Allergic to Dogs? This Test Can Tell You Which Ones

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

allergic to dogs

Story at-a-glance -

  • Allergies to pets are not fur-related, but are caused by sensitivities to an animal’s urine, saliva and/or dander
  • If you’re allergic to dogs, it’s possible you’re reacting only to intact males
  • The allergen in these dogs is a protein called Can f 5 that’s made in the prostate gland; a blood test has recently been approved that can determine whether this is the protein you’re reacting to
  • Fortunately, most allergic pet parents are able to implement lifestyle workarounds that make it possible for them to keep or acquire the animal companions they love

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), allergies to cats are about twice as common as allergies to dogs.1 But if you or a family member is sensitive to dogs, there’s a chance you react only to intact males. In an interview with CNN, allergist Dr. Lakiea Wright of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston explains:

"Up to 30% of people who are allergic to dogs are actually allergic to one specific protein that's made in the prostate of a dog. If you're allergic to only that specific protein in the male dog, you may be able to tolerate a female or a neutered dog.”2

The protein was actually discovered years ago, but the blood test that reliably identifies the allergen received FDA approval just 10 months ago.

If You’re Allergic Only to Intact Male Dogs, This Protein Is the Culprit

If you have asthma or allergies to airborne irritants such as dust or pollen, you’re at higher than average risk for pet allergies as well. According to the AAFA, 3 in 10 people with any allergy will also be allergic to cats and/or dogs. And while most people assume it’s the animal’s fur that triggers an allergic reaction, it’s actually proteins in your pet’s urine, saliva and dander (dead skin cells) that cause your immune system to overreact.

To date, 6 specific canine allergens have been identified, and humans can be allergic to one or more of them, but not others, which means certain breeds and dogs of a specific gender may trigger you, while others won’t. However, since all dogs make one or more types of proteins, no truly hypoallergenic dog exists.

"When we suspect a dog allergy, we're testing for that whole allergen," Wright explains. "But then we're also looking at specific proteins, the parts that make up the whole, to refine that diagnoses."

In intact male dogs, the Can f 5 (Canis familiaris 5) protein is made in the prostate. When these dogs urinate, the protein can spread to skin and fur anywhere on their bodies. These proteins are very lightweight and once airborne, can hang in the air for long periods, and land on furniture, rugs, mattresses, and clothing.

If you suspect or know you or a family member has an allergy to dogs, and perhaps male dogs, you can ask your doctor for the new FDA-approved blood test to determine if you’re reacting to the Can f 5 protein. If you are and you don’t yet have a dog, consider adopting a female or a neutered male.

Fortunately, in my experience, most people who are allergic to furry companions find ways to manage that don't involve giving up or going without an animal. The benefits of sharing life with a pet seem to outweigh the bother of mild allergies for most animal lovers. If you're on the fence about whether or not to get a pet, why not consider fostering a dog first to see how things go?

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15 Ways to Minimize Pet Allergens at Home

1. Consider making your bedroom (or the bedroom of your allergic family member) a pet-free zone. This means your dog can’t enter the room for any reason.

2. Purchase a good quality air purifier to help clean the indoor air of allergens and other pollutants.

3. To prevent a buildup of allergens inside your home, if possible, replace carpeting with hard flooring, replace drapes and curtains with non-fabric window coverings, and avoid cloth-covered (upholstered) furniture.

4. Clean your home often and thoroughly, including any surfaces that trap pet hair and dander (couch covers, pillows, bedding, etc.).

5. Wash human and pet bedding frequently in hot water.

6. Bathe your dog often using only safe, non-drying organic pet shampoos.

7. If your pet rides in the car with you, consider using washable seat covers.

8. Sensitive family members should wash their hands after handling a pet. If you’ve been snuggling on the couch with your pup, consider a shower and shampoo before lights out to avoid bringing pet allergens to bed with you. If your children roll around on the floor or grass with their animals, they should also bathe or shower and shampoo before bed, so they don't transfer pet allergens onto their pajamas and bedding.

9. Allow kids to be kids. Let your children play outside and get dirty, and use regular soap, not antibacterial soap, for hand washing and bathing.

Research into the hygiene hypothesis, which is the theory that humans can be too clean for their own good and underexpose their immune systems to common microbes in the environment, has provided compelling evidence that kids exposed to pets before their immune systems are fully developed at around age two are less likely to develop allergies than children without pets in the home.

10. Consider taking a probiotic supplement and/or eating traditionally fermented foods. A healthy gut microbiome is important for proper immune system function, and research indicates doses of good bacteria help train the immune systems of infants to resist childhood allergies.

11. Also consider taking quercetin, which is a bioflavonoid with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. I call it “nature’s Benadryl” because it suppresses the release of histamine, which is what causes much of the inflammation, redness and irritation characteristic of an allergic response.

12. Bromelain and papain are proteolytic enzymes that increase the absorption of quercetin, and also suppress histamine production. I recommend using quercetin, bromelain, and papain together because they suppress the release of prostaglandins, which are also a factor in the inflammatory process.

13. Omega-3 fatty acids help decrease inflammation throughout the body. One of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids is krill oil. Consider supplementing with both krill oil and coconut oil. Coconut oil contains lauric acid, which helps decrease production of yeast, and together they can help moderate or suppress the inflammatory response.

14. Feed your pet an anti-inflammatory (grain-free), nutritionally optional, fresh species-specific diet. Reducing or eliminating allergenic and genetically modified foods in your dog’s diet can help reduce production of allergenic saliva. This is my top tip for super-sensitive people, and can’t be replaced by other environmental changes.

15. Make sure your dog pet's essential fatty acid requirements are met. By assuring she has optimal levels of omega-3 fatty acids in her diet, you can dramatically reduce shedding and dander.

Reducing the allergen load in your home and minimizing allergic reactions to your pets will help every member of the family, two-legged and four-legged, live more comfortably together.