Spoiler: You can still cuddle them!
Posted on March 29, 2017, 00:31 GMT
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
Tzahiv / Getty Images
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.
Disney / Via giphy.com
“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
4. But to clear up any confusion about
what’s really making you feel crappy, go to your
NBC / Via giphy.com
They can do a skin test and tell you what’s up.
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
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.
8. So basically, the best kind of dog
for allergy sufferers is a small, fluffy one.
Like, a toy poodle or maltipoo might be your BFF.
Got that? Good! Now, some
super useful advice for anyone who has a dog, wants a dog, or
has to be around a dog.
9. Talk to your vet about changing your
Cmannphoto / Getty Images
“A dog’s production of allergens has a lot has to do with
genetics, but partially to do with diet,” Mainardi says.
“Talk to your vet, because there are dietary supplements
your dog can take to stop its skin from peeling and
flaking as easily.”
10. Get a HEPA air purifier or put HEPA
filters in your air-conditioning unit.
NBC / Via quora.com
“A HEPA filter is by far the most
important thing to get,” says Mainardi. “When you buy
one, get one with a replacement filter, because ones that
keep the same filter for a long time tend to get clogged.
Make sure to get one that’s appropriate for the size of
the room it’s in, and if you can, try to have it running
all the time, especially when your dog is in the room.”
11. Vacuum often!
Mainardi suggests using a vacuum cleaner that also has a
HEPA filter (like this one). Whatever you do, don’t use
a vacuum with a bag, he says.
12. Deep clean your place during the day
and keep your windows open, if you can.
“Obviously, it depends on the time of year,” Mainardi
says. “If you have pollen allergies, definitely don’t
keep your windows wide open — just put on a fan or the
air conditioning. Either way, get out of the house after
you clean. The last thing you want to do is do a deep
clean at 9 p.m. and then go to bed, because you’ve kicked
all the dander up into the air and then you’ll breathe it
in all night.” Speaking of cleaning, Mainardi also
recommends giving your dog weekly baths.
If you live with a roommate or significant other, you can
try to negotiate cleaning tasks — have the non-allergy
sufferer do the dusting and vacuuming, while you wash the
dishes, for example – but Mainardi stresses that this is
only a suggestion, and that he is an allergist, not a
13. Avoid buying couches and chairs made
Universal Pictures / Via giphy.com
Materials like velvet and suede trap dander and are hard
to clean. Instead, consider leather furniture, which is
much less likely to attract hair and, as a result,
14. And get rid of that carpeting, while
you’re at it.
Columbia Pictures / Via pinterest.com
Unless you can’t, in which case you should vacuum
frequently, Mainardi advises.
15. Whatever you do, do not let your dog
into your bed!
All that stuff about fabric attracting hair and dander is
especially true in your bed. As tempting as it is to have
a cuddle/sleep buddy, Mainardi recommends sequestering
dogs completely outside your sleeping area altogether.
16. For that matter, keep them off of
your couch, too.
That means no watching TV together like best buds.
17. Remember that a lint brush is your
HBO / Via popsugar.com
Every pet owner knows how easy it is to walk out of the
house with fur all over your clothes, but allergy
sufferers need to stop doing that ASAP — it’ll make you
feel symptoms all day. Regular lint brushing should solve
18. If you have other allergies, treat
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Allergies are additive, and having two or more is more
likely to make you feel like crap. “If you treat one,
like a dust mite or mold allergy, really well, your
reaction to a dog might not be as bad,” Mainardi says.
19. And keep antihistamines handy for
FOX / Via giphy.com
“Discuss any and all medications with your physician
before you take anything, but most people start with
antihistamines like Zyrtec and Claritin, which have very
few side effects and can be very effective,” says
Mainardi. “If those and nasal or inhaled steroids don’t
work, consider immunotherapy, which is what most people
call allergy shots. Those are the best way to guarantee a
good quality of life.”
20. Phew! That was a lot. If you’re
still determined to get a dog, just know that your
body won’t “get used to” being around it.
NBC / Via imgur.com
“I’ve had patients with allergies that have gotten a dog,
and a year or two later, they say their allergy has
gotten better — but the reality is, nothing’s changed,
medically,” Mainardi says. “What’s happening is that
their symptoms don’t bother them as much or they’ve
gotten better at managing them.”
21. Honestly, though, Mainardi strongly
cautions against “just getting a dog anyway.”*
The reality is that everyone’s immune systems will react
to dogs differently. “Some people have inefficient immune
systems that don’t overreact to an allergen, so they can
just take Zyrtec or some Flonase” he says. “If you’ve got
a great immune system that produces a ton of
antibodies when it detects an allergen, you really
shouldn’t get a dog.” The latter group, according to
Mainardi, can develop asthma and may even have to get rid
of their dog.
If you don’t know which group you fall into, talk to your
doctor or allergist first — but know that most allergists
will try to talk you out of it.
*Full disclosure: Mainardi is my allergist; I asked him
about this “hypothetically,” and he answered me,
personally, as my doctor. Womp womp.
22. But if you meet or hang out with (or
own, I won’t tell) a dog, you can still cuddle with
“It’s the job of the allergist to make sure you can
actually enjoy your life, and dogs are part of that,”
Mainardi says. “For the majority of my patients,
following all of my steps is more than enough to make
being around a dog a wonderful and rewarding experience.”
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