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man suffering from dog allergy

Do Hypoallergenic Dogs Really Exist? Or Are They a Myth?

Allergies to dogs are common, and many believe certain breeds are hypoallergenic. We look at whether this is true, and how to manage dog allergies.

It can be very difficult to cope with being allergic to dogs, especially if you love animals and want to have a pet. In some cases, those of us allergic to dogs and cats choose to adopt pets regardless of our discomfort.

As someone who deals with allergies and asthma triggered by certain animals, I totally understand the desire to have a pet who will not exacerbate that discomfort. Unfortunately, sometimes the best way to lessen allergies is by staying away from potentially allergy-inducing animals.

If you struggle with pet allergies but really want a dog, you may be wondering, “Do hypoallergenic dog breeds really exist?” 

Although it is not possible for dogs to be completely non-allergenic, some people may find their allergen sensitivities less triggered by certain dogs. For those who have a dog to whom they are allergic, there are steps that can be taken to decrease allergens.

Let’s examine allergies to dogs, what causes them, how to manage dog allergies, and whether hypoallergenic dogs actually exist.

What Makes People Allergic to Dogs?

Canis familiaris (“Can f”) allergens are the primary irritants that cause allergy responses in humans and are present in dog dander, fur, and saliva. When people are allergic to dogs, they may experience symptoms such as coughing, difficulty breathing, itchy eyes, a runny nose, and sneezing. 

There are seven Can f allergens known to cause irritation; humans may be allergic to none, one, or multiple of these. Can f 5 is found in intact male dogs, meaning that people affected by only this specific allergen would not have the same allergic response to a female dog or a neutered male dog.

Can f 1 is present in all homes with dogs (and a third of homes without dogs) and is exclusively responsible for about half of all dog allergy cases in humans. 

The seven Can f allergens that can affect people each come from different sources in a dog, including dander, saliva, skin, serum, and urine. Some humans are immune to all these proteins and show no reaction to them. Others are not immune to some, and they experience allergic reactions when exposed to them.

So, as you can see, attributing the specific cause of allergies to dogs is complicated and not as simple as just “being allergic to dogs.” 

In some cases, people may think they are allergic to dogs when they are actually allergic to other allergens that dogs can carry, such as pollen picked up from plants and grasses while playing outdoors. For this reason, it can be useful to be tested for allergies if you are unsure whether or not you are allergic to your dog.

woman sneezing from dog allergies

What is Dander?

Dander is material shed from the dog’s skin and includes the Can f proteins. Humans shed dander as well; we call it dandruff when it is large and visible as flakes.

People are not allergic to a dog’s fur, but rather the dander a dog produces that gets stuck in their fur.

Dander is microscopic and easily transferred through the air and from surface contact. It sticks to carpeting, furniture, clothing, etc., and can spread throughout the home.

Why Are Some Dogs Considered Hypoallergenic?

Certain dog breeds are marketed as hypoallergenic because they do not shed as heavily as other dogs. The thought is that because many dog allergens are found in the dander in fur, minimally shedding or non-shedding dogs will produce fewer symptoms in allergic humans.

Although it may be true that these dogs shed less fur, they can still trigger allergy symptoms—in fact, one 2012 study found higher Can f 1 allergen levels in the coats of supposedly hypoallergenic dogs than non-hypoallergenic dogs. Dander and saliva can still transmit allergens, too, even if the dog does not shed much. 

Some of the dog breeds referred to as hypoallergenic include the Afghan Hound, Bichon Frise, Chinese Crested, Maltese, Poodle (including hybrid-breed dogs, such as the Goldendoodle), and Yorkshire Terrier. While these dogs may not shed as much as other dogs, that does not mean people with allergies are automatically safe around them. 

labradoodle considered a hypoallergenic dog

Some Dogs May Be Worse Triggers for Allergies

Considering how common allergies and asthma are, it is not surprising that some dogs are marketed as hypoallergenic. However, if breeders or other sources claim that hypoallergenic dogs will not aggravate preexisting allergies, then this is a form of false advertising because no dog is truly allergen free. 

What is true is that there are different types of canine allergens, meaning that some people may be allergic to one dog while not allergic to another. 

Even if a particular dog is marketed as a hypoallergenic breed, you may still have an allergic reaction. For this reason, it is important for someone with a dog allergy to spend time with a potential pet before choosing to adopt them. 

How to Manage Being Allergic to Your Dog

If you do live in a house with a dog to whom you are allergic—whether hypoallergenic or not—there are some things you can do to alleviate allergy symptoms, manage the environment, and decrease allergens. 

Establish Regular Grooming Routines for Your Dog

Because fur and dander are big contributors to allergic reactions to dogs, owners can decrease irritants by establishing regular grooming and brushing routines.

In some cases, dogs who are not groomed or bathed often enough develop skin problems that lead to excessive shedding. While this may be corrected with regular grooming, it may also be worthwhile to find out whether your dog has their own skin allergies. 

If your dog is regularly scratching or losing lots of fur, make sure to check them for scabs or parasites like ticks or fleas. Certain natural remedies such as coconut oil may also help strengthen dogs’ coats, leading to less shedding. 

You may even find it useful to brush your dog some before they come inside after outdoor playtime. Because many people are sensitive to pollen and grasses, it is a good idea to try to reduce the presence of these irritants on your dog. 

Change into Other Clothes After Playtime

This may sound like a no-brainer, but one way to decrease extended exposure to canine allergens is by changing your clothes after you play with your dog. Even if you play with your dog at a distance, it is still possible for dog fur and its attached dander kicked up into the air to get stuck on your clothes. 

Additionally, because dogs’ saliva can contain allergens, picking up a ball or toy and throwing it can lead to an allergic reaction if you then touch your face with the same hand. For this reason—especially if you have very severe asthma or allergies—you may also want to consider wearing a mask during playtime with your dog.

If you find yourself congested after playtime even after changing your clothes, you may also need to shower to rid yourself of dog hair or dander that is stuck to your skin. At a minimum, make sure to thoroughly wash your hands and try to keep them away from your mouth, nose, and eyes. 

Keep at Least One Dog-Free Space in Your Home

Although it can sometimes be difficult to extricate ourselves from our beloved pets, if you deal with allergic sensitivity to your dog, you may find it useful to keep an area of your house dog-free. Even though it is still very likely that dog allergens will find their way into the dog-free room, you may find it a bit easier to keep that space cleaner without your dog in it. 

Keeping your dog out of your bedroom at night is one major way to help fight night and morning congestion. If your dog is crate trained, consider keeping the crate in a room other than the bedroom, too. 

Even if your dog is not sleeping on the bed, allergens present in their fur are very likely to be present on the ground and in the air in the room if they are there. Because of this, it is a good idea to encourage your dog to sleep elsewhere at night.

woman wipes nose next to pug that is not considered a hypoallergenic dog

Remember that Carpet Traps More Allergens than Wood, Tile, Laminate, Vinyl, or Linoleum Flooring 

As traps for allergens, dust, and dirt, carpets can be a source of respiratory irritation for allergy sufferers. If your house has carpet, it is important to regularly vacuum it to reduce canine allergens. It is best to use a vacuum with a HEPA filter, or one made to target pet hair. Additionally, make sure you regularly vacuum or launder dog blankets and beds. 

Non-carpet flooring including hardwood, laminate, linoleum, tile, and vinyl can still accumulate dust, dander, and hair. However, compared to carpets, cleaning these types of flooring is usually simpler and can be done thoroughly with less effort. 

As previously mentioned, it may be a good idea to keep some rooms off-limits to your dog. If your house has rooms with and without carpet, you might want to consider making the carpeted rooms dog-free zones to decrease the amount of pet allergens present in your carpet. 

Consider Purchasing an Air Purifier

Air purifiers can also help reduce pet-produced allergens inside your home. These machines may be especially useful for individuals who cannot regularly leave windows open due to pollen allergies or inclement weather. 

Some air purifiers are intended for larger spaces (e.g., the living room), while others are more suitable for small spaces (e.g., bedroom or office). 

It is worth noting that air purifiers include filters that need to be regularly changed, though the lifespan of the filter will differ depending on the make of the air purifier. Because this is a recurring cost, you may want to look for an air purifier with filters that last longer (for instance, one recommending a change every 6-8 months rather than every 3-6 months). 

Talk to Your Doctor About Allergy Relief Through Medication

Depending on the severity of your allergies or asthma, the best option for dealing with your dog allergies may be to talk to your doctor about asthma- or allergy-relieving medication. 

Some medications are intended for daily use, while others may be used on an as-needed basis. Your doctor will consider your medical history, allergies, and concerns and will be able to direct you on which would be the best fit for you.

Over-the-counter medications may also be a good option for allergy relief. Though this can be a good place to start, know that some medications are not intended for long-term use or may have uncomfortable side effects such as skin or eye dryness. 

As difficult as it may be, for some people with very severe asthma or allergies, having a dog may not be a good decision. By consulting with your doctor, you can find out if your symptoms can be appropriately managed so that you can comfortably have a pet without risking your health.

So, while some of the claims about hypoallergenic dog breeds are overblown, it is true that some dogs may be less triggering to allergies than others. If you are considering adopting a dog, make sure you spend adequate time with them before adding them to your family. 

Final Thoughts 

Though you may have an allergic reaction to one dog, this does not necessarily mean you cannot have a dog at all—you may just need to consider a different pooch.  

If you currently have a dog to whom you are allergic, there are steps you can take to decrease your allergies, including making dog-free spaces in your home, keeping your home and your dog clean, and looking into allergy medications.


Can Non-Shedding Breeds Cause Allergies?

Yes. Some dogs don’t shed at all (or very little). But they still produce dander — it’s just not as mobile. You can still be allergic to it and show a reaction.

Does Exposing a Newborn Baby to a Dog Cause Allergies?

This is an old wive’s tale that is not true. If anything, exposing an infant or young child to a dog may possibly help them develop a resistance to allergy, although there is no certainty of this and many other factors would contribute as well.

Do Dog-Related Allergies Go Away Over Time?

There’s no way to tell if or how an allergy will change over time. Some people develop allergies later in life, while others have allergies that diminish in effect. Our bodies are constantly changing, but there is no way to predict just how that will affect our allergies.

How Long Does it Take for Dog Allergy Symptoms to Start?

People can have allergy reactions within a few minutes of contact with the allergens from dogs. For others, it may slowly build up over the course of hours. Much depends on the exposure concentration of the specific allergen and an individual’s level of sensitivity. But allergy reactions to dogs can occur very rapidly when exposed.

Chelsea Dickan

Chelsea Dickan

Chelsea Dickan is a long-time advocate for animals, especially those that bark or meow. When she isn't writing, she enjoys reading and watching scary movies in which the dog doesn't die.