Are Hypoallergenic Dog Breeds Better for Pet Allergies?

Up to 20% of the population is allergic to dogs—the most popular household pet in the United States. Dogs have certain proteins in their dander (dead skin), urine, and saliva that trigger allergic reactions in people whose immune systems are sensitive to them. This reaction can cause allergic rhinitis, asthma, hives (urticaria), and other allergy symptoms.

Many people with this allergy who wish to have a dog seek out so-called "hypoallergenic" breeds in an attempt to avoid allergic symptoms. However, some research suggests that hypoallergenic dogs may not truly be hypoallergenic.

This article discusses the science behind hypoallergenic dogs and whether or not they are actually better for people with dog allergies. It also includes tips to consider if you are thinking about getting a dog but are allergic to them.

Woman with runny nose holds her dog

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The Concept of Hypoallergenic Dogs

The major allergen in dogs that triggers allergies is the protein called Canis familiaris 1 (Can f 1). It is produced in a dog's tongue and can stick to other parts that the dog licks.

The concept of hypoallergenic dogs began when some dog breeders marketed certain breeds that shed less as more easily tolerated by people with dog allergies.

Popular dog breeds that have been labeled as hypoallergenic include:

  • Poodles
  • Malteses
  • Afghan hounds
  • Labradoodles
  • Schnauzers

These dogs are commonly marketed as hypoallergenic because they shed little to no fur compared to other breeds. In theory, this would also mean that they would leave behind less dander containing Can f 1 and would therefore trigger fewer allergy symptoms.

Besides Can f 1, some dogs can also produce other allergens, but they are not as common.

What the Science Says

A few studies have been done to determine if non-shedding dog breeds are truly hypoallergenic. Specifically, researchers have tried to answer the following:

  • Do so-called hypoallergenic dogs produce less Can f 1?
  • Does less Can f 1 accumulate in homes with non-shedding dogs?
  • Do hypoallergenic breeds reduce the risk of allergy symptoms?

To answer the first question, researchers in the Netherlands collected fur samples from four hypoallergenic breeds: Labradoodles, poodles, Spanish waterdogs, and Airedale terriers. They also took fur samples from a control group of non-hypoallergenic dogs.

Can f 1 in Dogs' Fur

When Can f 1 levels were tested, researchers found that the hypoallergenic breeds produced significantly higher levels of Can f 1, with the highest levels found in poodles followed by Labradoodles. Furthermore, Can f 1 levels also varied significantly within each breed from one individual dog to the next.

These differences did not appear to be related to gender, age, spay/neuter status, or how frequently the dog bathed or swam.

Dust Samples

These same researchers analyzed dust samples from the homes of hypoallergenic and non-hypoallergenic dogs for Can f 1.

Homes with Labradoodles did have lower concentrations of Can f 1 in the dust samples. But overall, there was no difference in the amount of Can f 1 in homes with hypoallergenic dogs versus homes with non-hypoallergenic dogs.

Homes without rugs had higher dog allergen concentrations in the airborne samples than those homes with rugs. Despite this finding, rugs are not typically recommended for patients with significant indoor allergens.

Childhood Exposure and Risk of Dog Allergies

A 2018 study analyzed the allergy risk of Swedish families with dogs. The study included 23,585 children who grew up with either a hypoallergenic or non-hypoallergenic dog since their first year of life.

Not surprisingly, most children with a hypoallergenic dog had one or more parent with a dog allergy. Children who grew up with a hypoallergenic dog were also significantly more likely to have a dog allergy at age 6, compared to children who grew up with a non-hypoallergenic breed. This may be because these children already had a genetic predisposition toward dog allergy as many of their parents had chosen a "hypoallergenic" dog because of their own dog allergy.

There is no evidence that breeds considered hypoallergenic truly produce fewer allergens than non-hypoallergenic breeds.

Are Hypoallergenic Dogs Worth It?

Despite the evidence, more than 80% of people with dog allergies who own breeds marketed as hypoallergenic claim to have less symptoms around their dogs than they do around non-hypoallergenic breeds.

Nonetheless, scientific evidence does not support the concept of hypoallergenic dogs, although some individual dogs—hypoallergenic or not—may produce less Can f 1 than others.

Keep in mind that no significant difference in Can f 1 accumulation has been found in dust samples between homes where hypoallergenic or non-hypoallergenic dogs live. No amount of cleaning will change that, but not having carpet might help some.

Realistically speaking, the only way to prevent dog allergy symptoms entirely is to not live with a dog in your home.

Options for Managing Dog Allergies

If you are convinced that you must have a dog even though you are allergic to them, you might have some options. Before you make a decision, it's important that you talk to your allergist about how living with a dog might impact your health. The safest option for you depends on the severity of your symptoms.

If you have allergic asthma that interferes with your breathing, your allergist may strongly advise against you getting a dog.

If your allergy symptoms are mild, or you are considering the possibility of a service dog, talk with your allergist about ways to control your symptoms.

Some people who have a dog allergy will be able to reduce or eliminate their allergy with allergen immunotherapy (allergy shots). Steroidal and antihistamine nose sprays and antihistamine pills may be helpful as well.

Even though you won't be able to completely ban animal allergens from your home, you may want to consider keeping your dog away from one "allergy free" space in your home, preferably your bedroom or someplace you like to spend a lot of time.

Summary

Hypoallergenic dogs were initially marketed for people with pet allergies because they shed less and were thought to leave behind less allergens.

There is no scientific evidence to back up these claims, though. In fact, research shows that so-called hypoallergenic breeds may produce equal amounts of allergens, if not more in some cases.

A Word From Verywell

For many people, dogs are more than just pets. They are family, and for hundreds of thousands of people, they provide physical, emotional, and psychological support.

If you can't live without your dog—despite your allergy—you may need to take extra steps to manage your allergic symptoms. Discuss your options with an allergist who understands your commitment to getting a dog and will work with you to keep your symptoms under control.

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