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22 Things Everyone Who's Allergic To Dogs Should Know ASAP

Spoiler: You can still cuddle them!

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There are very, very few things more heart-wrenching than being obsessed with dogs but also being allergic to them.

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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.

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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.


3. And sometimes, your "dog allergies" might not be caused by a dog at all.

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"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."

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.

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 dog's diet.

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"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.

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"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."

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 relationship counselor.

13. Avoid buying couches and chairs made of fabric.

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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, dander.


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.

17. Remember that a lint brush is your best friend.

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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 this problem.


18. If you have other allergies, treat those religiously.

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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 flare-ups.

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"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.

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"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!!!

"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."