Every other week, Dr. Patrick Tate, chief of the veterinary staff and a general practitioner at Webster Groves Animal Hospital, answers reader questions about pets. This week's question comes from Cynthia Shipman.
Question: Which dog breeds are best for people with pet allergies?
Answer: As we discussed in the last Ask the Vet article, there is no dog breed that is truly non-allergenic. There are some dogs that are considered to be hypoallergenic (meaning less allergenic), and/or low-shedding or low-dander. Adding a dog to your family is a major decision and commitment, and it is important to prepare thoroughly ahead of time. This preparation becomes even more critical when a prospective owner has pet allergies. Hopefully, the tips below will be useful in your search!
The AKC (American Kennel Club) has a “Dogs and Allergies” page on their website that lists dog breeds they recommend as “ideal for allergy sufferers.” The Dog Breed Information Center has a more extensive hypoallergenic list with detailed breed links and information. They also have a Dog Breed Info Center Search page where you can take a helpful dog compatibility test.
Dog breed websites are interesting and informative, but not always 100-percent accurate. Each dog and pet owner are unique. Before choosing a breed, consult with your veterinarian and allergist, along with dog behavior specialists, breeders and other pet owners. Many of the dogs on the hypoallergenic lists are high maintenance and NOT for the novice pet owner! Cute puppies can grow into rambunctious and destructive adolescents; grooming can be unexpectedly expensive and time-consuming; a dog’s coat can change as it matures and trigger an allergic reaction in its owners. Hypoallergenic dogs are often re-homed, given to shelters or worse.
As the owner of two Portuguese Water Dogs, I could relate to President Obama when dog Bo chewed a reporter’s $3000 microphone and then raced across the White House lawn to hide the evidence in the garden! Porties, like many other dogs on the hypoallergenic dog list, are very intelligent and high-energy. If their owners don’t provide enough mental stimulation and physical exercise, they will find a way to get it!
The hypoallergenic breeds my clients most frequently choose are the Poodle (all sizes), Bichon Frise, Maltese, Yorkshire Terrier, Miniature Schnauzer, Shih Tzu, Lhasa Apso and West Highland White Terrier. In the past 10 years, I have also seen a huge increase in the breeding and ownership of “poodle-hybrid” dogs like the Labradoodle, Goldendoodle, Cockapoo, Malti-Poo, Shih-Poo, etc.
It has become very popular for a breeder to cross the low-shedding poodle with another purebred dog in an attempt to offer a “designer” hypoallergenic pet. The Labradoodle was originally bred in 1988 to create a guide dog suitable for people with dander allergies. Cockapoo’s (a Cocker Spaniel and Poodle mix) have been around since the 1960s, but most of the other designer dogs are newer and sometimes unpredictable. Breeders hope for low-shedding puppies with the best traits of both breeds, but this does not always happen. If you are interested in a hybrid dog, be sure to choose a reputable breeder that understands genetics and the health and temperament issues of both breeds and the puppies they produce.
Always “do your homework” when considering any pet – especially when you have allergies and are looking for a hypoallergenic purebred or hybrid dog. Ask a prospective breeder if they will let you “borrow” an adult dog or pay a visit to their home or kennel. If possible, try spending time with a mature dog or the puppies’ parents and relatives before committing to ownership. Remember, a puppy’s coat and temperament can be very different once it grows older. Kennelwood and others offer free pet matchmaking services that can be extremely helpful http://www.kennelwood.com/pet-matchmaker/.
It is heartbreaking to give up a dog once they’ve become a member of your family. Researching a new pet is time consuming but well worth it!
Stay tuned for the answer to the next Ask the Vet question: “What can I do to prevent or reduce an allergic reaction to my dogs? There are many things you can do to your dog and living space that help reduce allergens. These techniques work well with both hypoallergenic and high-shedding breeds.
For more information, I highly recommend: Allergic to Pets?: The Breakthrough Guide to Living with the Animals You Love by Shirlee Kalstone; Before and After Getting Your Puppy: The Positive Approach to Raising a Happy, Healthy, and Well-Behaved Dog, by Ian Dunbar; and Love Has No Age Limits: Welcoming an Adopted Dog Into Your Home, by Patricia McConnell and Karen London.