Dealing with Dog Allergies

If you or a family member are among the 15 percent of Americans who suffer from pet-related allergies, here are strategies for reducing the potential for a reaction.


Some people develop an immune reaction to a certain protein produced in the sebaceous glands of a dog's skin. This allergen is found in a dog's dander -- the minute scales of dead skin that dogs are constantly shedding. Allergens are also present in a dog's saliva and urine and are deposited on her fur when she licks herself. When the fur dries, the microscopic particles flake off and become airborne, making it easy for them to get into your nose (and lungs).

Dog allergens are very sticky, adhering to clothing, furnishings, and walls. The allergens can also stay in the air for hours and remain potent for weeks.

If you are experiencing allergic symptoms like wheezing, sneezing, or rashes, consult an allergist. There are many types of allergies, and yours may not be pet-related. If you turn out to be allergic to dogs, your allergist can design an appropriate regimen of medications, alternative therapies, or allergy shots to alleviate much of your suffering.

Coping Tips

Though there is no cure for allergies, you can make life a lot more pleasant by adhering to these simple guidelines.

  • Wash your hands immediately after you pet your dog. Try to keep your hands away from your face, particularly your eyes, until you can wash up. Depending on the severity of your allergy and the frequency of your contact with your dog, you may want to shower and change your clothing several times during the day.
  • Have your dog brushed regularly; daily would be ideal. A nonallergic family member can be responsible for daily grooming (outdoors) or you can take your dog to a professional groomer.
  • Bathe your dog frequently. Veterinarian Duane Schnittker of the Brentwood Veterinary Hospital in Brentwood, California suggests that you use a hypoallergenic or oatmeal-based dog shampoo once a week. Take your dog to a groomer or have a nonallergic family member take care of bathing. Wash your dog's bedding and toys weekly, too.
  • Feed your dog a well-balanced diet that includes some natural fat. Fat will make his skin less dry so there will be less shedding.
  • Keep your dog out of your bedroom and off your bed at all times. Cover your mattresses, box springs, and pillows with zippered, plastic, allergyproof cases. Purchase pillows and mattresses with nonallergenic polyester filling.
  • Avoid heavy carpets, curtains, or upholstered furniture that attract the sticky little allergens. If you do have carpeting, have it steam-cleaned several times a year. Wash walls, floors, and baseboards regularly. (How often depends on the severity of your allergies and on your dog.)
  • Use a room air purifier containing a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter. This will remove some of the dander in the air.
  • Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filtration system. This helps pick up more of the dander from your floors, and traps it.
  • Replace central heating/cooling system air filters and humidifier filters frequently. Make sure vent and furnace filters are efficient.
  • Open windows and doors as much as possible and use exhaust fans to keep your home well-ventilated.
  • Keep dust to a minimum. Wipe surfaces often with a damp cloth and vacuum instead of sweeping (it stirs up less dust). Store books in glass-enclosed shelving. Wear a dust mask while cleaning.
  • Don't smoke. Smoking lowers your tolerance to allergens and aggravates your already-sensitive lungs.
Better Breeds for Allergy Sufferers

All dogs produce dander so there are no "hypoallergenic" breeds. Some breeds shed their skin every three or four days and others every 21 days. The dogs that shed less frequently produce less dander. Breeds that have a single-layer coat usually produce less dander than double-coated dogs. Here is a list of breeds that may produce less dander.

  • Airedale
  • Basenji
  • Bedlington terrier
  • Bichon frise
  • Chinese crested
  • Irish water spaniel
  • Italian greyhound
  • Kerry blue terrier
  • Maltese
  • Poodle
  • Portuguese water dog
  • Schnauzers
  • Shih tzu
  • Soft-coated Wheaten terrier
  • Tibetan terrier
  • Wire-haired fox terrier
  • Xoloitzcuintli (Mexican hairless)
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