Hypoallergenic pets — is that really a thing?

Hypoallergenic has been defined as “designed to reduce or minimize the possibility of an allergic response; as by containing relatively few or no potentially irritating substances.” In some products, like fragrances or make up, this label is easily understood, but it’s not as easy to comprehend when it comes to animals. Can a dog be truly hypoallergenic? We would venture to say no. Here’s why:

Dr. Mary Morris, Allergychoices Medical Advisor, partner at Allergy Associates of La Crosse and an author of the La Crosse Method™ Protocol, debunks the myth of hypoallergenic animals by looking at what actually makes those who are “allergic to dogs” feel symptoms. Most often, people believe that it’s the animal’s fur that causes issues when it sheds, but Dr. Morris says, “There’s a protein sequence that’s found predominantly in their dander. This flaky skin is the part that has the highest amount of the allergen that people are allergic to. But there also is some of it in their saliva.”

Understanding “hypoallergenic” breeds

Most hypoallergenic dogs are just dogs that shed very little, but, the dog can still produce dander, and it certainly still has saliva. Each animal is unique and therefore there’s no way to guarantee that an animal is hypoallergenic. As Dr. Morris states, “Some dogs may have less, but they don’t have zero.”

If you Google hypoallergenic dog breeds, you will find lists upon lists of dogs that don’t shed: Poodle, Yorkshire Terrier, Shih Tzu, and so on. While these dogs may not shed much, meaning their dander might be less, only certain breeders test the dogs for their allergen level. Dr. Morris says, “There are a few breeders in the country that actually test the dogs and breed them with dogs that also have low production of the antigen. Then they test them when they’re puppies to make sure they actually are low antigen producing.” Dr. Morris says that dogs bred and tested in this way are very expensive and rare to find.

Allergic symptoms

The allergen that causes reactions is very different from animal to animal. “People can be allergic to dog and not cat, horse and not dog; the dander is different,” Dr. Morris explains, “I’ve had one person, who works in a zoo, who was very allergic to house cats but also reacted to the tigers and lions.” While different dander may cause different reactions, there are a set of symptoms that are often seen from animal to animal.

  • Itchy and watery eyes
  • Sneezing or nasal congestion
  • Wheezing, as a trigger of asthma
  • Eczema or atopic dermatitis
  • Hives

“You’ll hear people saying ‘not only do I get itchy eyes and nose, but if a dog licks me, I’ll break out in hives where the dog licked me,’ and that’s because there’s also that antigen in the saliva of the dog,” Dr. Morris explains.

Eliminating reactions

There are many steps those with an allergy to pets can do to welcome, or keep, a pet in their home. Dr. Morris explains that the only way for allergic individuals to feel minimal reactions is through immunotherapy, where the body actually builds tolerance to the allergen.  Many patients have found relief with allergy drops, or sublingual immunotherapy, and find the process to be convenient because the drops can be administered anywhere at any time.

Many patients have found relief with allergy drops, or sublingual immunotherapy, and find the process to be convenient because the drops can be administered anywhere at any time.

Dr. Morris offers up additional suggestions to reduce the amount of the allergen in your home, too.

  • Wash the animal frequently to eliminate the amount of dander on the pet. There are also products that you can spray on the animal’s coat that can decrease the amount of dander that gets into the home.
  • Morris says that she has heard veterinarians talk about giving fish oil to the dog so that they have a healthier coat. It’s wise to discuss this option with your veterinarian.
  • There are also common sense actions you can take, like vacuuming, changing furnace filters, and removing carpet in the home.
  • Restrict the parts of the home the animal goes in. Keeping the animal out of the bedroom can decrease the likelihood of allergic reactions.

These tips will help reduce the allergen level in your home while keeping your furry friends happy. If you’re interested in starting allergy drops to build your body’s tolerance to the allergen, you can find more information here.