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Are Hypoallergenic Dogs a Myth? The Study Results

The AKC lists 19 breeds as having hypoallergenic qualities. Do the dog breeds on this list really produce less dander and allergens? A study, based in Detroit, Michigan, sought to find out. Here's what they learned.
Hypoallergenic Coton De Tulear Dog Breed
The Coton De Tulear, a low shed dog and recent addition to the AKC registry.  Image by CVF-pfs

The breeds listed below have been touted by the AKC and breeders as being hypoallergenic, mainly because they shed substantially less than other dog breeds.  However, hair itself is not allergenic; it's the dander attached to it that causes the sniffles and asthma attacks.

The assumption has been, less hair in the air means less dander floating around. As a result, an industry of mixed breeds claiming hypoallergenic status has flooded the dog market. Americans are prepared to spend big dollars ($1500-$5000) on purportedly low allergy mongrels.

The AKC's "Hypoallergenic" Dog Breeds List:


  • Afghan Hound
  • Bedlington Terrier
  •  Bichon Frise
  •  Chinese Crested
  • Coton De Tulear
  • Irish Water Spaniel
  • Kerry Blue Terrier
  • Maltese
  • Poodle
  • Portuguese Water Dog
  • Miniature Schnauzer
  • Standard Schnauzer
  • Soft Coated Wheaton Terrier
  • Zoloitzuintli (Mexican Hairless)
  • American Hairless Terrier
  • Lagotto Romagnolo
  • Spanish Water Dog
  • Peruvian Inca Orchid (Hairless) 
Three Mexican Hairless Dogs Hypoallerginc Dogs
Mexican Hairless Dogs. You might expect them to be as free from allergens as they are from hair.

Designer Mixes Claiming Hypoallergenic Qualities:

  • Goldendoodle - Golden Retrieve and Poodle cross
  • Maltipoos - Maltese Poodle mix
  • Maltichon - Maltese and Bichon mix
  • Mauxi - Dachshund - Maltese mix 
  • Anything else mixed with Poodle or Maltese
Despite the public interest in hypoallergenic pets, no one had ever tested the theory by testing the allergen levels in dog owners' homes.  Then came the study, published in The Journal of Rhinology and Allergy, that attempted to prove or disprove the hypoallergenic breed theory. 

The Allergen Results From the Study of 190 Detroit Homes 

The study[1], based in Detroit, selected participants from a pool of expectant mothers in their third trimester of pregnancy. 190 Expectant mothers who reported owning dogs as pets which where allowed in their homes were asked: the breed of their dog, how much time it spent in the home and if it would be allowed into the nursery. Researchers then went to their homes, one month postpartum, to collect dust samples by vacuum in the nurseries, and then measure the levels of allergens present.

Homes with pure breed, hypoallergenic breeds and hypoallergenic mixes were tested and the results were categorized into four test schemes. 

Scheme A compared allergen levels from pure breed "Hypoallergenic" dog homes and other pure breed dogs as identified by the AKC. 

Scheme B compared pure breed dogs with mixed breed dogs where at least one parent was considered hypoallergenic. 

Scheme C compared purebred dogs, mixed breed dogs with one hypoallergenic parent and mixed breed dogs with no hypoallergenic component in their lineage.

Scheme D Compared only AKC listed purebred Hypoallergenic dogs to all other dog breeds.

The Results: there was no statistically significant difference between the allergen levels of hypoallergenic pure bred dog, designer hypoallergenic dogs and all other dog homes. 

In fact the hypoallergenic dogs consistently produced more allergens, although the increased level did not rise high enough to meet the statistically significant standard deviation. Perhaps these dogs should be rebranded as Hyperallergenic dogs.

3 Tips to Keeping Dog Dander and Pet Allergens Down in Your Home

What might be the cause of these low shedding dogs putting off more dander that those that shed regularly? It may be that those shedding coat are also dropping off their dander on lost hairs outdoors as well as indoors, while the non-shed coat retains much of the dander clinging to their dense coats.

Regular brushing and monthly baths using both shampoo and coat conditioner, can substantially reduce allergens.  As master stylist, Les Bouska of Atlanta Hair Studio explains, "Shampoo causes the hair follicle to open, allowing it to release the dirt and dander attached to the shaft. The conditioner then seals the shaft back closed, making it more difficult for dirt and dander to cling to each hair shaft. Skipping the conditioner leaves the shaft open to quickly collect more allergens." However, he warns, bathing too often with cheap shampoos can actually cause dry skin conditions that can actually increase the allergen levels in your home.

Adding antioxidants such as fish oil and dog probiotics to your dog's diet can also help alleviate any skin conditions that result in excess dander being generated.

Dogs like to have their own personal space, so provide your dog with his own special bedding that can easily be washed. We like the dog beds whose fill is made from spun threads from recycled plastic bottles. These dry quickly and do not retain dander or pet odors after a quick cycle in the washing machine.

Citations:


Charlotte E. Nicholas, Ganesa R. Wegienka, Suzanne L. Havstad, Edward M. Zoratti, Dennis R. Ownby, Christine Cole Johnson
Am J Rhinol Allergy. 2011 Jul-Aug; 25(4): 252–256. doi: 10.2500/ajra.2011.25.3606




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