Yikes! I’m Allergic to My Dog!

In the interest of full disclosure, let me start my admitting that I am allergic to dog and cats both (as well as about a million other things).  Yes, I understand this does not make me the prime candidate to run a pet hotel where I am surrounded by dogs and cats every day at Pet Camp.  I often learn of pet parents who are forced to give up their dog because of their allergy, or an allergy a human child has to the dog.  I find these stories heartbreaking and, of course, sometimes rehoming is the only option. Before it goes that far, let’s discuss some other options.

What Causes an Allergic Reaction?

Most people think that an allergic reaction is caused by a dog’s fur.  This is why you will hear people say they want a dog with hair and not fur, one that doesn’t shed, or one that is hypoallergenic.  A previous blog discussed the concept of a hypoallergenic dog, so it won’t be discussed again here except to say that they don’t exist.

But what about the fur vs. hair thing?  There are many advantages to getting a dog with hair – shedding being a big one – but there are some drawbacks too. Most dogs with hair require more grooming and thus more grooming costs. But in terms of allergies, this distinction is probably not as big as people think.  It turns out that most allergic reactions are caused by dander (flakes of dead skin) and saliva, not shed fur. Of course all dogs possess both of these AND dogs within the same breed possess different amounts, so you might have a greater allergic reaction to one doodle over another!

What to Do? There are a range of options to solve your allergy issue:

  • Brush & Sweep:  Brushing your dog (or since you’re allergic, having someone else brush your dog) often will allow the dander to fall off away from your house.  In your home, sweep and vacuum often to remove any dander that has settled onto your floor.
  • Clean the Air: While perhaps not an issue in San Francisco, if you are running your air conditioner and heat often, make sure the air filters are clean.  The return air ducts will suck in dander and the air conditioner/heater will blow the dander everywhere in your house.
  • Consider Getting a Dog Bed: Sad as this sounds, you might need to consider making certain rooms of your house and certainly your bed (if not your bedroom) off limits to your dog.
  • Changing Pet Food: Some pet foods may make your dog’s skin less itchy and less likely to shed (the dead skin), thus reducing dander.
  • Medication (for you): There are, a host of over-the-counter and prescription allergy medicines out there.  Some meds work better for some people than others, and most people need to change the medicine they take every few years because they often lose their effectiveness the longer you take them.  Sadly, for some with allergies as bad as mine, allergy shots are the only real solution. This solution is not painful (of course shots aren’t fun) but they can be very time consuming! For many years, I needed to get 3 shots once a week, and the entire process can take 90 minutes (driving there, getting your shots, waiting 30 minutes to see if you have a reaction and driving back to work).

I love dogs.  I think running a doggie day care and pet boarding facility is a blast, and I’m prepared to accept the allergic downsides associated with my wacky career choice.  I also understand that some people need to strike a different balance, and the health risk of keeping their dog is simply too great. I very much hope that you are never confronted with having to make this decision, and that if you do, there is an opportunity to speak with both a dog person and an allergist about alternative options.