Who could resist falling in love with a dog? Once you see those eager-to-please eyes, get one of those wet kisses across your face, and experience that unique canine joie de vivre, you're hooked. Your life is changed for the better and you simply have to let a dog into your life.
But what happens if you're one of the 10% of Americans who are allergic to dogs? Does that mean you'll have to live a dogless life? Perhaps not. Help may come in the form of a tail-wagging "hypoallergenic" dog.
What are "hypoallergenic" dogs?
Dogs do so many amazing things, is it possible that they can also manage to be hypoallergenic, too? The answer is both "yes" and "no." Some breeds (see below) are seen as being a safer bet for people who are allergic to dogs—but no dog can be truly deemed 100% safe for people who are ultra-sensitive to certain allergens.
What are the allergens associated with dogs?
If you're allergic to dogs, you've probably heard this a million times: "You're reacting to the dog's dander." (Dander, by the way, can be thought of as the canine equivalent of human dandruff: dried skin that flakes off.)
While it's true that dander is a major allergen associated with dogs, it's not the only substance on the "Make You Itch, Make You Sneeze, Make Your Eyes Water List." In addition to dander, some people are allergic to proteins in a dog's saliva and skin. That's why a scratch or lick from a loving dog can sometimes cause an allergic reaction at the site of contact. There are also people who are allergic to dog urine—so if a pooch has been marking his turf indoors, they could have an adverse reaction.
What breeds are considered "hypoallergenic"?
If you suffer from a dog allergy but are determined to become a dog owner, the American Kennel Club says that these are the breeds you may want to consider:
Irish Water Spaniel
Kerry Blue Terrier
Poodles (Toy, Miniature, and Standard)
Portuguese Water Dog
Schnauzers (Miniature, Standard, and Giant)
Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier
What makes those breeds so special? They generally produce less dander than other breeds. However, the amount of dander generated by dogs within a breed can vary greatly. Which means that one Poodle may actually fill the air with more (or less) dander than its littermate. And, as we stated above, no dog is actually 100% allergen free—especially if your system is super sensitive.
What about mutts and "designer" dogs that have a "hypoallergenic" parent? This could be very risky because there's a good chance the dog will not be as "purely hypoallergenic" as a pure breed with a consistent and predictable coat.
Preparing for your "hypoallergenic" dog's arrival
Okay, so you've decided that you want to bring a dog's love into your life even though you may also be bringing allergens into your home. What's the safest way to proceed?
Narrow your search to the breeds listed above.
Determine which breed fits your lifestyle best. For help determining this, read the information in our Breed Gallery.
To help reduce the amount of dander that accumulates in your home, have your dog groomed on a regular basis. Brushing your dog indoors may expel dander into the air, so groom him outdoors or take him to a professional.
Remove or limit the number of carpets and rugs in the house. Dander can accumulate in the pile of a rug.
Keep your home as clean as possible. Vacuum your floors frequently with a high-quality machine that uses a HEPA filter to remove allergens that could become airborne.
Consider using a room or whole-house air filter.
Consult with your personal physician about medication you can take to help alleviate your allergy symptoms.
Some dog owners claim that, over time, their allergic reaction eased or completely disappeared as their system "got used to" their pet. Though that may be true for them, it isn't something that you can count on happening to you. So play it safe and follow the guidelines listed above.