Dog allergies: What to know and how to deal with it

Last Updated on April 15, 2023

Dealing with an itch, scratch, or cough every time you go near a dog can be tiring. And being a dog lover with sensitivities is no easy feat.

While there may be no cure for your allergies, there are some practices that reduce the extremities of your reaction.

a sick red hair woman holding a Pomeranian dog
A woman with allergic asthma covering her nose while holding a Pomeranian

Luckily for you, this article explores everything you should know about coping with dog allergies. So keep reading for more!

Are you allergic to dogs?

Do you have an allergic reaction every time a dog is nearby? Even if you just pass one cute pooch while you’re on your morning jog?

It may start as an itch, a sneeze, or cough and most people blame it right away on dog hair. But did you know that it’s not the fur that causes allergies?

Around 37% to 47% of American households have a dog. And even in places where no dog has set foot – or paw – pet dander (or flakes of skin) gets everywhere, and it’s what causes an allergic reaction.

Sure, dirt and dust can get caught on a doggo’s coat, but this made people with allergies go for non-shedding dogs.

There are several tips and tricks to enjoying having a canine friend even if you have allergies, but let’s go deeper to where it all starts.

What causes a dog allergy?

Have you ever thought that a dog may not be the direct cause of your allergy symptoms? It’s possible that environmental allergens or atopy, such as dander, triggers an immune response when you’re exposed to it.

Dogs secrete proteins found in their saliva, urine, and dander. These proteins are generally harmless, but when they get into contact with a sensitive person’s immune system, an allergic reaction occurs.

Those with allergies have over-sensitive immune systems that overreact to harmless foreign substances.

The body treats these substances like bacteria or a virus, and it does so by sneezing, watery eyes, etc. Its side effects are our body’s way of flushing out the “intruder” allergen.

Different dogs produce different dander, so some dogs can cause a more severe allergic reaction than others – regardless of breed.

What are the symptoms of dog allergies? 

A man sneezing and suffering from allergies with an Akita Inu behind
A man covering his nose while sneezing due to allergies

Pet-allergy sufferers know all too well the signs that come along with having an allergic reaction. Those with low sensitivity may not have severe symptoms, but sometimes, it may take a few days before they show up.

For those who aren’t familiar, these are the common dog allergy symptoms:

  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Red, watery, or itchy eyes
  • Itchy nose, throat, or roof of the mouth
  • Facial pressure and pain
  • Postnasal drip
  • Nasal congestion
  • Cough
  • Waking up frequently
  • The skin under your eyes are swollen and blue
  • Frequently rubbing the nose upward
  • Wheezing

If your pet allergy adds up to your asthma, you may experience:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • When exhaling, there’s an audible whistling or wheezing sound
  • You have trouble sleeping due to wheezing, coughing, or shortness of breath

Others have skin indicators such as hives or raised patches of skin that are red, eczema, or just itchy skin.

All these can sound overwhelming, but luckily, they can be managed. This video has a few tips on how to manage living with pets and pet allergies:

Risk factors of dog allergies

Allergies are prevalent, but if it runs in the family, then you’re more likely to develop an allergy, too. Some say they’ve developed immunity after long periods of exposure to pets, but this is yet to be proven.

However, those exposed to pets from a young age may help reduce the risk of developing allergies.

Some studies find that kids who live with a dog during the first year of their lives may have an increased resistance to upper respiratory illnesses compared to those who don’t.

a happy kid hugging an English Bulldog
A boy snuggling an English Bulldog happily

Complications of dog allergies

Pet allergies are generally not life-threatening. However, some symptoms may be a lot more unpleasant or even more severe than others.

These cases are rare but can be fatal without proper treatment. Other times, they may lead to further health complications.

Nasal passages with chronic or ongoing inflammation of tissues due to an allergic reaction can block the sinuses. This increases the likelihood of bacteria developing into sinus infections, like sinusitis.

While this condition may resolve on its own, it can last up to eight weeks.

Pet allergies can trigger or worsen existing asthmatic conditions. This can cause pain or tightness in the chest, breathing difficulties, coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath.

In severe cases, it can trigger a full-blown asthma attack.

Some people may even develop a skin condition known as allergic contact dermatitis.

When to see a doctor

The best time to see a doctor regarding dog allergies is when you’ve booked an appointment for allergy testing.

Allergists can use either a skin test – also known as an intradermal test – or a blood test when diagnosing you.

Suppose you know you already have a dog allergy, then you should seek medical attention if you’re having a severe reaction. Those would include breathing difficulty, your symptoms make it difficult to perform daily tasks, such as work or sleep, or even when you have a mild reaction that lasts for weeks or months.

Testing for dog allergies

An allergy test by skin or blood performed by a professional can help determine whether your body is allergic to any known substances. It’s often done by exposing you to suspected allergens.

Even if you are almost certain you have a dog allergy, it’s best to get tested to know for sure.

That way, the test rules out any other possibilities such as food, environmental, or seasonal allergies, which can have similar symptoms.

This helps with exploring your treatment options moving forward. 

What is the best treatment for dog allergies? 

The best strategy is to reduce or avoid contact with dogs entirely or as much as possible. But for dog lovers, that may not be a viable option. Instead, you’ll want to know how to treat it.

If you or a family member have already developed a pet allergy, frequently cleaning household surfaces and furniture can reduce the severity of symptoms.

Make sure to wash and brush your dog regularly, too.

Over-the-counter allergy medications you can use to treat your dog allergy include antihistamines, such as Benadryl, Allegra, and Claritin.

Decongestants, nasal steroids, and allergy shots work well, too.

As per the AAAAI or the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology in the United States, immunotherapy, also known as ‘allergy shots’, is an excellent option for prevention.

These expose you to the allergen that causes the reaction. This helps your body become less sensitive to it by developing protective antibodies, which builds up an immunity.

You could also try natural remedies that are found in medications or from the pharmacy, such as:

  1. Butterbur
  2. Probiotics
  3. Bromelain
  4. Stinging nettle
  5. Spirulina
  6. Quercetin
a woman with an allergic reaction to a dog wearing a mask
A woman wearing a medical mask to avoid dog allergies

Tips for dog owners: If you want to keep your dog…

If you suffer from dog and cat allergies or pet allergens, consider the type of breed that’s best suited for you.

Doing your research is crucial. As we’ll discuss more extensively later on, certain breeds of dogs are more allergy-friendly than others. It will be worth it to find a fido you can keep.

Allergy-proofing is the concept of creating an ‘allergy-free’ zone within your home and immediate environment.

Reducing the overall allergen levels can significantly reduce the risks of a severe reaction and improve overall wellness.

Keep your pup out of your bedroom (and even certain rooms or furniture pieces) and invest in cages and washable pet bedding.

Always keep surfaces clean by frequently dusting and vacuuming with a device that has a HEPA filter that removes tiny pollutants such as dust mites and pet dander.

You can use an air filter, cleaner, or purifier and top it off with an anti-allergen room spray. If possible, try to have someone else other than yourself do the cleaning.

You’ll need to decontaminate your pet, too. Brush and bathe your pet at least once a week and use products formulated to prevent dander. Pay special attention to any potential symptoms of dermatitis.

Strategic isolation and minimizing overall contact is the next best approach. Don’t give your dog free reign over the household, and let them spend more time outdoors.

Wash your hands thoroughly after playing or petting your fido.

Limit fabrics by designating a “pet outfit” or specific clothing items that you wear when interacting with them, and change clothes after interactions.

If not, we recommend investing in a good vacuum cleaner and plenty of lint rollers!

Hypoallergenic breeds: Is there such a thing as a hypoallergenic dog?

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, millions of Americans are allergic to dogs, with at least 15% developing an allergic reaction to one.

That’s a small but unfortunate statistic considering there are no truly ‘hypoallergenic’ dogs. However, some dogs come close enough.

There are tried and tested tips and methods for selecting a dog breed when you are an allergic person.

But to summarize, choosing dog breeds that are generally less allergenic than others could be a great start. You can choose from the less allergenic dog types below.

Curly-coated dogs:

  1. Bichon Frise
  2. Poodle
  3. Irish Water Spaniel
  4. Portuguese Water Dog

Hairless dogs:

  1. Xoloitzcuintli
  2. American Hairless Terrier
  3. Chinese Crested

Single-coated or low-shedding dogs:

  1. Basenji
  2. Italian Greyhound
  3. Maltese
  4. Chihuahua

Terrier-type dogs:

  1. Australian Terrier
  2. Tibetan Terrier
  3. Airedale Terrier
  4. Bedlington Terrier
  5. Kerry Blue Terrier
  6. Irish Terrier
  7. Schnauzer
  8. Soft-coated Wheaten Terrier

Although these breeds are better suited to those with allergies, those with less severe symptoms may get away with other canines.

Every dog, like every owner, is different. Your uncle’s Labrador may cause you to sneeze non-stop, but there’s NO guarantee that every labrador will cause the same reaction.

However, we’re not encouraging allergy-sufferers to go out and adopt a German Shepherd right away based on that fact.

They’re one of the worst dog breeds for allergies. So while they may not all be allergy-inducing, you still need to be smart about it.

Breeds that are prone to dry skin are known for having excessive saliva or drooling or are difficult to house-train should be avoided.

By following strict hygiene methods and lifestyle practices, you may very well live a happy and near allergy-free life.

a charming brown Poodle standing on the grass
A smiling Poodle with a dog ball standing on the grass

Choosing the right pooch for my dog allergies

Even though it feels like you have little to no control over the sniffles and sneezing because of dog allergy, there are ways and means of working around it, especially if you want to avoid developing health complications.

By making safe lifestyle choices, you’re able to make the best of your situation without your allergy getting in the way, whether it’s choosing the right dog breed or minimizing contact and allergy-proofing your home.

Whatever choices you make, you’re one step closer to living your best life with your best friend.

If you have any tricks and more tips for dealing with dog allergies, feel free to share them with us in the comments below!


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