Hypoallergenic Dog Breeds: Separating Myth From Fact
You’ve heard of hypoallergenic products, but hypoallergenic dogs? Seasonal allergy sufferers are all too familiar with the watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing, possibly itchy skin, and general misery allergies bring on. Pollen is often named the culprit but sometimes the family dog is the problem. Where human suffering reaches a crescendo, difficult decisions often must be made about whether the dog should stay or go.
If you suffer from dog allergies, take heart: there are things you can do to rid or ease your symptoms without banishing the beloved family dog. And some dog breeds seem less likely to stimulate an allergic reaction in humans than others; you may be able to avoid draconian measures after all.
Am I Allergic To Dogs?
The human immune system is pretty smart: it’s designed to know when something is bad and get rid of it, stat. Occasionally, though, it mistakes a foreign substance as a toxin even when it’s innocent: pollen and pet dander are classic examples. So when an allergic person inhales one of these substances his immune system kicks into high gear and produces inflammation in the nasal passages or lungs instead of allowing the tiny offender to mind its own business. With prolonged exposure to the allergen, the problem can evolve into a chronic condition.
Where dog allergies are concerned many folks mistakenly believe hair is the problem. But the irritant is actually a protein found in the dog’s dander—the loose scales on her skin—and in her saliva, urine, and sweat. It even has a name: Can F1. Dander in particular is a problem because it can remain airborne for a long time, eventually clinging to clothing and upholstery. The Can F1 protein in your dog’s saliva can also adhere to household textiles, and once dried may become airborne as well. Allowing dust or pollen to accumulate in her hair can make bad matters worse.
Facts (And Fiction) About Being Allergic To Dogs
- It’s estimated about ten percent of Americans are allergic to dogs.
- The culprit is a protein called Can F1 in the dog’s dander and bodily fluids, not his hair.
- Allergic reactions to dogs run the gamut from simple annoyances (itchy eyes, for example) to serious or even life-threatening complications: asthma attacks or constricted breathing.
- You’re more likely to experience or develop a pet allergy if your family is genetically predisposed to allergies or asthma.
- There is science-based evidence to suggest children who live with a dog in their first year of life may actually develop an improved resistance to upper respiratory infections during childhood as compared with kids who don’t have a family dog.
Are There Hypoallergenic Dog Breeds?
Strictly speaking, no. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, while some dogs may be less aggravating to allergy sufferers, all of them (even hairless ones) possess the capacity to induce an allergic reaction: there is no 100 percent allergy-free furry animal in the world.
But some breeds appear to be better than others for allergy-suffering humans; these tend to be low dander-producing, low-shedding dogs. And looks can be deceiving—many of the best dogs for allergy sufferers come with copious amounts of hair.
The Best Dogs For People With Allergies
We’ve compiled a short list of our five favorite “hypoallergenic” dogs, but there are many, many other low-dander dog breeds.
1. The Standard Poodle
The high-energy Poodle got her start as a sporting dog for French duck hunters; she is exceptionally smart and excels in obedience. Her coat requires regular professional grooming, but she sheds very few of her curly locks, which means dander is more likely to stay put.
- Her short, curly coat is virtually non-shedding, earning her top billing as a “hypoallergenic” dog.
- She comes in toy, miniature, and standard varieties, making her suitable for most any home environment.
- She is lively, playful, and incredibly intelligent, able to intuit her human’s body language and expressions.
- She is polite, sociable, and easy to house train.
- Depending on her genetic line she may be high-strung.
- Because of her high energy she demands much exercise, and often.
- She can be skittish and hypersensitive to stress, tension, and loud voices.
- Because the Poodle has been inbred through time, it is predisposed to serious health issues, including eye, skin, digestive, and immune system diseases, seizure disorders, and more: investigate your breeder’s reputation carefully.
2. The Bichon Frisé
Looking for all the world like a powder puff, the Bichon Frisé is a naturally gentle, playful dog. A bonus: he’s a love sponge, cultivating his reputation as a cuddly lap dog.
- He is small and mighty.
- He makes an excellent watchdog but is not aggressive.
- His continually growing hair does not shed.
- He gets along well with other pets in the house.
- He is notoriously difficult to house train.
- He is prone to separation anxiety if he’s left alone too long.
- He has been known to bark loudly and often.
- His curly mop requires regular grooming.
3. The Schnauzer
How could you not love that bearded face? The noble Schnauzer is an excellent dog breed for allergy sufferers in any of its three size varieties (miniature, standard, and giant), but the Miniature Schnauzer in particular adapts well to any living arrangement.
- She is elegant and athletic.
- She loves kids if they’re introduced to her when she’s less than a year old.
- She’s an excellent watchdog, but still minds her manners, and gets along with other pets.
- Her wiry coat sheds very little and requires grooming only every few months.
- She needs regular exercise and activity to keep her engaged.
- If she is not socialized, she can become shy and suspicious of others.
- She has been known to be stubborn.
- She has a strong chasing instinct around other animals.
4. The Maltese
Small, brave, fearless. The Maltese is an excellent family dog: this little guy is full of energy and playfulness, but is also known as one of the gentlest small breeds.
- He may be tiny, but he’s smart as a whip and playful as all get-out.
- He is a gentleman to the core, polite to humans and other animals alike.
- He has endearing good looks.
- He sheds very little.
- He is exceedingly tiny.
- He does not deal well with separation from his humans.
- He is notoriously difficult to house train.
- While he does not shed much, he requires frequent grooming to keep his dramatic long, white coat free of matting.
5. The Portuguese Water Dog
She is an athletic gal who requires daily vigorous exercise; she’s also smart and responsive to obedience training. Her thick coat requires regular maintenance, but may be groomed in the “lion” clip (hind quarters and muzzle are clipped to the skin) or retriever clip (the entire coat is cut to an inch and follows the dog’s contours) to simplify your life and hers.
- She is a perfect size, neither too large nor too small.
- She sheds very little, as her hairs become entrapped by her curly coat.
- She is an excellent watch dog, albeit a poor guard dog.
- She is well-mannered and usually gets along fine with other household pets.
- She is rowdy and exuberant—especially as a youngster—and demands vigorous exercise.
- She is wont to destroy things if she is bored or inadequately exercised.
- She possesses a will of iron and will test your fortitude.
- She can be a mouthy girl and may chew or carry things and attempt to mouth your hands.
As a footnote, the sportsman you love who suffers from dog allergies might enjoy the Wirehaired Pointing Griffon. Weighing in at about 60 lbs., this breed possesses a wiry coat with some of the same characteristics as his fellow “hypoallergenic” canines, and is capable of hunting, pointing, retrieving, and tracking. He sheds only minimally, is moderately easy to train, and makes an excellent watchdog. He loves cold, hates heat, and is known to be playful, energetic, and affectionate around kids.
Finally, know you needn’t spend a fortune on a highly pedigreed pooch: there are thousands of low-dander and low-shedding dogs, including poodles and terriers, awaiting adoption at shelters across the country.
If you or someone in your household suffers from non-life-threatening dog allergies, the family dog may still be able to healthfully coexist with you. And for many, the benefits of living with a dog simply outweigh the drawbacks of dog-induced allergies. Find a low-dander dog breed suitable for your home environment, keep her and your house as clean as you can, and enjoy your life with a dog.