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A "Hypoallergenic" Dog -- Really?

Published March 9, 2010
An archive of Pet Columns from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine is available online at Requests for reprints of this article may be directed to Mandy Barth,

After a Portuguese water dog named Bo Obama graced the White House lawn, everyone began clamoring to find hypoallergenic dog breeds. According to the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America, there are nearly 50 million people in this country that have some form of allergies in general. Although the most common allergy is to cats (approximately 10 million people), there are still a substantial amount of people allergic to dogs. With numbers like that, the thought of having a pet that is less likely to trigger a reaction may be enticing.

Dr. Domenico Santoro is a veterinary dermatology resident at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana. When asked if it is possible to have a hypoallergenic dog, his response was a simple "no." He goes on to say that, "currently there are only "hypoallergenic" cats available that have been genetically modified to not produce the protein that some humans may react to."

As of yet, no one has been able to produce a dog that does not make a protein in its saliva or skin to which allergic humans are known to react. But there are certain dog breeds that, due to their lack of shedding or short hair coat, are less likely to trigger a reaction. Examples are breeds like poodles, Maltese, and Bedlington terriers, and several others.

The situation that the dermatology service at the Teaching Hospital runs into is parents who have a child with allergies, and that child really wants a dog. "In that case, the best question to ask would be: 'how bad is your or your child's allergy?'" says Dr. Santoro. If the child or person has a severe reaction landing them in the ER, then getting a dog should never be considered.

But, "if you or your child's allergy is mild," says Dr. Santoro, "spend time with friends that have a dog, or test the dog out in your house to see how reactive you are." If it doesn't seem to be a problem, then perhaps things may work out for the best for you and your furry friend.

If you know you have a mild allergy to dogs and you end up bringing one home after a trial period, there are a few other things you can do in addition to adopting a breed that does not shed and has short hair. Brushing the dog more often may help to remove stray hairs (hairs and saliva are the parts of the dog to which people react).

Bathing the pet often helps as well, but "bathing too often can be bad for the dog," notes Dr. Santoro. Since every animal is different, you can speak with your veterinarian about how frequently you can safely bathe your dog. For example, bathing everyday is certainly not acceptable, but once every two weeks may be beneficial.

If you or your child really do want a pet and find that a dog triggers too severe of an allergic reaction, all is not lost. Just because you react to a dog, doesn't mean you'll react to a cat or vice versa. Although if you already have allergies, you are more likely to develop a sensitivity to another allergy. You can always test out different animals to see how you handle them differently.

In the end, it really is not possible to have a hypoallergenic dog, or one that does not produce the proteins to which humans react. But there are steps you can take so you can have a furry friend around without getting an itchy rash or a runny nose.

For more information on hypoallergenic dogs, talk to your local veterinarian.

An archive of Pet Columns from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine is available online at Requests for reprints of this article may be directed to Mandy Barth,

Veterinary Extension/Office of Public Engagement
University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine