Dogs and Allergies in People: How to minimise the impact
There is no doubt that some people can be particularly sensitive to things in their environment and develop allergies, often referred to as ‘hay fever’. Dogs can sometimes trigger allergies in some people, but is owning a dog definitely out of the question for people or children with allergies? Not necessarily.
This article aims to provide some information about how it may still be possible to bring a puppy into your home, despite having numerous allergy issues.
Hypoallergenic dog breeds: do they exist?
Despite some claims describing certain breeds to be allergen-free, unfortunately, there are no true ‘hypoallergenic’ dog breeds1. Dog allergens come from the saliva, skin dander and hair of all dogs2,3,4.
People prone to getting reactions to dog allergens may be better off choosing a dog breed with a continually growing coat, such as a Poodle, Bichon Frise or Samoyed.
This is because dogs that are low shedding breeds, lose less hair and skin dander into their environment, which may reduce exposure to these allergens5.
How do I reduce my family’s exposure to dog allergens?
The best way to reduce a susceptible person’s exposure to dog allergens is to manage the environment within the family home:
- Frequent bathing reduces the amount of loose hair, saliva and skin dander that your dog is carrying on their bodies. Use a gentle dog shampoo up to twice weekly that is pH neutral that moisturises the skin well. If your dog’s skin or coat changes or becomes dry, be sure to explore other options with your vet or pet health care advisor.
- Clipping the hair short does not help as all the allergens are within the saliva and apocrine sweat glands located at the base of the hair
- Remove carpet and rugs to avoid harbouring dog allergens and choose floorboards instead
- Vacuuming and frequent dusting around the family home
- Regularly change the air filters of the air conditioning units
- Wash dog bedding frequently
- Do not allow your dog to sleep on the bed of the allergy-susceptible family member and restrict access to the same sofa
- Practice regular hand washing after pet handling
- Use of air purifiers
What should I do if a family member is allergic to the dog?
In severe cases, despite following the guidelines above to reduce your family’s exposure to canine allergens, sometimes a family member will still be impacted by allergies. In these cases, I would recommend discussing the issue with your doctor, who may be able to provide more information or a referral to see an immunologist or allergy specialist. The specialist can then determine whether immunotherapy may be worthwhile.
For children with uncontrolled asthma, then having a dog in the household may not be worth the risk6, at least until the asthma is well-controlled or your child receives a clearance from your doctor to say it is safe to do so.
Remember, the cause of allergy symptoms in people are often multi-factorial rather than from just one source, so removing the dog from the household may not always work to alleviate the allergies.
The good news is that it is often possible to control our exposure to canine-derived allergens in allergy-prone people, despite owning a dog. This is best done through managing both the environment in which we live in, as well as the way we interact with our dog. Your choice of dog breed can also minimise the impact these allergens have on a dog allergic individual’s health.
1. Lockey R. The myth of hypoallergenic dogs (and cats). J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2012 Oct;130:910-1
2. Van Hage M, Polovic N, Wadén K, Binnmyr J, Hamsten C, Grönneberg R, Palmberg C, Milcic-Matic N, Bergman T, Grönlund H. Diversity of allergens contained in dog saliva. Allergy. 2013;68:1485-6.
3. Polovic N, Wadén K, Binnmyr J, Hamsten C, Grönneberg R, Palmberg C, Milcic-Matic N, Bergman T, Grönlund H, van Hage M. Dog saliva – an important source of dog allergens. Allergy. 2013;68:585-92.
4. Konieczny A, Morgenstern J, Bizinkauskas C, Lilley C, Brauer A, Bond J, Aalberse R, Wallner B, Kasaian M. The major dog allergens, Canf1 and Canf2, are salivary lipocalin proteins: cloning and immunological characterisation of the recombinant forms. Immunol. 1997;92:577-86.
5. Vredegoor D, Willemse T, Chapman M, Heederik D, Krop E. Dog allergen levels in homes with hypoallergenic compared with non-hypoallergenic dogs. Am. J. Rhinol. Allergy. 2011;25:252
6. Morris D. Human allergy to environmental pet danders: a public health perspective. Vet Dermatol. 2010;21:441-9.
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