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Dog Grooming Blog


Can a Dog Really be Hypoallergenic?

I’ve had sensitive skin forever. When I was just beginning to learn about skin care and cosmetics, I was advised…

What Is Hypoallergenic?

I’ve had sensitive skin forever. When I was just beginning to learn about skin care and cosmetics, I was advised by a dermatologist that I should always use “hypoallergenic” products. I remember looking up the word “hypoallergenic” yeeeeaarrs ago and discovered that it wasn’t even a real word… it was made-up! That stuck with me for some reason. Now, as I am thinking about hypoallergenic dog breeds, I’m looking into it again. It appears that the cosmetic industry really did concoct this crazy word in the 50’s. They did so to describe a cosmetic that is unlikely to cause an allergic reaction. It may have been a made-up word, but it has really taken hold. Now, everyone has adopted it and it is used on everything from cosmetics to pets! says, “The term [hypoallergenic] is used by advertisers for cosmetics, jewelry, pets, food, and so on, but it does not have a precise medical meaning. The FDA tells consumers, “There are no federal standards or definitions that govern the use of the term hypoallergenic. The term hypoallergenic means whatever a particular company wants it to mean.” Wow, that’s bizarre. I guess we should take note – if we see “hypoallergenic” on a label, we are not really protected from any type of allergy producing substance! So, what does this mean when it comes to hypoallergenic dog breeds?

What “Hypoallergenic Dogs” Means

We all know that there are certain dog breeds that people with allergies can live with comfortably, right? Nearly everyone can cite an example of someone they know who suffers from allergies yet has a dog. My husband, who struggled with allergies since childhood, was severely allergic to a beagle I had when we were dating. Thankfully, he is not the least bit sensitive to our lhasa apso, a breed often designated as “hypoallergenic”. So, it must be true, right? I mean, even the AKC, the “be all, know all” of dogdom, has a published list of “hypoallergenic” dogs.

Despite public interest, there has been little scientific research to find out if dogs can be truly hypoallergenic. Finally, in 2011, a study was published in the American Journal of Rhinology and Allergy that spurred a myriad of articles online discounting the existence of hypoallergenic dogs. The study found that there were just as many allergens present in the homes of so-called “hypoallergenic” breeds when compared to homes with other breeds. Interesting, isn’t it?

Okay, so instead of talking about “hypoallergenic” dogs, lets’ talk about dog breeds that are less likely to cause an allergic reaction. Is there such a thing? Yes, there is. But it’s not black and white… it’s more like “gray”. The main reason for such vagueness is because of the complicated nature of allergies themselves. Two people may be allergic to dogs, but for different reasons. Another may be allergic to dogs for the same reason but react differently. Only a doctor can determine what we are truly allergic too, but if you don’t want to go the whole allergy testing route, maybe we can give you a few suggestions.

It’s all about the hair

Some believe you can be allergic to “fur” and not “hair”. You may have heard people say, “my dog has hair – not fur – so he’s hypoallergenic.” Although it’s true that the type of coat your dog has can be the cause of an allergic reaction, chemically, hair and fur are the same thing. The difference is in the growth cycle, the texture, and the way the coat feels and behaves. So technically, hair or fur is not the deciding factor of whether you will have an allergic reaction. The real villain in the story is a secreted protein found in dog dander. That same protein is found in the dog’s saliva and urine too, but the dander is generally the problem since it tends to get on everything!

Dander is shed from any animal with fur or hair, that includes humans. We all produce dander. Our skin is constantly producing new skin cells and killing off old skin cells. That’s all dander really is – the shedding of dead skin. Different animals, and even different dog breeds, produce their own unique dander. And to complicate matters even further, we may be allergic to one type of dander and not the other.

Dander and Shedding

If you really think about it, dander is kind of gross. It’s sticky. It gets on your furniture, your carpet, clothing. Dander tends to attach itself to something, and it only makes sense that it will attach itself to your dog’s fur as it is flaking away from his skin. As your dog sheds, this hair/dander combo gets all over you and your home. If your dog sheds a lot, a lot of dander will be spread around. This explains why slower shedding dogs receive the title of being “hypoallergenic”. Less shedding = less dander.

All dogs shed, but some really do shed less than others. I don’t think it is scientifically confirmed, but we all know that some dogs are huge shedders, while others – not so much! A de-shedding treatment on a blonde lab at the Holiday Barn Pet ResortsDoggie Spa produces one heck of a hair storm! Yet a schnauzer during the same treatment will lose very little hair. It makes sense that a lower shedding dog would be more suitable for someone who is sensitive to allergens.

Curly Coats

If there were a way to trap the dander so it can’t get out, it would really help people with allergies, wouldn’t it? That’s what happens with curly coated dogs. The dander – or allergens – become trapped in the fur. If the dander is trapped, it is not likely to fly around and make you sneeze, right? Not only that, but the loose/shed curls themselves can get trapped in the other curls and are prevented from falling out. That results in less shedding in the sense that the hair just doesn’t come off the dog as easily. Soooo that means less hair and dander is spread around! That is why the Poodle, Portuguese water dog, the Bichon Frise, and other curly-coated dogs are considered hypoallergenic. (It’s also another reason why these dogs need to be brushed often…but that’s another story). Another factor for curly-coated dogs being less likely to cause an allergic reaction is that they may shed less. Again, I can find no scientific studies to support that dogs with curly coats shed less, but it is widely believed and repeated in various allergy forums.

Beauty-parlor pups

Remember I mentioned that a dog’s growth cycle is a factor when we were discussing fur vs hair? Most dog coats have a growth cycle that prevents their hair from growing past a certain length. For example, a Labrador retriever’s hair grows an inch or so and then stops. But other dogs have hair that doesn’t stop growing. These are the dogs that need regular visits to the Holiday Barn Pet Resorts Doggie spa for haircuts: Yorkies, Shih tzus, Lhlasa apsos, Poodles, Havanese, and so on. The longer the dog’s growth cycle, the less often the hair sheds. Something else in their favor is that they are single coated (no undercoat) and that helps them shed less too. There is something to be said about the grooming needs of these dogs too. Since they are generally groomed more often, it probably helps to keep their skin healthier and cleaner. That too means less dander in the home.

Another observation

Sometimes it’s not so much an allergy as it is a reaction to hair flying. Stay with me a minute… Have you ever swept or dusted a room, stirred up the dust and started sneezing? You may not really be allergic to dust, but when it’s flying through the air, anyone can react to it! I have been allergic to cats since I was very young, but dogs have never bothered me. But just recently I was surprised when I very noticeably reacted to a dog’s hair. The dog, a Cavalier King Charles, had wispy, cat-like hair. It was like someone took a light feather and tickled my nose with it! It could be possible that some people are not so much allergic to the protein in a dog’s dander as they are to the texture of the hair and/or the behavior of the coat.

Summing it up!

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but a hypoallergenic dog just doesn’t exist… especially since “hypoallergenic” doesn’t really mean anything! Just kidding! We all know what we’re referring to, so we’ll go ahead and use the word just like everybody else. The good news is that there are options for those of you that suffer from allergies around dogs. Don’t think you have to go through life without the joys of dog ownership. Choose a dog that doesn’t shed like crazy…. Try the curly coated pup, or the beauty parlor pup! Purina has a great list of low-shedding breeds and can be found here. We wish you the best of luck. Afterall, everyone should have a dog!

Lastly, if you need help with grooming your dog, be sure to reach out to one of Holiday Barn Pet Resorts’ locations in either Glen Allen, VA or Midlothian, VA. They would be more than happy to assist with grooming, dog training, or even giving your pup a staycation!

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