The Myth of Hypoallergenic Dog Breeds

The United States has the highest number of household pets compared to other countries, with over 60% of all families keeping one or more domesticated animals (such as a dog or cat) inside the home. As the number of homes with indoor dogs and/or cats has increased over the past 60 years—before which animals were mainly kept outdoors because they were considered “dirty”—so has the rate of allergic diseases. Allergy to dogs is also common, affecting up to 20% of the population in Western countries. Allergic symptoms related to dog exposure include asthma, allergic rhinitis, and urticaria. In an attempt to reduce these symptoms, people with pet allergies who want to own a dog have sought out so-called “hypoallergenic” breeds in an attempt to reduce or eliminate allergic symptoms.

Dog on woman's shoulder
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The Concept of Hypoallergenic Dog Breeds

The major dog allergen, Can f 1, is responsible for allergies in most people who are allergic to dogs. Hypoallergenic breeds of dogs were promoted because it was thought they would produce lower concentrations of Can f 1, and therefore cause less (or even no) allergic symptoms in people with a dog allergy. Examples of dog breeds that have previously been labeled as hypoallergenic include Poodles, Labradoodles, and Yorkshire terriers. There is no scientific proof these breeds truly produce lower amounts of Can f 1; these dogs were simply labeled as hypoallergenic because of the false assumption that dog breeds that do not shed hair must release less allergen.

Hypoallergenic Breeds of Dogs: Do They Exist?

A 2012 study by researchers in the Netherlands and Virginia sought to determine if hypoallergenic breeds of dogs actually produce less Can f 1. Homes with "hypoallergenic" breeds of dogs, including Poodles, Labradoodles, Spanish Water Dogs, and Airedale Terriers, were studied and compared to homes with "non-hypoallergenic" dogs, including Labrador Retrievers and various mixed-breed dogs. Hair and coat samples were taken from the dogs, and settled and airborne dust samples were taken from the homes and analyzed for Can f 1 concentrations.

Surprisingly, the amount of Can f 1 found in hair and coat samples was actually highest in the "hypoallergenic" breeds of dogs, with Poodles having the highest amount of the dog allergen, and Labrador Retrievers having the lowest amount. These differences did not appear to be related to gender, age, spay/neuter status or frequency of bathing or swimming—although recent swimming (but not bathing) did significantly reduce the amount of dog allergen collected for all types of dog breeds.

When comparing floor and airborne dust samples from the homes of the dogs, researchers found that homes with Labradoodles had lower amounts of Can f 1 from floor dust samples when compared to all other breeds of dogs. This difference could not be explained by spay/neuter status, age, gender, bathing frequency, house cleaning frequency, or type of floor covering. However, homes with carpeting had higher levels of Can f 1 in general in the floor dust samples compared to homes with hard floor surfaces, regardless of dog breed. There was no difference in the amount of airborne Can f 1 in homes with "hypoallergenic" versus "non-hypoallergenic" breeds of dogs.

What's a Dog Lover to Do?

It appears that the concept of a hypoallergenic dog is actually a myth, built on the false premise that if so-called hypoallergenic breeds do not shed hair, they must therefore shed less allergen. There's never been a study to confirm this assumption, but there are now at least a couple of studies that show no significant differences in the major dog allergen (Can f 1) in homes with dog breeds previously thought to be hypoallergenic compared to breeds of dogs thought to be non-hypoallergenic.

So what’s a dog lover with a dog allergy to do? For people with an allergy to dogs, picking a "hypoallergenic" breed is not thought to be useful. Instead, talk with your allergist about other ways to control your symptoms. Some patients with significant dog allergy will be able to reduce or eliminate their allergy with allergen immunotherapy (allergy shots).

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