Downtime

Is There Such a Thing as a Hypoallergenic Dog?

My husband can’t stop sneezing around pups, but we really want one anyway.

A dog looking at a man sneezing into a tissue.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Thinkstock, Deagreez/iStock/Getty Images, and Ken Reid/Unsplash.

Beast Mode is Slate’s pet advice column. Have a question? Send it to beastmode@slate.com.

Dear Beast Mode,

My husband is extremely allergic to dogs, but we both still want to consider getting one. I am a strong believer in “adopt, don’t shop,” but the hypoallergenic pups are few and far between. Any advice besides heavily drugging my husband?

—I’m With Sniffles

Dear I’m With Sniffles,

Why stop at a hypoallergenic dog? You should also consider adopting a pup that doesn’t poop, or one that is a CPA so it can help with your taxes. If you have the room, you could skip the dog altogether and get a Pegasus so you can fly around the fantasy kingdom you seem to inhabit.

I apologize for making fun, but you have been misled. Let’s get this straight: There is no such thing as an allergy-proof dog. None. There are breeds that shed less than others, but even they can trigger allergy symptoms.

“I thought we debunked this years ago,” Angel Waldron, a representative for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, tells me. Allergens found in pet dander, the ubiquitous little skin flakes that ride around on animal hides, are the most likely source of your husband’s allergy attacks, not dog fur. “There’s no escaping it,” Waldron says, adding that “even a humpback whale has dander.”

Because dander sticks to fur, one might assume a dog that sheds a lot would spread the allergen around more, but a 2011 study published in the American Journal of Rhinology & Allergy contends that this isn’t necessarily the case. The researchers examined dust samples from 173 single-dog households and found that breeds billed as “hypoallergenic” produced the same level of dander as their “normal” counterparts. “There was no evidence for differential shedding of allergen by dogs grouped as hypoallergenic,” the study concluded. “Additional scientific investigation into dog-specific factors and whether hypoallergenic breeds truly exist is warranted.” My advice will always be to adopt from a shelter or rescue group, and promises of reduced shedding won’t change that a lick.

I get why you want a dog. They are the best and, even better, they think you are the best. But while a pup’s love and admiration for its owner may be limitless, you can’t expect a dog to conform to your needs. Adopting one will change your life, and you need to determine whether or not that will be for the better. That’s not being selfish; your own health and happiness will determine that of your dog’s.

I’m sorry that your husband is allergic to dogs. The most obvious solution is to leave him. But if you really want to stick out your marriage, have your husband properly diagnosed by an allergist. Modern allergy treatments like immunotherapy may help him with his reactions. Your doctor will also have advice about how to mitigate the presence of pet dander in your home, like keeping the dog out of your bedroom and vacuuming frequently.

If it sounds like his allergies can be managed, great! But that alone shouldn’t determine your decision. A pup will do more than make your husband sneeze. It might chew on your shoe or pee on the rug. It’ll probably fart in your face. (I have determined that my own dog does this on purpose now.) Dogs aren’t perfect, but they think you are. The least you can do is make sure you’re prepared to live up to this prestigious reputation the best you can. This means adopting only if you know for certain that it will be for the long run. A dog’s well-being—and your husband’s—is nothing to sneeze at.