Ask the Allergist - Hypoallergenic Dogs?
Q: Are there any breeds or types of dogs that won’t trigger allergies in dog-allergic people?
A: The reason some people are allergic to dogs is because their immune system reacts to specific proteins (“allergens”) in the dog’s dander, saliva and fur. Not all dog-allergic people react to the same dog allergens, and not all dogs produce or shed the same amount of all dog allergens. So it is theoretically possible that some dogs could be better tolerated than others.
In the past, some have thought that breeds known to shed less fur ought to shed fewer allergens. These so-called "hypoallergenic" dog breeds include as Samoyeds, Portuguese water dogs, Afghan hound poodles, Airedale terriers and Malteses. However, homes containing these theoretically less allergenic breeds may have the same dog allergen contain as houses where fuzzier breeds curl up at the foot of the bed, according to a recent study of residences around Detroit, Michigan. The researchers from the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit in conjunction with the Georgia Health Sciences University examined the content of homes for the common dog allergen Canis familiaris 1 (Can f 1) and found detectable levels in 94% of the 173 homes they tested. In fact, the levels of common dog allergen, Can f 1, were not statistically different between houses inhabited by "hypoallergenic dogs" and those harboring other breeds!1
Thus, while it appears there are differences in the amount of allergen shed by individual dogs, there are no clear and consistent differences between breeds, even those that shed less fur or are thought to be less allergenic. So there is no guarantee that picking a dog of a particular breed is a good way to reduce the amount of allergen in your home or to avoid symptoms.
Perhaps someday we will be able to routinely determine which allergens an individual person reacts to, and measure the levels of those allergens shed by individual dogs. Perhaps choosing a pet based on this strategy would lead to fewer symptoms. For now, that strategy is unproven and those tests are not readily available. And there is no guarantee that, over time, you won’t develop an allergy to one of the other dog allergens, or that the dog won’t produce higher levels of those allergens later in its life.
In the meanwhile, your allergist is able to evaluate your dog-related symptoms and prescribe the best medicines to prevent or treat those symptoms. In addition, allergen immunotherapy (“allergy shots”) can expose you to dog allergens in such a way that you actually become less allergic to dogs over time. Unfortunately, for some people, the best medical advice is to avoid exposure to dogs that cause or exacerbate your symptoms. Don’t be looking for love in all the wrong places!
1 Nicholas et al, "Dog allergen levels in homes with hypoallergenic compared with nonhypoallergenic dogs", American Journal of Rhinology & Allergy. 2011;25(4):252-6.