Eager to own a pup but have an allergy attack as soon as they’re in the room? As a dog lover and dog owner with horrible allergies to (wo)man’s best friend, I feel your pain. For me, puppy snuggles come at the cost of sneezing, wheezing, itching, and hives.
These allergy symptoms are the worst, and because of them, I’ve steered clear of adorable furry friends (even though there’s nothing I’d love more than to bring one home with me). Until now, that is. Hypoallergenic dog breeds remove the allergy issue, enabling me and those who share my dander-averse predicament, to own and interact with pups. Interested in learning more? Here’s what you need to know about hypoallergenic dogs, including what “hypoallergenic” means and which breeds are best.
What causes allergies to dogs?
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), up to 30 percent of all Americans struggle with pet allergies. And although cat allergies are more common, allergic reactions to doggos tend to be more severe — especially among people with asthma. Symptoms of a dog allergy vary from person to person, but some clues you may be allergic to Fido include:
Swelling and itching around the eyes
Coughing or shortness of breath
Wheezing and sneezing
Skin itchiness, rash, or hives
What causes these uncomfortable symptoms? Despite popular belief, it’s not dog hair that causes an allergy flare-up. Rather, it’s a protein found in a dog’s saliva and urine. As dogs groom themselves, they spread this protein to their skin and coat, and then release it into the environment as dander — hence the reason people say they’re allergic to “pet dander.”
Note: If your signs and symptoms are severe — with difficulty sleeping or constant wheezing — call your doctor. Seek emergency medical attention if symptoms rapidly get worse or if you struggle to breathe with minimal activity.
What does it mean when a breed is hypoallergenic?
The term “hypoallergenic” is typically taken to mean “void of all allergens.” However, the prefix hypo actually translates to “under,” “less,” or “below normal.” So, a “hypoallergenic” dog refers to a pooch that is less likely to cause a reaction.
So 100% hypoallergenic dogs aren’t a real thing?
Many people think they are, but the American Kennel Club (AKC) says that no pup is 100 percent hypoallergenic. Experts do say, however, that it’s possible to find less-allergenic breeds that are better suited for allergy sufferers. These furry canines have a predictable, non-shedding coat that produces less dander, and as mentioned above, dander is the stuff that causes most pet allergies.
Which dog breeds are best for allergy sufferers?
Now that we’ve defined a dog allergy, let's identify the furry family members least likely to cause one. There are many, but this list highlights the best of the best dog breeds for those with allergies.
Arguably the most popular dog breed in the non-shedding dog category, the poodle has been cross-bred with many other dogs to create a number of hypoallergenic breeds. Among these are the labradoodle, Goldendoodle, Yorkipoo, cockapoo, and other adorable “poos”. Poodles can be Standard-, Miniature-, and Toy-sized, and they make excellent family dogs because they’re smart, energetic, and easy to train. Currently, the most popular poodle crossbreed is the lovable golden retriever and poodle mix.
Schnauzer and Miniature Schnauzer
Schnauzers were originally bred to work on farms. Today, they’re amazing watchdogs that love to cuddle and play. They have a double coat — the bottom is soft and dense, while the top is wiry — that requires regular brushing to prevent mats from forming. However, unlike other popular dog breeds, they don’t produce much dander, making them ideal for allergy sufferers. Protective, loyal, and energetic, this pooch loves to snuggle and is great with young kids. Plus, like the poodle, they come in different varieties, so if you’re looking whether you’re looking for a small dog or a giant schnauzer, this breed can fill the bill.
Naturally gentle, happy, and playful, the Bichon Frise is a charming pooch identifiable by its snow white coat and snuggly disposition. It’s a double-coated breed that doesn’t really shed, which is why it’s among the best hypoallergenic dogs. That said, these lovable pups tend to suffer from separation anxiety, so if you work long hours away from home, consider a different hypoallergenic breed.
Irish Water Spaniel
Prefer large dogs over the itty-bitty ankle biters? Check out the Irish water spaniel. These shaggy pups are distinguished by their curly, waterproof, hypoallergenic coats and tapering “rat tail.” They stand the tallest amongst all the AKC spaniels, but don’t let their massive size fool you — the Irish water spaniel is a goofy, cuddly lap dog known for its loyalty.
Portuguese Water Dog
Made famous by former White House pups Sunny and Bo, the Portuguese water dog is an intelligent, athletic, and water-loving companion with buckets of affection to share. These medium-sized dogs are easy to train and have curly coats similar to several other pooches on this list. That said, although this breed is hypoallergenic, its thick coat sheds seasonally. You’ll need to regularly groom your pup to minimize allergic reactions.
As a single-coated breed, the regal and aloof Afghan hound is a beautiful pooch that’s less likely to shed. Just be warned: their long-flowing locks require a lot of TLC to prevent matting. That said, if you don’t mind regularly grooming your pup, this breed is a fantastic option for allergy sufferers. Additionally, they’re loyal, loving, and cuddly, making them especially great for families.
Known as the “barkless dog,” Basenjis are smart, fiercely independent, and easily recognizable by their cute curly tails. This sweet hypoallergenic pooch has a short coat that only sheds occasionally. Touted as adventure dogs, Basenjis have an impeccable sense of smell. Be careful, though, as their nose can sometimes get them into trouble (think: Friday night’s leftovers in the trash).
Another hypoallergenic doggo with a recognizable appearance, the Bedlington terrier’s coat is reminiscent of a sheep — thick and curly with a mix of soft and stiff. Unlike many other terrier breeds, though, it’s not wiry. Inquisitive and intelligent, Bedlington terriers are incredible watchdogs that love being the center of attention. Their coat is low-shedding and low-dander. Despite this, they need to be brushed at least once a week.
And there you have it — the best dog breeds for people with allergies. But while these pups are some of the most popular, there are many other hypoallergenic dog breeds. These include:
Soft coated wheaten terrier
Xoloitzcuintli (also known as the Mexican hairless dog)
Conversely, dogs that are best to be avoided by allergy sufferers include the saint bernard, bulldogs, German shepherds, and Boston terriers, as these breeds are typically high-shedders that produce allergens in large amounts. Remember, it’s not the dog’s fur that causes allergies to flare in dog allergy sufferers, but proteins that turn into dander. That’s why even if you opt for a hypoallergenic puppy from a reputable breeder, it’s important to consistently care for their coat, as no pooch is 100 percent allergen-free. Think you might have a dog allergy? Make an appointment with an allergist who can perform tests and provide treatment.