For many people with allergies, owning a dog or cat can be difficult. Even visiting friends or relatives who are pet owners can be extremely challenging.

Pet dander can be a severe trigger for allergy symptoms. If you’re allergic to pet dander, you may have watery eyes, sneezing, wheezing, or even hives. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America reports that as many as 30 percent of Americans have some kind of pet allergy. They also note that it’s more common to be allergic to cats than dogs. However, people with pet allergies can successfully become pet owners if they take a few precautions. One of these precautions is to choose a dog breed that’s mostly, if not completely, allergen-free.

“Hypoallergenic breeds” gained attention in 2009 when the First Family adopted a Portuguese water dog. But are any dog breeds completely hypoallergenic? The science indicates that how a person reacts to canine dander depends on the individual circumstances and not on any particular breed.

There isn’t a breed of dog that is 100 percent hypoallergenic. There are breeds that have what the American Kennel Club (AKC) calls a “predictable, non-shedding coat.” These breeds tend to be more suitable for people with allergies because they don’t shed. As a result, they create less skin dander. The dander is the main element in the dog’s hair that causes people to have allergy symptoms.

The breeds the AKC suggests for people with allergies include:

  • Afghan hound
  • American hairless terrier
  • Bedlington terrier
  • Bichon frise
  • Chinese crested
  • Coton de tulear
  • Schnauzer (giant, standard, miniature)
  • Irish water spaniel
  • Kerry blue terrier
  • Lagotto romagnolo
  • Maltese
  • Peruvian Inca orchid (hairless)
  • Poodle
  • Portuguese water dog
  • Soft coated wheaten terrier
  • Spanish water dog
  • Xoloitzcuintli

It’s important to avoid so-called “designer dogs” when you’re researching dog breeds. These dogs are usually poodles mixed with other breeds. The coats of these hybrid breeds are less predictable than those of pure breeds. Also, it’s unclear whether there’s any significant difference in the levels of allergen produced by any of the breeds listed above.

It’s easy to be confused by conflicting information about allergy-free breeds. Some sources may overstate claims of allergy-free breeds. Again, no breed of dog is completely allergy-free. Also, depending on the source, there’s a wide variety in the breeds noted as being allergy-friendly.

There’s a great deal of evidence that shows clear differences in dander and allergen levels from one animal to another (dogs and cats, for example). However, no one has ever been able to determine clear differences between the breeds of any one animal. The list provided by the American Kennel Club includes breeds with non-shedding coats, which produce less dander. However, they all still produce some dander, and no study has proven whether the dander of one breed is less allergenic than another. Individual dogs may have more or less dander and be more or less allergenic, depending on their genes or other factors. But a dog’s breed isn’t a reliable indicator of how allergic a person may be to any given dog.

Carefully consider the kind of dog that might be best for all your needs, not just your allergies. Look into the behavior and personality traits of the dog breeds recommended by the American Kennel Club for people with allergies.

After doing some research and choosing the breed that’s best for you, try to prepare your living space for the dog. If you can, avoid drapes, rugs, furniture with thick upholstery, or any extra carpet or fabric that might catch and trap dander.

Groom your dog regularly to reduce the amount of dander. Cleaning any dog beds or other areas the dog frequents, sweeping, and vacuuming will also help keep the dander levels down. An important step is to limit the areas where your dog is allowed to be. If you have allergies, you shouldn’t allow the dog on your bed, or even in your bedroom. The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology suggests washing your hands after each time you touch the dog. Also, high quality air filters can help to reduce the amount of allergens in the air in your house.

No breed of dog will be totally allergen-free. However, if you’re willing to be a little more diligent about dander, you can enjoy some great canine companionship regardless of your allergies.