For those of us who are allergic to dogs, it can mean they miss out on the joys of living with a canine companion. It's thought that as many as 10% of the population in the United States is allergic to dogs. For these people, a hypoallergenic dog would be wonderful, but is there really such a thing?
The prefix "hypo" means "less than usual". For example, hypothermia means lower-than-normal temperature and hypoglycemia means lower-than-usual blood glucose. So, hypoallergenic really means a dog is less likely to cause allergic reactions. It doesn't necessarily mean it never causes reactions but it is certainly less likely to trigger a reaction than a normal dog.
This is because there are many parts of a dog that can trigger an allergic reaction. Some people are sensitive to dog fur or to their pet's saliva when they are licked. Many people react to the dander or cells that normally slough from a dog's skin, and all dogs, even the supposed hypoallergenic breeds, shed dander. It's possible for pollens to adhere to dog hair, so this may be the actual cause of your sneezing.
Symptoms of allergies to dogs include sneezing, runny nose, and even a skin rash. If you're sensitive to dogs and you'd still like to have a canine companion, there are some things you can do.
First, choose your breed carefully. Some breeds shed less hair and dander than others – consider the Poodle, Bichon Frise, or Lagotto Romagnolo. Perhaps you like the look of the hairless breeds such as the American Hairless Terrier or the Chinese Crested Dog. Before you bring your pup home, visit a number of these dogs at conformation shows (dog shows) and chat with breeders. This will give you the opportunity to touch and stroke them, and the pet parents of show dogs can give you advice about how often that breed is involved in allergic reactions. Perhaps you could foster a dog for a while to see if you react to the pup.
Second, reduce your exposure to dander and dog hair by washing your pet frequently with a gentle shampoo or having them cared for at a grooming parlor. Sweep and vacuum your home regularly to reduce hair and dander in your immediate environment. A large part of your time at home is spent in your bedroom, so ideally keep your pet out of that room to reduce your exposure to allergens.
Lastly, medication can help. Antihistamines are often the first line of treatment for allergies, but do seek advice from your health care professional. For long-term relief, you may benefit from immunotherapy. This involves injections of dog allergens on a regular basis, so your body learns to tolerate them. This is a long, drawn-out process, but has been very successful for many people. For them, it has been the difference between sharing their lives with a dog or missing out on the love and companionship offered by a four-legged furry family member.