- Almost 10 million pet owners are allergic to their animals.
- While getting a dog marketed as “hypoallergenic” might sound like a good solution, it may not work for someone with a true allergy.
- When dogs shed, some people can develop an irritant response to the hair. While the symptoms can be the same, an irritant response is different from an allergic response.
- Irritation doesn’t trigger the production of antibodies the way an allergy does.
- The proteins all dogs produce are what trigger a true allergic reaction. However, not all people with dog allergies are allergic to the same proteins.
If you become congested and start to sneeze anytime you’re near a dog, you’re not alone. The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI) reports that almost 10 million people are allergic to their pets.
For many pet owners, buying a hypoallergenic dog sounds like the perfect solution. No more allergy pills or shots and you can still have a cute, furry friend. It sounds perfect, right?
However, when Healthline asked several allergy experts about hypoallergenic dogs, they all gave us a very emphatic no.
There’s no such thing as a truly hypoallergenic dog.
However, there are many options to consider that may allow you to own a dog without triggering a reaction if you’re a person living with pet allergies.
According to allergist Dr. Tania Elliott, a spokesperson for the ACAAI, people can develop allergic reactions to pet dander (similar to dandruff in humans), saliva, urine, and hair.
When exposed to these substances, our body can mistakenly see certain proteins within them, called allergens, as a threat. To protect us, our body develops antibodies against those proteins.
When we’re exposed to those proteins again, we then have an allergic response. Our immune system will be activated, causing the release of histamine.
Histamine causes symptoms, such as sneezing and increased mucus production, which protect us from the invading protein.
These symptoms are what cause the discomfort we associate with an allergy.
In the case of a dog allergy, Elliott says you could develop symptoms such as itchy eyes, runny nose, asthma attacks, sneezing, and/or congestion.
You might also develop hives if you’ve been touched or licked by a dog.
According to Dr. Jill A. Poole, professor, division chief of allergy and immunology at the department of medicine at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, there’s no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog because all dogs produce the same proteins.
It’s those proteins to which you’re reacting. That’s why even a so-called hypoallergenic dog can still trigger an allergic reaction.
“It would be more appropriate,” Poole said, “to call these shedding versus non-shedding dogs.”
Shedding dogs release more dog hair into their environment, leading to a buildup of dog hair in your home.
Non-shedding dogs tend to not shed their hair as easily. They must be regularly groomed to prevent matting.
When dogs shed, some people can develop an irritant response to the hair.
While the symptoms can be the same, an irritant response is different from an allergic response. Irritation doesn’t trigger the production of antibodies the way an allergy does.
If you experience an irritant response to dog hair, having a dog that sheds less would reduce this.
Being vigilant about keeping loose dog hair cleaned up would also help those who are experiencing an irritant response, says Poole.
Poole says your first step in getting tested for a dog allergy would be to talk with a doctor or allergist about your symptoms and medical history. If these indicate a possible dog allergy, they can order a test for you.
This testing would be either a skin test or a blood test.
Skin and blood tests are similar in that they can detect the antibodies in your skin and blood that trigger an immune response to a particular allergen.
In a skin test, a small amount of a diluted allergen is placed under your skin, either by pricking the skin or by injection.
If you develop a red, itchy bump, called a wheal, within about 15 minutes, you’re considered to be allergic to that particular allergen.
A blood test would involve drawing blood and testing it in a laboratory for the presence of antibodies.
While there’s no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog, it appears that some people with dog allergies may not be allergic to all dogs.
Poole explains this means that some people with dog allergies could potentially own either a female or a neutered male dog and wouldn’t have an allergic reaction.
There are six different proteins that have been been identified as causing allergies in dogs: Can f 1 to 6.
Can f 5 is only produced in the prostate gland of the male.
Because of this fact, a female dog wouldn’t produce an allergic reaction in people who are allergic to only this one allergen.
A neutered male produces less of this protein and might also be a safe choice.
About 30 percent of people with dog allergies are allergic to only the Can f 5 protein, Poole says.
Dr. Princess Ogbogu, director of allergy and immunology at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, does caution that it’s a bit premature to make this a standard clinical recommendation.
“It is a hypothesis and not well established yet,” Ogbogu said.
However, if you’d like to explore this avenue further, you can speak with your doctor about testing.
Poole says it’s important that you’re tested for all of the Can f allergens and not just Can f 5. You could be allergic to more than one of them.
If you’re not one of the lucky few who are only allergic to Can f 5, there are several other steps you can take that may allow you to have a canine in your home.
Poole suggests the first place to start is to try limiting your exposure to the offending allergens through environmental controls.
According to the ACAAI, environmental controls could include such things as:
- not having a dog
- keeping your dog out of your bedroom
- restricting your dog to only certain parts of your home
- avoiding petting or touching your dog
- washing your hands with soap and water if you do touch your pet
- keeping a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) cleaner continuously running
- regularly using a high-efficiency vacuum cleaner or central vacuum
- giving your dog frequent (at least weekly) baths
Another step you can take is to use medications to manage your allergy symptoms.
Your allergist can recommend which medications will be best for you, depending on your individual symptoms.
Medications your doctor might prescribe include:
- Antihistamines. These medications block the production of histamine, the chemical that’s responsible for the symptoms we associate with allergies, such as itching, sneezing, and runny nose.
- Corticosteroids. When given as a nasal spray, corticosteroids can reduce allergy symptoms like inflammation.
- Decongestants. These medications can shrink swollen nasal passages and reduce congestion, making it easier to breathe. However, they may not be safe for people with high blood pressure, glaucoma, or heart disease. Talk with your doctor before using them.
- Leukotriene modifiers. If other allergy medications aren’t a good option for you, your doctor may prescribe a leukotriene modifier. This type of medication blocks certain immune system chemicals that can cause allergy symptoms.
Finally, although it can be time-consuming, immunotherapy does offer more of a permanent solution to dog allergies.
Poole explains it takes about 3 to 5 years to desensitize a person to an allergen.
The protocol involves giving the person a gradually increasing dose of the allergen once or twice a week until they reach a maintenance dose.
At this point, they’d then need an injection every 2 to 4 weeks over the course of about 3 to 5 years.
Each injection is given subcutaneously (in the fat layer between the skin and muscle).
The person is then observed by a medical professional for 30 minutes in case they have an adverse reaction to the allergen.
Immunotherapy can greatly reduce, or even completely eliminate, your allergy symptoms.
Many people who love dogs are unfortunately allergic to them.
While a hypoallergenic dog might seem like a good solution, allergy experts say there’s really no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog.
However, this doesn’t mean you’re without options. There are ways to reduce or eliminate your exposure to dog allergens. You can also take medications that manage your symptoms or have immunotherapy to desensitize you to dog allergens.
An allergist can help you learn more about your options.