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Life can be confusing: What’s healthy to eat, what’s not; which dog breeds are hypoallergenic, which aren’t…
Hypoallergenic Poodle Mixes are so popular, but is it possible to have a truly hypoallergenic dog? This article explains what allergies are, how dogs trigger allergies, how to reduce the risk factors and the truth about so-called hypoallergenic Poodle Mixes.
All Is Not As It Seems
To research the right breed of hypoallergenic dog for you, it’s logical to turn to the internet. But what happens when you enter ‘hypoallergenic dog’ in a search engine?
So many breeds pop up on the search that it seems easier to list those dogs not listed. Sadly, all is not as it seems because many of these recommended breeds are as likely to trigger allergies as regular dogs.
So the first thing to realize is just because someone claims a breed is hypoallergenic doesn’t mean it is.
The First Poodle Mixes
Of all the breeds, poodles have the best reputation for being hypoallergenic (more of this later!) Indeed, the first poodle-mixes came about to create hypoallergenic service dogs for disabled people with allergies.
This is great as far as it goes but, in truth, there are no truly hypoallergenic dogs…only breeds less likely than others to trigger an allergy. To get to grips with this, let’s start at the beginning by understanding what hypoallergenic means and how allergies happen.
What Is Hypoallergenic?
A dictionary definition of hypoallergenic is: “Relatively unlikely to cause an allergic reaction”.
(Notice ‘relatively unlikely’ rather than ‘guaranteed’.)
So a hypoallergenic dog is one that’s unlikely (but not guaranteed) to trigger an allergic reaction.
How Do Allergic Reactions Work?
Consider the person with hay fever. In their case pollen is the ‘allergen’ that triggers the allergic reaction. The immune system registers the pollen as a foreign substance and over-reacts, mobilizing the immune system in an over-the-top way.
Step-by-step this mechanism involves:
- Receptors registering the allergen
- This triggers the release of antibodies
- The antibodies trigger a release of natural chemicals (such as histamine) which cause the symptoms of a runny nose, sneezing, and itchy eyes.
For someone with an allergy to dogs, their immune system is programmed to over-react to dog dander rather than pollen.
Dog dander, you say, what is that and how can I avoid it?
There are several allergens linked to dogs and these include compounds found in canine:
- Dander (shed skin cells)
So when someone with an allergy to dogs strokes a canine, it is the allergen in the latter’s fur and shed skin cells that trigger their symptoms.
Are Poodle Mixes Hypoallergenic?
Sadly, although poodles and their mixes have a reputation for being hypoallergenic, there is not a shred of scientific evidence to back this up. Indeed, studies looking at dog allergens in the home found no difference in levels between normal dogs and ‘hypoallergenic’ dogs.
However, allergies are complex and there is some wriggle-room which means some people seem able to better tolerate poodle-mixes than other breeds. This flexibility comes from factors such as the level of allergen exposure, and anecdotal reports that poodle hair is less allergenic than other types of dog hair.
Thus, a person allergic to dogs is better off with a non-shedding breed (such as the poodle) because they leave less hair about the house, meaning a lower level of allergens. This is the equivalent of a person with mild hay-fever being fine when the pollen count is low.
Another tick in the box for poodles and poodle-mixes is their long curly coats traps dander, keeping it to themselves. Again this is good news, as the level of dog dander in house dust will be lower.
So the short answer is “No,” unfortunately no dog breed is truly hypoallergenic.
But the slightly fudged answer is that some breeds are better than others for sufferers with mild allergies.
Why Don't Poodles Shed?
Ah, did you spot the deliberate mistake? ALL dogs shed, it’s just a case of whether they are low or high shedders. Our dear friend the poodle is a low shedder…for two reasons.
The first is that his hair grows much like human hair, and can get longer and longer and longer. This is in contrast to other breeds where the hair only grows to a certain length and then falls out. Thus, each poodle hair stays in the follicle for longer, resulting in less shedding.
The second reason is those luxurious curls trap shed hair. When poodle hair does eventually fall out, it stays on the dog rather than transferring to the cushions.
Reducing Your Allergy Risk
Ok, so you have a mild allergy and are desperate for a dog. How can you reduce the risk of reacting to your pet pal.
Choosing a poodle or low-shedding poodle mix is a good start. They do shed and produce dander, but less of it and so there will be fewer allergens in the environment. However, their coat contains trapped hair and dander, making the dog a walking allergen-repository.
One answer is to bathe the dog frequently.
Use a mild, moisturizing, dog shampoo and bathe your dog weekly. This washes allergens out of the coat, meaning there are fewer for you to encounter.
Also, keep the allergen level down in your home by daily vacuuming with a High Efficiency Particulate Arrestance (HEPA) filter and regular dusting. Switching from allergen trapping carpets to laminate flooring also reduces the background level of allergens.
Be sensible about hugging and snuggling your pet. Sadly, burrowing your face into that silky soft coat is like a person with hay-fever sticking their nose into a bouquet of flowers…not a good idea. Likewise, wash your hands after petting the dog so that you don’t accidentally transfer allergens to your face.
It’s also best not to sleep with the dog in the bedroom, as this gives a sustained hit of allergens. In short, be sensible about your exposure in order to manage a mild allergy to dogs.
Keeping A Healthy Coat
Keeping your poodle-mix’s coat healthy also plays a part in reducing allergies. If the skin is healthy and supple, it’s less flakey which means less dander.
To attain this panacea feed a nourishing balanced diet that is rich in antioxidants. You may also which to give a food supplement containing omega 3 & 6 oils. These nourish the baby skin cells at the deepest level, so the skin is more supple.
Daily brushing is also good news (Wear a mask). This spreads natural conditioning oils over the hair making it more resilient and less prone to shedding.
Are Any Poodle Mixes More Hypoallergenic Than Others?
To answer this question think about the coat characteristics of each parent breed. Doubtless, you’ll have seen Cockapoos with short silky coats whilst others have long curly locks. This depends on which genes they inherit from which parent.
Think of it this way: If your poodle-mix has one high shedding and one low shedding parent, then the resulting litter will be a mix of both high and low shedding pups. Thus the pup you fall in love with could be a high-shedder and you won’t know in advance. To eliminate this lottery, choose a poodle-mix from another low-shedding breed; for example a poochon (poodle x bichon).
All in all, it’s important to be realistic that there’s no such thing as a truly hypoallergenic dog. However, the good news is, whilst there’s no scientific evidence, both poodles and poodle-mixes do seem better tolerated by some people with allergies.
However, if you are allergic to dogs, enter into ownership cautiously because there are no guarantees.
Author: Dr Pippa Elliott BVMS MRCVS
Dr. Pippa graduated as a veterinarian from Glasgow University in 1987. Since then she has worked in companion animal practice and has a special interest in internal medicine. Pippa is housekeeping staff to a naughty puggle, three cats, and a bearded dragon.