Dog Ownership for Allergy Sufferers

If you or someone in your family suffers from allergies, pet ownership is not necessarily out of the question. You may just need to do a little more work to firstly identify the source of the allergy, but also to investigate treatment options and low allergen pets.

Interestingly people are twice as likely to be allergic to cats compared to dogs, so dog ownership is possibly within grasp even if Colonel Meow makes you sneeze.

Many people with allergies aren’t necessarily allergic to dog hair. They can seem to be allergic to pets because dogs tend to carry pollen granules or allergens from the outside world in their coat. People tend to be allergic to the dander, saliva or urine that dogs carry on their coat. If you haven’t already been tested, perhaps consider doing so. The tests are not 100% accurate, but are a good starting point. Not only may you find out that you are actually allergic to dust mites rather than pets, but it may help you identify a breed that will be low allergen.

The most common dog allergy is to the dander shed from the skin, so this occurs even in so-called hypoallergenic breeds such as poodles. If the allergy is to saliva, having a pet that is itchy itself will make the situation worse. Theoretically a dog that sheds less, will probably be low allergen simply because there is less of that hair that is carrying saliva or pollen allergens all over the house.

If the allergy is fairly mild, try the following things to reduce exposure:

  • Careful bathing of the pet in a gentle pet shampoo every week.
  • Daily brushing (by the non-allergic member of the household).
  • Weekly washing of pet bedding on a hot cycle (over 60°C) .
  • Good ventilation –exhaust fans and lots of open windows.
  • Frequent vacuuming (HEPA filters also trap allergens).
  • Hand washing after patting the dog.
  • Keeping the dog off the bed and couch.
  • Keep the dog mainly outside or in non-carpeted areas of the home.
  • Minimise rugs and heavy curtains.
  • If the allergy is worse during pollen season, consider wiping the dog down after walks to get rid of pollen granules trapped in hair.

Which breeds?

A dog with a single coat is much better than a dog that sheds and has a thick undercoat. Not only will less hair get all over the house (which may be the source of the allergy), but also there will be less dander. Unfortunately there is no true hypoallergenic breed, but those that don’t shed and have hair rather than fur are considered less likely to trigger allergies. Consider the following breeds:

  • Airedale
  • Bichon Frise
  • Bedlington Terrier
  • Chinese Crested
  • Curly Coated Retriever
  • Irish Water Spaniel
  • Maltese
  • Poodle
  • Portuguese Water Dog
  • Schnauzers
  • Shih Tzu
  • Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier
  • Wire-Haired Fox Terrier
  • Xoloitzcuintli (Mexican Hairless)
  • Yorkshire Terrier

Mixed breeds

Dogs that have been crossed with poodles, such as Cavoodles, Goldendoodles, Labradoodles and all the other ‘oodles’ have tried to capitalise on the hypoallergenic status of the poodle. There is really no guarantee with these dogs that they will be hypoallergenic, as with any other breed. They just shed less, so there is theoretically less hair (covered in saliva, dander and other outdoor allergens) all over the house.

Before You Buy

Before you buy a dog, first consider getting the allergy sufferer to spend some time with the dog you are thinking of adopting. Some allergies are delayed and cumulative, so may not be immediately apparent. For example a person may have an immediate runny nose and itchy eyes or rash, or may just have worsening of chronic asthma symptoms. Sometimes the reaction occurs initially, but could take up to 4 hours to occur. People with a permanent cold can actually be allergic to something in their environment, so sometimes the signs are fairly mild. It is estimated that 14% of dogs are relinquished to shelters due to allergies, so make sure your new dog doesn’t end up part of that statistic by carefully checking first before you invest. Allergy sufferers who visit an immunologist can also often undertake therapy to desensitise them to the source of their allergy.

Whatever you choose, bear in mind that even if you have allergies, it is not necessarily the case that your children will develop allergies. There is some evidence to suggest that pet ownership actually has a protective effect against the development of allergies in children. The above breeds are certainly less likely to cause allergies in sufferers, but each individual is different, so make sure you have had sufficient time with the pet in question before you adopt.