Allergies are very common. Lots of people are allergic to lots of things. Unfortunately, dogs are among those things. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, almost 3 out of 10 people have animal allergies. There are proteins (allergens) present in dogs’ saliva, urine, and dander (dead skin cells) that stimulate an allergic person’s immune system, just like a real threat might. It is important to understand a little bit about how allergies work.
Every day, one’s immune system is bombarded with threats. Some of these are viruses, bacteria, or other dangers, and a good immune response is what keeps you from getting sick. But when a sensitive immune system sees an allergen molecule from a dog, it launches an attack just like it would for those pathogens that were going to make you sick. People who are allergic to dogs can feel just like they are “coming down” with something. Symptoms can include: itchy and watery eyes, runny and stuffy nose, sneezing/coughing and wheezing/asthma symptoms.
We all wish that there were hypoallergenic animals, but unless we can find an animal with no skin, saliva, or urine, we are going to have allergens no matter what the breed. Some breeders of certain dogs (Poodles, Portuguese Water Dogs, Terriers and others) have claimed that their breed is hypoallergenic, but studies do not support these claims. Dust samples from homes with breeds reported to be hypoallergenic compared to those with other non-hypoallergenic breeds showed no difference in dog allergen levels 1. Even hairless dogs still have allergens.
Depending on an individual’s sensitivity, certain breeds may be better than others for that specific person, but there is not a true “non-allergenic” breed. Everyone that loves pets and has allergies wants to believe that there is a silver bullet, but like most things, there is no shortcut.
Studies do show that frequent bathing can reduce the amount of allergens in pets and there are certainly other ways to reduce your exposure 2. If you think that you might be allergic to your dog, see your doctor. He/she might suggest seeing a specialist who is a Board Certified Allergist. A specialist can provide you with an accurate diagnosis, recommendations regarding living with a pet, and most importantly, effective treatment that may include desensitization (allergy shots) to your dog.
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- Dog allergen levels in homes with hypoallergenic compared with non-hypoallergenic dogs, Am J Rhinol Allergy. 2011 Jul-Aug;25(4): 252-256).
- Washing the dog reduces dog allergen levels, but the dog needs to be washed twice a week. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 1999 Apr;103(4):581-5.