There are very, very few things more heart-wrenching than being obsessed with dogs but also being allergic to them.
I love dogs so much I sneak into dog parks just to stare at them running around. I have a dog calendar and a dog stuffed animal on my desk. I mean, I even deeply connect with dogs I see crossing the street 20 feet away. The only problem? I feel like I’m going to die when I’m around them — itchy, watery eyes, a runny nose, wheezing, the works. But as a grown adult who lives alone and loves company, I want a dog, no matter how miserable they make my body feel.
I decided to call up Dr. Tim Mainardi, a Manhattan-based allergist, to find out how to live with a dog if you’re allergic to them and what kind of dog I should get. (Because fuck allergies, amirite?) Here’s what I learned:
1. For starters, not all dog allergies are the same. You can be allergic to their dander, their saliva, or their urine — and, sometimes, more than one of those things.
Dander is the most common of the three allergens, Mainardi says. Dander is what flakes off of a dog’s skin and attaches to fur or hair. When a dog sheds, dander comes off with the hair, comes in contact with your skin, eyes, nose, or mouth, and makes you feel like an itch monster. A reaction to salivary proteins is the second-most common dog allergy, and an allergy to urinary proteins is the least common.
2. That means there’s no such thing as being allergic to dog hair.
3. And sometimes, your “dog allergies” might not be caused by a dog at all.
“If you notice that your allergies only really act up when you’re cleaning your dog’s blanket or bed, you’re probably allergic to dust mites, not the dog,” Mainardi says. “If you’ve got a pollen allergy, be careful not to let your dog roll around in the grass or leaves when it goes outside.”
4. But to clear up any confusion about what’s really making you feel crappy, go to your doctor.
5. The sad truth is that there’s no such thing as a truly hypoallergenic dog.
“There was a study where researchers went to people’s houses — some with ‘hypoallergenic’ dogs and some with ‘regular’ dogs — with vacuum cleaners and sucked up dander from carpeting and bedding to see which was worse,” Mainardi said. “They found no difference between the results of the hypoallergenic and allergenic breeds.”
What does that all mean? Basically, some dogs will be easier to bear for people with allergies, but overall, even hypoallergenic ones aren’t perfect. It also means that Bo and Sunny Obama are frauds.
6. But if you really, really, really want one anyway, get a small dog.
“A terrier and golden retriever will release different amounts of proteins and shed different amounts of dander,” Mainardi explained. “It’s really a matter of surface area. Little dogs mean smaller amounts of everything, and big dogs mean larger amounts of everything.”
That actually makes…a ton of sense.
7. And know the difference between a dog with “fur” and a dog with “hair.”
Fur and hair are technically the same, unless a dog has an undercoat. A hairy dog with an undercoat, like a Newfoundland, will shed all over the place, while a furry dog with a single coat, like a poodle, has less potential to shed. Fur is very dense at the follicles, Mainardi says, and doesn’t break off as easily as hair. Therefore, a dog with fur has less potential to shed dander — and F up your system — than a dog with hair.