Getting used to dog allergy?
May 18, 2019 4:35 PM   Subscribe

My family is interested in getting a puppy and I have some slight reservations. We would be getting something small and non shedding. So think of a Bichon or toy/mini poodle.

I am hesitant about it because I had a negative experience with a kitten that I was allergic too many years ago and it had to be returned to the breeder. In the end I’m not sure if it was the actual cat or some other environmental allergen.

I have had both blood and skin prick tests done and I they came back as negative. But my tests for other environmental allergens are all positive (all pollens, dust mites, mold, etc). When I interact with dogs like labs, boxers, cattle dogs I occasionally get a little itchy.

Today we did a meet and greet with the breeder and two adults and a puppy. The breeder has multiple breeds, so I guess it is tough to isolate dogs and dander. But I had a similar issue. A little itchy, but nothing else. Think of just an annoying skin itch. No hives or anything like that. I guess it is entirely possible that it is pollen or other allergens the dog is carrying from being so close to the ground. Ultimately, what I'm trying to avoid is the kids loving the dog , but it causing me so much allergic grief that we need to rehome it.

I’m looking for some stories positive or negative of folks either getting used to their dog or not.

I’m willing to suffer a little for my kids enjoyment. I did grow up with cats and can’t recall an issue.
posted by burlsube to Pets & Animals (17 answers total)
I have had my shi tzu (supposedly hypoallergenic) for 8 years when my daughter’s mild “feeling stuffed up” allergic reaction became suddenly serious at 2am, necessitating a trip to the ER. My daughter is now unable to be in the same room as the dog that used to sleep cuddled beside her. So, I think if you are already showing mild signs, I would not get a dog for exactly the reason you state, having to give it up would be heartbreaking; not being able to breathe at all would be worse.
posted by saucysault at 4:44 PM on May 18 [11 favorites]

I grew up with Bichons in the 70s and they are awesome. Hypoallergenic and no shedding. Shave them in the summer to help keep them cool if you live in a warm place.
posted by terrapin at 4:59 PM on May 18

I have a relative who is a little allergic to cats and dogs but was not particularly allergic to *her* cat after a month or two, nor did she have any reaction to our childhood dogs.

Daily over the counter antihistamines can help a lot, if you haven’t tried them, or if you haven’t tried the newer non-drowsy ones. If I have Zyrtec (or the cheap Costco generic equivalent) coursing through my system the birch pollen can’t make much of a dent. If I don’t start before the pollen does, though, I want to claw my eyes out. Generic Claritin or Allegra work pretty well for others I know, including my relative if she comes to my dog-dander filled house, although they didn’t help much for me.
posted by charmedimsure at 5:37 PM on May 18 [1 favorite]

I grew up with Bichons in the 70s and they are awesome. Hypoallergenic and no shedding.

There's no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog. I wish people wouldn't continue to perpetuate this. I know so many families who spent small fortunes on dogs marketed as non-allergenic, and then had to return them when oops a person's allergies became serious.

If you have allergies to dogs, don't get a dog.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 5:43 PM on May 18 [19 favorites]

Just a random person data point: I had dogs and cats growing up. No allergies. Went away to college and came back severely allergic to cats and moderately allergic to dogs. I slowly reintroduced the allergens by petting an occasional cat or dog. The dog allergy slowly got better. A few years later, I got a dog and have had dogs ever since with no problems. I was dangerously allergic to cats for much, much longer. Now (30 years later), I can generally tolerate cats, pet them, be in cat filled homes, but won’t risk owning one.
posted by MountainDaisy at 5:44 PM on May 18

My partner was really allergic to cats growing up, but it decreased as he got older. I have a medium haired cat who I would give up for literally nobody and when we started dating her dander bothered him a little bit but we moved in a couple of years later and he now has no problems whatsoever because his body has gotten used to the specific allergens she puts out into the environment or whatever. Other unfamiliar cats still bother his allergies.
posted by urbanlenny at 5:46 PM on May 18

I had an experience very similar to MountainDaisy. I had mild reaction to cats, and still do. I lived with a cat for about the past 11 years, and 90% of the time it was fine. But there were some days I just needed to get out of the house. I was pretty cautious to always wash my hands after playing with her, and I didn't let her sleep in my bed (or at least near my pillow). I wasn't as strict about taking Zyrtec every day, but that would have helped more.

Based on my experience, I'd guess that if you take normal precautions you'll do ok, and you might even get better over time. (wash your hands often; take allergy meds; don't let the dog sleep on your pillow; vaccuum/sweep often; etc.)

You could also work with a rescue group and act as a foster home. There are bichon frise rescue groups and tons of poodle rescue groups. Many other rescue groups will also get dogs that might work for you. As a foster home, you can give it a try and see if your allergies get better or worse. And if all is well, you can adopt the dog you're fostering.
posted by hydra77 at 6:52 PM on May 18 [1 favorite]

A mild itch when you occasionally interact with dogs is just mildly annoying. A mild itch ALL THE TIME ALL YOUR LIFE would become unbearable.

I think you should try taking over the counter antihistamines for a couple of days, then interact with the dogs again and see if that keeps the itchiness away. Then think very carefully about whether you would, in the worst case scenario, be prepared to take those every day for as long as the dog lives.

It's possible you will become non-allergic to your own dog over time - that's how it works for me with cats - but it's also possible you won't. So antihistamines might be necessary. And if the antihistamines don't fix the problem entirely on your test visits, I wouldn't risk getting the dog at all.
posted by lollusc at 8:45 PM on May 18

If you are allergic to environmental allergens, nonshedding dogs are likely a worse not better choice. Their hair is more porous and curly and hangs on to dirt and pollen. Your best choice would be a cat that never ever goes outside to bring that in to you. Honestly, getting another living breathing being and *hoping* you will become ok isn’t fair to you, the animal or your family. There are other pets. Don’t make yourself miserable long term because you don’t want to say No now. Take care of yourself.
posted by stoneweaver at 4:43 AM on May 19

My aunt is a vet who has with mild cat/dog allergies. She gets allergy shots to manage it. Says it works for her. If and only if you want to, something like that (or at least Flonase or something) might help manage your allergies on a long-term basis.
posted by mosst at 5:39 AM on May 19 [1 favorite]

And I will say that, while I’m not allergic to dogs, my non-shedding dog does seem to exacerbate my seasonal allergies (not to mention that he seems to have very very similar seasonal allergies that he handles with exactly the same drugs I do...). I handle it by brushing him thoroughly, trying to keep his hair clipped short during allergy season, and bathing as much as possible (though we probably don’t do it as much as we should). Keeping him out of the bed would probably be a smart move but it’s not one I’m willing to take :)
posted by mosst at 5:44 AM on May 19

with some people regular exposure does help. My husband was mildly allergic to cats but when we met I had two and like urbanlenny I made it clear that the cats and I were a package deal. Within weeks of living together he was fine with them. Ten years later he cuddles with our cat all the time and just needs to make sure that she doesn't lick his face.

We also have a dog (that predated me) and she is fine for us but my niece reacts to her. On the other hand my husband is like you burlsube and itches after touching labs.

tldr; if you adore animals take the chance. I am sad without pets in the house. Also it has been great for our kids not developing pet allergies
posted by biggreenplant at 6:52 AM on May 19

This is a little orthogonal, but I want to warn you that at least with the OTC (in the US) antihistamine Zyrtec/Cetirizine, a not well published issue with it is that if you take it daily for an extended period of time, withdrawal symptoms can mimic the symptoms you're treating. In order to avoid suffering the worst of the symptoms of withdrawal, you have to carefully wean over the period of a few months. Just going cold turkey, you can suffer frequent/intermittent symptoms of hayfever, rashes, hives, and "burning itching" throughout the body, for at least a 3 or 4 weeks. Not sure if this applies to other 2nd generation antihistamines or not. Ask me how I know.

Also, just wanted to note and confirm that even if you aren't technically allergic to something (via the blood test or the prick tests) you can still have other reactions that are describe as "sensitivities" that aren't officially allergies but can cause issues very like allergies.

I'm allergic to cats (as a kid I was allergic to a lot more, via the prick tests, but I recently got a blood test and I only showed a marginal reaction to dust mites, and a medium reaction to cats). Even so, I've had cats most of my life, and it's only since 2017 that I haven't had a cat (since my most recent feline supervisor passed away). Cats are very fine companions and I very much enjoy their company. Dogs also, and I'm definitely "sensitive" if not allergic to some breeds. I had a very strong hayfever reaction to a greyhound a few years ago.

My allergist told me a few weeks ago that if I really wanted a cat, I might want to give any candidate some forcible snuggles including rubbing it on my face before I committed to any single cat. This because different breeds and individuals are thought to be sort of randomly more or less allergy-inducing for a cat-sensitive like me.

Which brings me to this: My ex and I did a lot of research into dog breeds when we were thinking about getting a dog. We eventually settled on a double-coated Japanese Akita, who didn't shed much, but did shed. Before then we were strongly considering a standard poodle, Portuguese Water dog, or labradoodle, because the nature of their fur, more hairlike than furlike (in that it grows longer and curls). All of this is thought to retain the dander and saliva close to the dog's skin. Which... you know in your normal days of dog ownership assuming you emotionally bond with the pup may not actually help - if you get so into that you're playfully snuggling with, petting, cuddling, the dog, etc. But if you observe detached decorum could conceivably help.
posted by kalessin at 7:26 AM on May 19 [1 favorite]

I have bad allergies (hay fever variety, mold, pollen, dust), and also a mild, but definitely noticeable, cat allergy. I also have a cat, who is constantly rubbing his face up against my face, and who sleeps next to me in bed every night. With my current cat, and also with past cats, I've found that I adjust after the first couple weeks.

It sounds like you are looking at going through a breeder, but if you are open to using a rescue group instead, maybe you could consider fostering first? This would allow you to see how you respond over time to a particular animal.

This is a little orthogonal, but I want to warn you that at least with the OTC (in the US) antihistamine Zyrtec/Cetirizine, a not well published issue with it is that if you take it daily for an extended period of time, withdrawal symptoms can mimic the symptoms you're treating. In order to avoid suffering the worst of the symptoms of withdrawal, you have to carefully wean over the period of a few months. Just going cold turkey, you can suffer frequent/intermittent symptoms of hayfever, rashes, hives, and "burning itching" throughout the body, for at least a 3 or 4 weeks. Not sure if this applies to other 2nd generation antihistamines or not. Ask me how I know.

I also want to second kalessin on this point. I had no idea about this until I tried to stop taking zyrtec after being on it continuously for awhile. That burning itching from withdrawal is maddening. (I never have gotten hives or rashes from allergies, and it wasn't an actual rash, just an itch, so this wasn't like the zyrtec was masking symptoms.) I had to do an incredibly slow (like 8 months) taper in order to get off of it. I suspect this wouldn't be an issue if you take zyrtec only intermittently, but this is something to be aware of if you are planning to take it continuously to deal with a pet allergy.
posted by litera scripta manet at 10:39 AM on May 19 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all the feedback! Seems like there is some hope for my cause. I am open to the idea of fostering and I'll look into it.
posted by burlsube at 12:07 PM on May 19

I am very allergic to dogs and cats, and we specifically chose a Bichon because of my allergies. I lived very comfortably with him for nearly 18 years. I think the only time I was bothered by him was when he brought in pollen on his fur, but an extra bath here and there and/or more frequent changing of bed sheets kept that to a minimum.
posted by jenny76 at 5:17 AM on May 20

We've only had our puppy for 3 weeks so it may be too soon to comment but I did a lot of research on this as my partner has mild to severe dog allergies depending on the dog. It is definitely risky as some people with mild allergies develop severe ones when it's around every day, but many others do have dogs happily for many years. We decided to risk it as there are a lot of mitigation strategies if you are willing to put in the effort. So far it has been totally fine. Ironically it looks like I'm more allergic to the puppy than he is, though it could be coincidental seasonal allergies.

For puppies specifically, I would caution you that a puppy is an astounding amount of work and stress compared to an adult dog (which is already far more than a kitten), and you can't count on kids to do much if any of the work. My puppy is learning exceptionally fast and very sweet-natured, but at 13 weeks still requires 100% attention at all times when out of the crate or she will destroy even a "puppy-proofed" room (and screams for ages when in the crate, even after weeks of training). She also still needs a late-night potty break, and will continue to need quite a bit of effort on socialization and training for many months. I don't have kids but people I know who've raised both have said that puppies are harder than babies. So you really, really need to want it, especially when that stress is compounded by being itchy etc all the time. It's worth it for me but the lack of sleep and inability to do literally anything else for weeks is tough.

Definitely strongly recommend fostering an adult dog (or going through a rescue that will let you "trial" one for a week or two) if you don't have your heart set on a puppy. If you want a non-shedding breed (often labelled "hypoallergenic"), I would suggest contacting the rescue in advance as they are popular and there may be a waitlist for any that become available. Note that these breeds are not necessarily less "allergenic" than shedding breeds - my partner consistently reacts badly to yorkies for example, but has been fine with every husky we've met. Depends on the person and dog and breed.

Some things we do to lower the risk of aggravating allergies: never allow her in our bed (or on the second floor at all, at least for now), keep her in non-carpeted areas, never allow her on the furniture, get her used to being brushed and bathed regularly (work in progress on both), don't allow her to lick our faces, wash our hands after petting her if we can, try to avoid touching our eyes, sweep her area regularly. So far we haven't had to do the daily allergy meds or shots but those are an option if things get worse.
posted by randomnity at 5:21 AM on May 20 [1 favorite]

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