An estimated 15 percent of Americans suffer from dog or cat allergies. So what happens if you decide you and your family could benefit from an assistance dog, but someone in your home is allergic to dogs? Does it mean you and your loved ones don’t get to experience all the life-changing wonders of partnering with a guide, hearing, or service dog?
Or, potentially scarier—what happens if you already made the emotional, financial, and time investment of partnering with an assistance dog, only to find out after the fact that someone in your home is allergic? Was it all for nothing? Do you have to give up your newfound canine helper?
Don’t despair! In most cases, it’s entirely manageable for someone with a dog allergy to happily and healthily live with a dog. All it takes is a little know-how and extra effort to greatly reduce or prevent symptoms, which typically include things like stuffy nose, sneezing, scratchy throat, wheezing, watery or itchy eyes, and rash or hives.
Of course, some people experience potentially life-threatening reactions, particularly those who have allergy-induced asthma. In these cases, the benefits of an assistance dog in the home obviously wouldn’t outweigh the risks.
Also, it’s worth noting that while some dog breeds are proclaimed to be hypoallergenic—that they trigger little to no allergic responses—such claims are highly exaggerated. Short-hair and hairless dogs are commonly held to by hypoallergenic, but people aren’t allergic to the hair; that’s a misconception. People are allergic to a dog’s dander, saliva, or urine—and all breeds produce all of those substances.
Tips for Managing a Dog Allergy with an Assistance Dog
- See an allergist for allergy testing if you’re not certain you or a loved one is allergic to dogs; if something else is the cause of symptoms—especially if they’re new ones—your efforts to manage a dog allergy will be misguided
- Establish a dog-free zone in your home; designate one room that can be closed off where your assistance dog isn’t ever permitted (first choice is the bedroom of the person with the allergy)
- Replace fabric surfaces where dust and dander accumulate as much as possible; this includes carpeting, fabric-covered furniture, cloth curtains, and so on
- Place HEPA air filters around your home
- Vacuum your home, including furniture surfaces, as often as possible; a vacuum with its own HEPA filter is the best choice
- Keep your assistance dog off the bed of the person with allergies and off couches and chairs in the common areas of your home
- Launder human and dog bedding frequently
- Brush your service, hearing, or guide dog’s entire body daily; clean out the brush and dispose of the hair after each use
- Bathe your assistance dog every week or two; ask your veterinarian to recommend a gentle shampoo
- Wiping your dog down with a damp washcloth helps when bathing isn’t an option
- If necessary, talk to your (or your family member’s) allergist about options like allergy shots (a type of immunotherapy that sometimes reduces or resolves allergies) or taking an antihistamine or steroid to manage symptoms
It’s Worth It!
Sure, nobody’s ever thrilled about extra chores around the house. But compared to all the ways an assistance dog makes life easier—not to mention safer—these steps are mere inconveniences. Provided you don’t live with someone with a life-threatening allergic or asthma condition set off by dogs, the rewards for you and your family will certainly outweigh the efforts to prevent allergic discomfort.