Mother nature has a twisted sense of humor: Dogs have coevolved with us to become our best animal friends, but some people are stricken with an allergy to these pure balls of joy. Thus the quest of finding a “hypoallergenic” dog is a holy grail of sorts, and it’s tempting to believe that there’s a perfect breed out there that will grant your nose, eyes, and sinuses a reprieve.
The truth, however, is more complex. (Isn't it always?) A 2011 study published in the American Journal of Rhinology & Allergy was unable to find a reduction in the levels of one major allergen protein in the homes of those with “hypoallergenic” dog breeds vs. other breeds.
It’s important to understand how dogs cause allergies before setting out to find the right pup. It’s not necessarily the fur itself, but proteins secreted in their saliva, dander, and other bodily fluids, something that all dog breeds can carry. As explained by the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology, “The proteins found in a pet's dander, skin flakes, saliva and urine can cause an allergic reaction or aggravate asthma symptoms in some people.” Shedding can further trigger symptoms when dander particles and saliva sticks to the dogs’ fur. Dr. Lynn Buzhardt, DVM, writes for the Veterinary Centers of America: “Saliva sticks to the hair when a dog licks himself… [d]ander lies on the dog’s skin and coat and is left behind when the dog sheds hair or shakes... How hypoallergenic a dog is may depend on the individual dog and person.”
While there's no proven totally “hypoallergenic” dogs, here are some low-shedding breeds that may be less likely to trigger milder allergies.
1. Bichon Frise
These adorable, spunky dogs have the added benefit of looking like TV-psychic Gary Spivey. Their white, cloud-like coats sheds less than those of many other dog breeds, according to Modern Dog Magazine. They’re also on the smaller side, another factor to consider (as smaller dogs will spread fewer allergens around).
2. Yorkshire Terrier
It may seem counterintuitive, but dog breeds with longer hair tend to shed less: their hair continues to grow for longer than that of short-to-medium haired dogs, according to the AKC. Yorkies famous have cascades of seemingly endless hair, looking a bit more like Beauty and the Beast transmogrified push-brooms than real animals.
3. American Hairless Terrier
On the other end of the hairiness spectrum is the American Hairless Terrier. Their lack of hair obviously means little shedding, however their skin and saliva can still secrete the allergen proteins, so whether or not they trigger allergies will depend on a case-by-case basis (and just how drooly each pooch is). As we’ve learned from Patrick Stewart, just because they’re hairless doesn’t mean they lack style: their skin can sport speckles, spots, and piebald patterns, reported the Westminster Kennel Club. But as they lack fur, it’s important to protect their skin with dog-friendly sunscreen.
4. Miniature Schnauzer
The Miniature Schnauzer’s compact size and low-shedding frequency, as per Vet Street, could potentially help reduce how often you’re triggered by dander. Though it could depend on how they’re groomed: their adorably long beards do look like drool traps.
5. Chinese Crested
These tiny dogs are party in the front, business in the middle, and more party in the back. They sport a mane of long hair on their heads and a plume of hair on their tails, whereas the rest of their body is mostly hairless, as explained on Dogster. Do they look like they’ve just emerged from a fight with some clippers? Yes. Are they adorable? Obviously.
The Affenpinscher is a dog infamous for looking like a mutated Ewok. Its wiry hair is said to be more allergy-friendly, according to Animal Planet, but likely one of the greatest benefits of this dog is its size: at only 7-10 pounds, there’s simply less dog to produce dander and saliva. Still, you may run into trouble with allergies if you can’t resist kissing its tiny little gremlin face.
7. Russian Tsvetnaya Bolonka
The Russian Tsvetnaya Bolonka looks a bit like Chewbacca cross-bred with a feather duster (either George Lucas borrowed his ideas from dogs, or dogs are in for a hell of a lawsuit). These dogs grow out their wookie locks and do not shed, said the AKC, which may help with allergies. Its small size (around 10 pounds) is another bonus.
8. Afghan Hound
The Afghan Hound sports long flowing locks of Garnier model hair, with a perfectly framed face and layered styling (sometimes I show my hairdresser a picture of these dogs for reference). The reason they’re considered more allergy-friendly is that their enviable cascade of fur sheds infrequently, according to Hill's Pet. Then again, these dogs are on the larger side (around 60 pounds of pure smoldering glamor) so they’ll be responsible for more dander and saliva than a smaller breed of dog. Dr. Buzhardt warns, “The total body surface area of a larger dog simply harbors more particulate matter, i.e. dander.”
9. Bedlington Terrier
The Bedlington Terrier is most notable for its unusually shaped forehead (which draws comparisons to a lamb, according to Cesar's Way), though this is not naturally occurring but due to the standard grooming practices associated with the breed. However, allergy sufferers may want to consider grooming practices that prioritize reducing dander and saliva: frequently bathing and brushing your dog are considered to be good habits for those with sensitivities. The Bedlington’s fur is also less prone to shed, which makes good grooming habits more effective. As stated above, it’s important to consider the size of the breed: as a medium-sized dog (around 20 pounds), it will generate a moderate amount of allergen material.
This dog pairs well with many different types of pasta — wait, sorry, no, that’s Bolognese sauce. The Bolognese is a powder puff of a dog, reported Dogtime, weighing only around 5-9 pounds. In fact, these dogs appear to be mostly fluff, and I’d challenge dog scientists to look under all that fur and find the actual dog. They have a wooly coat that needs to be properly brushed and groomed to prevent matting (which will also help manage allergen levels).
11. Portugese Water Dog
The most famous Portugese Water Dog is “Bo,” former President Obama’s family dog. It was apparently chosen due to Malia’s allergies, reported the L.A. Times, yet as previously discussed, no dog is 100% hypoallergenic. So what about the PWD is preferable for allergy sufferers? Its curly coat is less likely to shed and spread dander, basically. Did Bo live up to his duty to spare the First Daughter from allergies, or was the Secret Service deployed to engage in some shed-alert grooming maneuvers? We may have to wait decades before this information is declassified.
You may think you've never heard of a Puli dog, but you probably have seen one: They're the dogs that look like living mops (similar to the Komondor). These dogs have corded coats which are less prone to shed. For allergy sufferers, the Puli may be preferable to the Komondor due to their smaller size. But despite looking like mops, it's unlikely they'll actually help clean up your home.