Allergy-Free Dogs

For many people who suffer from allergies, owning a dog or cat, or even visiting friends or relatives who are pet owners, is difficult if not impossible.

Pet dander can be a severe trigger of allergy symptoms from watery eyes and sneezing to hives and welts. As many people know, dogs are generally less allergenic than cats. The question then becomes more about what breeds of dogs are mostly, if not completely, allergen-free.?

Much attention came to “hypoallergenic breeds” in 2009 when the First Family adopted a Portuguese water dog, but are any dog breeds actually completely hypoallergenic? The answer may depend on the source in question, but the science seems to indicate that how a person reacts to canine dander depends on the individual circumstance and not on any particular breed. 

First of all, there is not a breed of dog that is 100 percent hypoallergenic. There are breeds that have what the American Kennel Club (AKC) calls “consistent and predictable coats” that tend to be more suitable for people with allergies. These breeds do not shed, so they create less skin dander, which is the main element in the dog’s hair that causes people to experience allergy symptoms.

Here are the eleven breeds the AKC suggests “generally do well with people with allergies” in alphabetical order:

  • Bedlington Terrier
  • Bichon Frise
  • Chinese Crested
  • Irish Water Spaniel
  • Kerry Blue Terrier
  • Maltese
  • Poodles (toy, miniature, standard)
  • Portuguese Water Dog
  • Schnauzers (miniature, standard, giant)
  • Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier
  • Xoloitzcuintli

When considering any of these breeds, it is important to avoid so-called “designer dogs” (which are usually poodles mixed with other breeds), as the coats of these hybrids are less predictable than those of pure breeds. It is unclear, though, whether or not there is any significant difference in the levels of allergen produced by any of the breeds listed above.?

Be Wary of Claims

When doing a bit of cursory research on this subject, however, it is easy to get confused by conflicting information. Many websites overstate claims of allergy-free breeds (again, no breed of dog is completely allergy-free), and depending on the source, there is a wide variety in the breeds given as being allergy-friendly. One recent study noted that at least “60 of the 161 AKC-recognized breeds were listed as hypoallergenic on one Web resource or another,” according to an article in The New York Times.

It gets better: while there is a great deal of evidence that shows clear differences in dander and allergen levels from one animal to another (dogs and cats, for example), no clear differences related to the breed of any one animal have ever been determined. The list above was compiled by the American Kennel Club based on breeds with non-shedding coats, so they produce less dander; however, they all still produce dander, and whether or not the dander is less allergenic from one breed to the next has not been proven in any studies. Of course individual dogs may have more or less dander and be more allergenic, depending on their genes or other factors, but a dog’s breed is not necessarily a reliable indicator of how allergic a person may or may not be to any given dog.

Picking a Breed

So then what can a would-be dog owner with allergies do to help their symptoms and enjoy a new best friend?

First, carefully consider what kind of dog might be best for your needs, which is what anyone should do, allergies or not (the AKC website also provides information about the behavior and personality traits for all the breeds they recommend for people with allergies). After you have done some research and you know what breed may be best for you, try to prepare your living space as well as you can for the dog—try to avoid drapes, rugs, furniture with thick upholstery, or any extra carpet or fabric that might catch and trap dander. 

Regular grooming and cleaning of dog beds or other areas the dog frequents will also help keep the dander levels down, as will more regular sweeping, vacuuming, and so on. One important step is to limit the areas where your dog is allowed to be—the family room or the basement, perhaps. If you have allergies, you should not allow the dog to be on your bed, or probably even in your bedroom, to be safe. If you are aware that no breed of dog will be totally allergen-free, and if you are willing to be little more diligent about dander, even those of us who suffer from allergies can enjoy some great canine companionship.