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Are You Allergic to Dogs?

human pet allergies (1997-2008)

 

Are you allergic to your dog?

Yes, I am! I have been a dog lover all my life, but I am also asthmatic and have a lot of allergies. The worst is that I am allergic to dogs! Luckily, I have discovered that I can tolerate hairless dog breeds better than coated ones, and the American Hairless Terrier with its soft skin seems to be the most suitable dog breed for me.

 

Hypo-allergenic dogs?

There is no dog breed that is truly non-allergenic (not allergy causing) because all dogs produce dander (shed skin cells), saliva, and urine. You can be allergic to the dog dander, dog saliva, or even dog urine. Urine is less of a problem since dogs usually potty outside. Pet hair itself is not an allergen, but it can collect dander, dust, and pollen. The word hypo-allergenic (less allergy causing) is typically used with skin care products that tend to be less irritating to sensitive skin.

People with pet allergies have supersensitive immune systems that react to harmless proteins (allergens) in the pet's dander, saliva or urine. These allergy-producing proteins can cause nasal congestion, sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, skin rashes, headaches, fatigue, coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, and serious asthma attacks. This can happen within 5-30 minutes or occur much later as a delayed reaction. Based on pet allergy sufferers' testimonials, it is possible to be allergic to all dogs or only to certain breeds.

Some dog breeds supposedly produce less dander than others, and many people who are mildly allergic to dogs can tolerate some of these "low dander" dog breeds with proper environmental controls (see below). Sometimes people call these "low dander" dog breeds hypo-allergenic, low allergy, or allergy friendly.

Be careful though, as there are no guarantees! People's pet allergies vary greatly. Severe pet allergy sufferers may not tolerate any dogs at all, even with the best environmental controls.

For info on the "low dander" dog breeds, go to the dog breeds for allergy sufferers page.

 

What's causing your allergic reaction? - Pet or not?

Are you really allergic to your dog or to something else? Here's a tip from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: "To test the effect of household pets on your quality of life, remove them from your home for at least two months and clean thoroughly every week. After two months, if you still want pets, bring a pet into the house. Measure the change in your symptoms, then decide if the change in your symptoms is worth keeping the pet."

A frequent and very thorough cleaning of your house is important during this time because animal allergens are sticky and adhere to walls, clothing, and other surfaces. Remove all pet items from your house, vacuum or wash all surfaces including walls, and remove or steam clean your carpets. Animal allergens will not lose their strength for a long time. It can take months, or even years, to free your house of pet allergens. These tiny, invisible particles also stay suspended in the air for long periods of time, so it's important to open windows and air your home thoroughly. Other people who own pets with fur or feathers can also bring pet allergens to your house on their clothes.

 

Want a dog? - Test your allergies

Caution! If it is your child that is allergic to dogs, think twice before getting a dog. Is it really worth it to put your child through possibly severe allergic reactions just to have a dog? It will also be heartbreaking for your child to give up his or her beloved pet if it comes to that. And many times it does!

The ideal choice, of course, is to have no dog. If you decide to risk your health and get a dog anyway, your first step is to study the "low dander" dog breeds and find the ones that would fit in your family and lifestyle. Then it is time to find a reputable breeder or a breed rescue group.

Visit the breeder's home and tell the breeder about your allergies. Ask a lot of questions and stay as long as you can. Hug and kiss the dogs, rub your nose into their fur, and breath the air in the room where they live. Let the dogs lick your bare skin, especially on your neck (if you are brave) and inside your arms where the skin is more sensitive. You want to test your allergic reaction both to the dander and saliva. This will help you to evaluate your current allergic reaction to that particular breed.

Choose a breeder that only breeds that one breed of dog. You don't want to visit a house that has mixed allergens from several dog breeds. Visit only one breeder per day or even per week. Visiting several breeders on the same day could give you inconclusive results of your allergic reaction. For example, you could have a delayed reaction to your first visit when visiting the second breeder and not actually reacting to the dogs in the second house.

Maybe you can even borrow a dog of the breed you are considering for a few days or weeks. Remember, though, that sometimes allergies to animals can take two years or more to develop!

 

Interested in a rare breed? - Try a remote allergy trial

If you are interested in a rare dog breed with no breeders in your area, you can do a remote allergy trial with a t-shirt or pillow case. Of course, this test not as good as visiting a breeder in person, but it's a good starting point. If you do react to the dander in the shirt, then that breed is obviously not suitable for you. If you have no allergic reaction to the dog dander or saliva, you could investigate this breed further by doing an allergy trial in person.

One shirt method - After approval from the breeder, just mail your t-shirt to the breeder and have him/her "danderize" it. When you get the t-shirt back, wear it so that the "danderized" side is against your skin.

Two shirt method - Some breeders prefer the two shirt method. It's more of a "blind" allergy test. Send two different t-shirts to the breeder, at your cost both ways. The breeder will "danderize" one of the shirts by allowing his or her dogs to lie on it. Next, the breeder will put the shirts in separate plastic ziploc bags and mail them back to you. Without you knowing which shirt has dog dander on it, you will then wear these shirts on separate days to see if you will have any allergic reaction. After wearing both shirts, you can ask the breeder which shirt had dander on it and confirm your test results.

Pillow case method - You can also do a remote allergy trial using a pillow case instead of a t-shirt. Or, for a more specific allergy trial with dander and saliva, send the breeder two pillowcases. One will be "danderized" by using it as a dogs' sleeping blanket for a while. If you are very brave, the breeder can smear dogs' saliva with a q-tip on the second pillow case. You could also use tissue or a handkerchief instead of a pillow case and then put it on or near your pillow when sleeping. I do not know how reliable this dried saliva testing is, but this technique is used by some dog breeders.

For American Hairless Terrier allergy trial contacts, see my AHT Links page for the AHTA link under dog clubs. Comments from allergic AHT owners can be found on the AHTs & Allergies page.

 

Environmental controls - Must do!

Controlling the amount of animal dander in the home is a very important part of treating pet allergies. Here are examples of what I do in my the battle against dog allergy.

 A. Environmental controls

1. Keep dogs out of the bedroom

  • My dogs are not allowed on my bed or even in my bedroom
  • It's important to create at least one dog-free room in your house where you can breathe cleaner, less dander saturated air
  • Unfortunately, forced air heating and air conditioning will still spread allergens through your house unless you install a central HEPA air cleaner

2. Use HEPA air cleaners

  • I have HEPA room air cleaners in all bedrooms (no dogs allowed) and in the family room (dogs allowed)
  • The central heating system in my house has an electrostatic air filter to help clean the air distributed through the house
  • Central HEPA air cleaner is ideal, but if you don't have one, portable room air cleaners are a lot better than none
  • HEPA air cleaners can really make a difference for asthmatics and pet allergy sufferers
  • In addition, you can use inexpensive disposable allergen air filters that capture microscopic allergens like dust, smoke and smog particles and large allergens like mold spores and pet dander
  • You can also try covering your home's air vents with vent guards or cheese cloth

3. Use baby gates

  • I use baby gates to keep the dogs downstairs, away from the upstairs bedrooms

4. Avoid wall-to-wall carpeting

  • My house has bare, washable floors in all rooms where my dogs spent their time
  • Wall-to-wall carpeting collects dander and is difficult to keep clean

5. Bathe your dog frequently

  • I bathe my dogs frequently, my dogs are hairless so it's very quick
  • Using a mild dog shampoo helps prevent overdrying of the skin
  • Baths can greatly reduce the level of allergens on fur
  • Bathing twice a week is recommended in a 1999 allergy study
  • If you have to groom your own dog that has hair, use a face mask while brushing the fur and do it outside

6. Keep your dog's skin healthy

  • Dermatitis often causes accelerated skin cell shedding

7. Wash dog bedding, clothes, and soft toys frequently

  • I wash all dog bedding, cushion covers, doggie shirts, and soft dog toys frequently with a mild, fragrance free detergent
  • I love the Perla dog beds made of heady duty plastic. They are durable, inexpensive, and can be easily wiped clean of any dog dander. I use standard size human bed pillows as cushions for the 24" Perla beds. I encase the pillows with anti-allergen pillow covers and pillow cases. I was both covers frequently. When the pillows start smelling "doggy", I just throw them away and buy new ones for 3-5 dollars.
  • You could also try using an anti-allergen detergent to wash your doggie stuff

8. Get leather furniture instead of fabric

  • I cover my leather family room sofas with sheets to help prevent dog dander deposits on them, these sheets are washed frequently and my dogs are allowed on the sofas
  • Leather is the ideal sofa material for allergy sufferers
  • You can also use sofa slip covers for a neater look

9. Have dog-free reserved seating

  • I have reserved seating in the family room
  • No dog is allowed on my comfy chair, but they are allowed on the sofa where rest of the family sits
  • Sitting in a dog dander free chair while watching TV makes a significant difference to my asthma level

10. Vacuum frequently with a HEPA vacuum cleaner

  • I try to vacuum a lot
  • I have a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter
  • Vacuum floors, furniture, blinds, and all other surfaces

11. Air the house

  • I open the windows occasionally to let the airborne pet allergens air out, but not when the pollen count is high outside

12. Wash your hands

  • I wash my hands after petting my dogs, and washing my face helps too
  • I avoid touching my eyes or face when I'm playing with my dogs

13. Change your clothes

  • I often change my clothes after allowing dogs on my lap to help remove the dog dander on me
  • I throw these clothes directly into the laundry hamper

14. Put clothes on your dog

  • I have noticed that I can tolerate my hairless dogs better allergywise if they are wearing clothes
  • If it's warm, I make sure that their clothes are made of thin, cool, and breathable cotton fabric
  • Do not use synthetic fabrics that make your dog sweat, a sweating dog seems to aggravate allergies more
  • Change and wash your dog's clothes daily

15. Limit dog dander in your car

  • I avoid transporting dogs in my car, I try to keep my car dog dander free
  • If you have no second car, you can cover the car seat with a washable sheet or pet blanket, or use washable car seat protectors designed for pet owners
  • Leather seats in the car are ideal

16. Avoid clutter in your home

  • I try, but not always so successfully :O), to avoid clutter in my house, it collects dust and dog dander
  • Pet allergens are tiny and sticky, they attach to all surfaces

17. Allergen reduction products

  • Some people are reporting a reduction in their dog allergy when using the Allerpet D for Dogs solution while others notice no difference at all
  • Allerpet solution is applied on your dog's coat
  • You can also try spraying areas where your dogs spend their time (carpets, sofas) with an anti-allergen spray, it supposedly deactivates pet allergens

 

B. Medical

Visit your allergy specialist (MD) for advice and medications

  • I must use prescription allergy and asthma medications continuously to be able to keep my dogs
  • I am also getting allergy shots (immunotherapy) for various allergens, including dogs
  • Currently, hypo-sensitization to dogs is less effective than to cats, but experimental studies offer hope for improved allergy shots in the future
  • Be sure to discuss your pet allergies with your allergy specialist to create the best treatment and maintenance plan for your specific allergies

Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT)

  • Allergy drops, or sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT), is an alternative to allergy shots. Sublingual immunotherapy has been used for years in Europe to treat allergies of the eyes and nose, as well as allergic asthma. Drops or tablets of allergen extract are placed under the tongue, jand then either swallowed or spat out. Swallowing the extract seems to work better. Allergy shots appear to be superior at treating allergic disease, but SLIT will likely become an important treatment option for people unwilling or unable to receive allergy shots. There is an increased interest in the SLIT treatment in the United States. However, it is not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Until the FDA approves the use of SLIT, most mainstream allergists will probably not offer this type of therapy, and insurance companies will not cover the costs of the therapy.

 

Human pet allergy (dog) discussion board

Visit the interactive discussion board and meet other pet allergy sufferers. The purpose of this board is to exchange ideas, experiences, questions, and general pet allergy related information among human dog allergy sufferers. Is your heart broken because you had to give away your beloved dog due to allergies? Or maybe you have a happy ending story to share. Are you allergic to your dog, but still happily co-existing with him or her? How did you achieve that?

Update: The active board has been deleted, but the "Allergic to Dogs?" bb archives are available for 1997-2011.

 

Allergy studies 1995-2007

This page got so large that I moved the allergy studies to their own page. These studies were published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology is the official publication of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. To read abstracts and articles related to human pet allergies, visit the Allergy Studies page.

 


Best of the Canine Web These "Allergic to Dogs?" pages were featured as one of the top 500 canine-related web sites in the 1997 book "Dogs on the Web" by Audrey Pavia and Betsy Sikora Siino.

Always contact your own allergy specialist for
the diagnosis and treatment of your allergies!

 

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Lucy's "Allergic to Dogs?" pages first published in 1997.
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