evidence for differential shedding of allergen by dogs grouped as hypoallergenic.” Aside from the major allergens (Can f 1), minor allergens also affect allergic individuals. “Therefore, selective breeding of these animals would be unlikely to result in complete benefit for their affected owners.”
In its conclusion, the same study was critical of other studies. They noted there are few scientific studies on allergen levels by dog breed, and studies involved only a handful of dogs from a limited number of breeds.
Allergies And The Immune System
An allergic reaction is directly related to your immune system. When a foreign substance enters your body, the immune system reacts by producing antibodies that fight the allergen. It leads to the typical itching or sneezing symptoms. Some people are more susceptible to allergies like dog dander, and some immune reactions are stronger than others. When you have repeated exposure to the same allergen, your allergic reactions may become more severe.
And when the cause of that allergic reaction lives in your house, you want something safe and natural.
Natural Options For Allergy Relief
When it comes to living with an allergy trigger who lies by your feet (or shares your bed) every night and adores you, you know you’re looking for a long-term remedy. Alternating these solutions can help, along with the lifestyle changes listed in the next section.
Quercetin is Nature’s Benadryl. It’s a flavonoid (also called a bioflavonoid) found in fruits and vegetables, especially citrus fruits, apples, dark cherries, dark berries and parsley. Quercetin has antioxidant, antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties.
During an allergic reaction the body releases histamine that contributes to inflammation, redness and irritation. Quercetin can stop histamine production and suppress or diminish inflammation. When it suppresses inflammation, that means less itching.
Stinging nettle is a natural antihistamine that can help with allergy symptoms.
Spirulina is a blue-green seaweed used as a dietary supplement to regulate immune function. It’s shown to have anti-allergic properties.
Turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory. Its active component is curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory properties. And it has anti-allergic properties that inhibit the histamine release from mast cells so it reduces inflammation. It’s one of the best natural anti-inflammatories in nature or medicine. And it works better than aspirin, ibuprofen or allergy meds to provide allergy relief.
This is a natural enzyme found in papaya and pineapple. Bromelain improves breathing because it reduces swelling.
When you want long-term relief so you can live with your furry friend, acupuncture is a strong possibility. A review of 13 studies concluded that acupuncture could be a safe and valid treatment for both seasonal and year round allergies.
Several essential oils can relieve allergy suffering. Diluted peppermint used as aromatherapy or in a diffuser reduces inflammation in the bronchial passages. You can use frankincense in the same way to relieve allergy symptoms.
Caution: If you diffuse essential oils, make sure your pets can leave the room if they feel uncomfortable. Essential oils are very powerful for pets and can even cause health problems.
In a review of 23 studies, probiotics were beneficial in improving symptoms and quality of life in patients with allergic reactions to airborne allergens. Since 90% of the immune system is in the gut, your dog’s and yours, adding probiotics increases the level of good bacteria. This is the bacteria that fights pathogens and that can include allergens.
Saline Nasal Rinse
Some people suffering dog allergies find that a saline (salt water) rinse helps clear allergens and soothe nasal passages. It can control symptoms such as congestion and postnasal drip.
The hardest part is to keep your home and surroundings as fur-free as possible. Here are some things you can do.
How To Live With Allergies And Your Dog
When your dog is part of your life or if you’re wanting to add one, here are things you can do so both of you can be comfortable. Know that these aren’t ideal solutions but in combination, they might help both of you live under the same roof.
- Establish a dog-free zone like your bedroom so you can sleep without congestion.
- Bathe your dog frequently with a very mild, organic shampoo to minimize dander. But remember you’ll be removing natural oils from your dog’s skin.
- Try to minimize furnishings like blinds that may attract dander and dust.
- More hard surfaces and fewer fabrics are easier to keep clean.
- You might want to restrict your dog from upholstered furniture so dander cannot migrate further. Or you can keep furniture covered and then wash frequently.
- Minimize carpeted surfaces.
- Use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) purifier to help lessen airborne allergens in your home.
- Change furnace or air conditioner filters monthly.
- Use a high-efficiency vacuum cleaner or central vacuum.
- It’s hard not to pet or touch your dog … so wash your hands immediately afterward.
- If you’re thinking about a new dog, consider a smaller dog with less fur and less shedding. That makes it easier to manage cleanup and care of the fur and dander.
- Meet the dog or visit the breeder to experience how badly you react.
- Extensive home cleaning regimens can include mattress and pillow covers but they’d need frequent removal and cleaning. It’s probably easier to limit your dog’s access to the allergic person’s bedroom .
You’re a committed dog lover and your dog’s a cherished family member, so you’ll make it work. If you’ve already got a low-shedding dog, you’re ahead of the game. Otherwise, you know the drill … clean, vacuum and sweep. It’s just part of life … as even non-allergic dog owners know.
Nicholas, Charlotte E., et al. Dog Allergen Levels in Homes with Hypoallergenic Compared with Nonhypoallergenic Dogs. American Journal of Rhinology & Allergy. July 2011.25.3606
Vredegoor, Doris W., et al. Can f 1 levels in hair and homes of different dog breeds: Lack of evidence to describe any dog breed as hypoallergenic. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Volume 130, Issue 4, October 2012, Pages 904-909.e7
Lodge, C.J., et al. Pets at birth do not increase allergic disease in at-risk children. Clin Exp Allergy. 2012 Sep;42(9):1377-85.
Janc, Ewa, et al. A dog – friend or enemy of allergic patient? Alergia Astma Immunologia. 17(3):113-117.
Yamamoto, Kenji, et al. Crystal structure of the dog allergen Can f 6 and structure-based implications of its cross-reactivity with the cat allergen Fel d 4. Scientific Reports. Volume 9, Article number: 1503 (2019)
Feng, Shaoyan, et al. Acupuncture for the treatment of allergic rhinitis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Rhinol Allergy. Jan-Feb 2015;29(1):57-62.
Zajac, Alexander E., et al. A systematic review and meta-analysis of probiotics for the treatment of allergic rhinitis. Int Forum Allergy Rhinol. 2015 Jun;5(6):524-32.