“I love dogs, but I could never have my own because I’m allergic.” Does this sound like something you might say? You’re not alone: three in ten Americans suffer from pet allergies.
The good news is, you can still live a happy life with your four-legged friend even if you’re allergic. In fact, certain breeds, including the beloved poodle, are better suited to dog owners with allergies.
Are poodles hypoallergenic? Kind of — technically, there’s no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog. However, poodles don’t shed their fur, so their dandruff is less likely to trigger an allergic reaction.
It’s not just dog dandruff which can irritate your allergies, though. Read on to find out why people are allergic to dogs, what makes certain breeds less allergenic, and how to minimize your risk of allergic reaction.
Why are people allergic to dogs?
Most people who claim to be allergic to dogs are actually allergic to proteins present in canine saliva, urine, or dandruff.
Contrary to popular belief, dog hair itself isn’t an allergen. The dandruff and saliva particles present in the fur are responsible for triggering the allergic reaction.
Petting or otherwise interacting with a dog can cause an allergic reaction in people who are sensitive to certain allergens. Airborne particles can also cause breathing problems.
People with allergies to dogs may exhibit the following symptoms:
- Bloodshot, swollen, or watery eyes
- Nasal congestion
- Red, itchy skin
- Difficulty breathing
Fortunately, allergic reactions to dogs aren’t usually serious or life-threatening. Breathing problems and skin rashes are typically the most severe symptoms.
What makes a dog hypoallergenic?
As I’ve already mentioned, there’s no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog. Some cat breeds have developed a genetic mutation which eliminates the protein that triggers allergies. However, no such mutation exists in dogs.
Certain dog breeds which don’t shed (or don’t shed as much as other breeds) may be better for people who have allergies.
The key word here is “may”. Less allergenic dogs can still cause an allergic reaction. Even hairless dogs can irritate allergies through particles present on their skin.
Additionally, if a so-called “hypoallergenic” dog mates with an allergenic dog, their offspring will be less allergenic compared to the parent breed.
This is all according to veterinarian and spokeswoman for the American Veterinarian Association, Bernadine Cruz, who featured in an interview with Scientific American.
Conversely, a recent study conducted by Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit found that so-called “hypoallergenic” dogs produce the same amount of allergens as other breeds.
The study surveyed dust particles taken from 173 homes, specifically the bedrooms of newborn babies. The sample size was quite small, so the findings aren’t exactly definitive.
A separate study found that infants less than a year old living in homes alongside dogs have a lower risk of developing pet allergies when they get older. The study also found that exposure to allergens strengthens the immune system.
So what does all this mean? Well, in the end, the severity of an allergic reaction will depend on the person’s sensitivity level. For those whose pet allergies are a minor inconvenience, most veterinarians recommend choosing a dog that doesn’t shed much (or at all).
Are poodles hypoallergenic?
The standard poodle is one of the most beloved dog breeds in the world.
Their easily recognizable curly coat makes them a popular choice for canine competitions. They also don’t shed their fur and produce less dandruff as a result.
Generally speaking, this seems to suggest that poodles are a good choice for people with allergies. However, it all comes down to individual sensitivity.
Certain people with allergies may get along well with poodles, while others may not. Still, the poodle is included on the American Kennel Club’s list of recommended dog breeds for owners with allergies.
How to care for your poodle’s coat
To minimize exposure to allergens (and to keep your pet happy and healthy), you’ll need to groom your poodle regularly.
Because a poodle’s coat is dense, curly, and tangles easily, it’s best to consult a professional, particularly if you’re not confident about grooming them at home.
If you decide to maintain your poodle’s coat yourself, here are the tools you’ll need to keep them clean and content:
- Pin brush
- Slicker brush
For the best results, brush your poodle daily to remove mats, tangles, and dead hair. You should perform a thorough grooming session every three to six weeks. Bathe and shampoo your poodle and clip their nails.
How to minimize the risk of an allergic reaction
It is possible to still own a dog even if you have allergies. (Although, if you suffer from more severe symptoms like breathing problems and skin irritation, it’s probably best to avoid pet ownership altogether.)
Here are some tips for minimizing your risk of exposure to allergens and soothing your symptoms.
Wash your hands and change your clothes.
If you don’t own a dog but know someone who does, be sure to wash your hands after petting or playing with the dog. Allergens can also become trapped in your clothes, so be sure to change after returning home.
Choose bare hardwood floors over carpet.
Carpet fibers trap allergens, making them nearly impossible to eliminate. If you do have carpeted floors, be sure to deep clean them often using a steam treatment. Wash rugs in hot water as well.
Opt for blinds over curtains.
Pet allergens stick to practically everything, particularly clothing and similar fibers. It’s best to eliminate such fibers where possible. Start by swapping your curtains for window blinds.
Optimize your air vents.
Allergens spread quickly in houses with central air and heating systems. Cover your vents with an additional (but breathable) filter, such as cheesecloth.
For extra protection, you can even purchase allergy filters for central air and heating systems which automatically filter out pet allergens.
Brush your dog outdoors.
Taking your dog to a professional groomer is always the best option if you have allergies. However, if you do decide to brush your dog at home, head outdoors to minimize the spread of dandruff.
You may want to wear a mask while brushing if the allergen causes breathing problems.
Don’t let your dog in the bedroom.
It can be tempting to let your dog sleep in your bedroom even if you have allergies. After all, we want to include our pets in all aspects of our lives. If your allergies are intolerable, though, it’s best to keep your bedroom door closed and off-limits to your dog at all times.
Wear a mask while vacuuming.
Vacuum cleaners stir up all sorts of particles, including dust and allergens that may irritate your symptoms. Wear a breathing mask while vacuuming.
Speaking of vacuum cleaners, vacuums equipped with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters are especially useful for cleaning homes with allergens.
How to treat more severe symptoms of pet allergies
For some pet owners, thorough cleaning sessions and other preventive measures may not be enough to alleviate the symptoms. Indeed, allergens can linger in the home even after the dog is no longer around.
If your symptoms include breathing problems or skin rashes, consult your doctor. Over-the-counter medications may help soothe symptoms, but in some cases, a prescription may be required. Your doctor will be able to advise you on other treatments specific to your needs.
How do I know if I’m allergic to dogs? Symptoms are typically onset, so most people know immediately if they’re allergic. However, if you want to confirm the allergy, visit your doctor. They’ll conduct a physical exam, assess your medical history, and may even run some blood or skin tests to identify the specific allergen.
What other dog breeds are best for people with allergies? Surprisingly, dozens of dog breeds are generally considered less allergenic compared to other breeds. A few of these include the Giant Schnauzer, the Shih Tzu, and the Yorkshire Terrier. You can find a full list of less allergenic breeds on the American Kennel Club website.
How do I choose the right dog for my allergies? One of the best ways to determine if a dog is a good match is to actually interact with them. While some dogs are generally good for those with allergies, every individual has different sensitivities. For example, someone with pet allergies might get along well with a Yorkshire Terrier but start sneezing around a poodle.
The bottom line
To recap, those who suffer from pet allergies need not abandon hope. It’s certainly possible to own a dog if you have allergies, but it will require a lot of work and your part.
There’s no such thing as a truly hypoallergenic dog, although some breeds are generally considered better for people with allergies. Poodles require regular grooming and don’t shed, so they’re usually a good choice for most people with pet allergies.
However, if you decide to own a dog despite your allergies, know this isn’t a decision to be taken lightly. Purchasing a dog only to give them away shortly after due to allergies is unfair for the dog and may cause them mental distress. Make sure you can commit to caring for your dog for the duration of their life. If you’re willing to put in the work, you and your dog will live a long, happy life together (even if they do make you sneeze every now and again).