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What causes pet allergies?
Allergic reactions are triggered by all kinds of molecules, particularly proteins, which are called "allergens." All dogs have allergens in their skin, saliva, and urine. No matter how long or short their hair, or what type of breed they are, no dog is truly hypoallergenic.
Hair Length Not the Issue
Skin dander is a common allergen. This attaches to pet hair, and it's the shed hair that we think transfers pet allergens to people. But the length of hair isn't the issue. Dogs with long hair aren't more likely to cause an allergic reaction than dogs with short hair. But some dogs, such as the Portuguese water dog, shed less hair than other breeds. Less shedding may mean fewer allergies. Also, some people are more sensitive to allergens than others.
Which dogs Shed the Least?
The American Kennel Club lists several breeds that have "non-shedding coats." They shed a bit, but unlike many other dogs, they don't shed an undercoat so they tend to give off less dander. The AKC list: Bedlington terrier, bichon frise, Chinese crested, Irish water spaniel, Kerry blue terrier, Maltese, poodle, Portuguese water dog (shown here), schnauzer, soft-coated Wheaten terrier, and xoloitzcuintli (Mexican hairless dog).
Some specific mixes, called designer dogs, are very popular. One example is the labradoodle. This Labrador/poodle mix is said to be a low-dander dog, although the AKC warns that there's no guarantee these dogs will have poodle-like coats.
Individuals vs. Breeds
When it comes to being allergenic, a dog's individual features matter more than its breed. For example, dogs with dandruff give off more allergens. Breeds more likely to have hereditary dandruff problems include cocker spaniels, springer spaniels, basset hounds, West Highland white terriers, dachshunds, Labrador and golden retrievers (shown here), and German shepherds.
Dust Mites in Dog Domains
If you're sneezing, it may not be the dog. Dust mites -- a major allergen for people -- thrive in places where your dog spends the most time. It's a good idea to replace dog beds that are over a year old, especially if your house doesn't have central air or if the dog bed is in the basement.
No Hypoallergenic Cats
Cat saliva carries strong allergens. As with dogs, hair length isn't the issue. Some cat breeds -- Siberian and Russian blue cats -- are believed to be less allergenic. But there's no such thing as a cat that can't cause an allergic response in a person prone to allergies.
Dog Allergy Symptoms
If you're allergic to dogs, your symptoms are similar to most allergies:
- Coughing and wheezing
- Red, itchy eyes
- Runny, itchy stuffy nose
- Skin reactions
Skin or blood tests called RAST (radioallergosorbent test) may help narrow down the cause of your allergies. It’s good to test because you may be allergic to pollen or mold on the dog and not the dog itself. Even then, the test may not be conclusive.
5 Ways to Cut Pet Allergy
Even when someone in the house is allergic, about 25% of families keep their pet. If Fluffy or Fido makes you sneeze, you might:
- Keep pets out of bedrooms
- Play with pets outdoors
- Wash your hands after touching the pet
- Wash your dog at least weekly
- Get rid of carpets and rugs
How to Get a New Pet
It's a good idea to see how your child reacts to the kind of pet you're thinking of getting. Take your children to visit a home that has that kind of pet and let them play with it, although it's no guarantee that allergies won't develop. If you know your child is allergic but are committed to getting a pet, limit the child's time with the pet at first, and watch for reactions.
Goodbye May Be Best
Allergies and asthma are not a small problem. If your child has a serious pet allergy, often the only solution is to find the pet a new home. Even then, it may take six months or more to completely clear your home of pet allergens.
The Allergy-Safe Pet
If you or someone in your family is among the 10% of people allergic to dogs, consider getting a pet that has no fur or feathers. Try a turtle, hermit crab, fish, or snake. Know that these pets also carry health risks. Exotic pets may carry salmonella or other diseases, and pet turtles have been linked to recent salmonella outbreaks.
More Reading on Allergies