Many of us know the struggle – you want a furry companion to come home to after a long day at work, but your pesky allergies make the decision very difficult. What about a Labrador Retriever? Aren’t they hypoallergenic?
Unfortunately, the very short answer to this question is no, no they’re not hypoallergenic. But before you despair, it’s worth looking into the subject a little bit more. Not all allergies are created equal after all, and likewise, neither are all allergens.
The key reason why Labradors are not considered hypoallergenic is because they’re shedders; they shed a whole lot. They shed so much in fact that without regular grooming and clean-up, you might find your carpet has a whole new layer to it over time (which no one wants, let’s be honest).
The other thing we need to consider is that fur is not the only consideration when it comes to dog allergies. Allergens can be found in dog fur, yes, but also in things like urine and saliva so even a dog that doesn’t shed, like a Portuguese Water Dog for example, could in theory still cause allergies.
Before getting too caught up in fur vs other substances and one dog vs another, let’s bring it back to basics. We can work our way up from there.
First Off, What is an Allergen?
If you’ve got allergies, you’ll probably have heard the term “allergen” countless times before. It’s a term that can be used in many different contexts and can therefore refer to many different allergy-causing substances – because that’s what an allergen is after all, a substance that causes an allergy.
Allergens work by tricking the body’s immune response into thinking they are attacking the body. The immune system works to fight off this perceived threat which results in what we see as an allergic reaction. Allergic reactions can range from barely noticeable to deadly, from slight rashes or the odd sneeze to lift-threatening anaphylaxis.
Allergens associated with having furry pets are often thought to be caused by the fur itself, and this is equally common in cats and dogs. However pet allergens are much more varied than just fur. Pet allergens can include any of the following:
- Dander (similar to dandruff, this is a substance shed from bodies with fur, hair or feathers)
- Urine and other excrement
By this logic, even hairless pets such as sphynx cats are capable of causing allergies. Unfortunately, this makes the decision to get a pet a bit more complicated for people who suffer with allergies. What it’ll come down to is the specific reaction you have, how severe it is, and what triggers you can identify.
Dog Allergens in Particular
When someone says they’re allergic to dogs, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re allergic to all dogs, or to all kinds of dog-related allergens. If this is the case for you, you might be able to tolerate certain allergens more easily than others, or may only be affected by a small proportion of allergens in the first place.
To make matters even more complicated, a person with a dog allergy might have an allergic flare-up around one dog, but not around another dog from the same litter as the first dog! Most people don’t realise how specialised allergies can actually be.
If you know you’re quite severely allergic to dogs, then sadly the best thing for you is going to be avoiding dogs completely – giving a dog a cuddle is not worth risking an aggressive reaction. Anaphylactic reactions are quite rare when it comes to dog allergies, thankfully, but many people still get severe rashes, intense sneezing and coughing fits, and even asthmatic attacks.
On the other side of the coin though, if you’re more manageably allergic to dogs, it’s possible that you’ll be able to find a dog that doesn’t cause you to experience flare-ups or reactions. This is where the idea of “hypoallergenic dogs” comes in.
What is a hypoallergenic dog? What does hypoallergenic mean?
The term “hypoallergenic” means relatively unlikely to cause an allergic reaction. It is most commonly used to describe make-up and other body-care products but is also often used when talking about dogs and other pets.
While we now know based on the information above that no dog or mammal pet is completely hypoallergenic, due to the varied nature of allergens, there are a few dog breeds that are widely accepted as being hypoallergenic. Some of these include:
- Portuguese Water Dogs (shedding is very minimal and barely noticeable)
- Poodles (shed very lightly, strands at a time rather than lots of fur at once)
- Basenjis (short, fine hair that doesn’t shed easily. Good at cleaning themselves so dander is reduced)
- Shih Tzus (same type of hair as humans so less likely to cause allergic reactions)
- Hairless Chinese Crested (very little hair so less likelihood of shedding and causing allergies)
- Havanese (very fury but any shed hair sticks to them rather than falling off and drifting around, making clean-up and management easier)
- Afghan Hounds (same type of hair as humans so less likely to cause allergic reactions, minimal shedding too)
- Kerry Blue Terriers (only sheds once every few weeks rather than constantly so clean-up and management are easier)
This is not an exhaustive list and as we’ve already said, no dog is truly hypoallergenic so bear that in mind when considering your options. You’ll notice that unfortunately, Labradors do not make the cut, but let’s take a closer look at the ins and outs of Labradors as allergen harbours.
A Specific Look at Labradors Retrievers
Labradors shed, this we know, but shedding is not the only factor to take into account when considering allergies. For more information on Labrador shedding, check out this article.
Although labs might not make it onto the most popular “hypoallergenic dogs” list, there are certain traits they have that might make them suitable for you, depending on your allergies.
You might already be aware that Labradors love water and swimming. Generally speaking, dogs that spend a lot of time in water produce lower concentrations of allergens as the water can wash away dander and other itch-inducing substances. Breeds like Labradors and Portuguese Water Dogs have this in common: they love to swim and are therefore less likely to cause allergic reactions than dogs that prefer to stay dry.
Does this mean that ANYONE who has a dog allergy can have a Labrador? Of course not, sadly. After all, there’s no guarantee your lab will be able to swim regularly enough for the water to make a difference in allergen production.
Does this mean that NO ONE with a dog allergy can have a Labrador? Also, no. A Labrador might be a perfectly good fit for you despite your allergies, as long as your allergies aren’t overly severe, and you know how to properly manage the allergens.
Managing Your Labrador Retriever's Allergens
If you decide that your dog allergy is manageable enough to allow you to have a Labrador, then you’ll still want to ensure you’re doing everything you can to make your home as safe as possible. Even if your allergies are mild, it can’t hurt to take extra precautions.
Because labs shed quite prolifically, you’re going to want to make sure you know how to properly groom yours. Proper grooming will ensure less dog hair and dander are allowed to fall out organically and litter your home.
Labradors need to be brushed twice per week at the very least, but if you’re trying to manage your allergy then daily brushing will yield better results. Brushing with several kinds of brush is also important to execute different functions.
A rubber brush should be used to remove any loose hairs accumulating in your Labrador’s coat as these loose hairs will naturally stick to the rubber rather than floating off your dog as you brush. One you’ve removed all loose hair, you can then go in with a bristled brush to get deeper into your lab’s coat.
This secondary brushing will help to distribute natural oils in your dog’s coat to ensure a healthier, stronger coat, as well as remove loose hairs found below the surface layer of hair. Labradors are double-coated so there’s quite a lot of fur to contend with when brushing.
Although brushing should be regular and thorough, it’s also important to ensure you aren’t over doing it as this can cause sparce patches in your dog’s coat, leaving them more susceptible to sunburn and parasites.
Generally, Labradors don’t require such frequent washing and the optimal frequency is around once every two to three months unless they become unduly soiled or smelly. When trying to manage a dog allergy though, you might want to consider using a milder dog shampoo and washing more regularly.
Always wash your Labrador in warm water and try to remove any loose hair with a rubber glove or gentle brush while they’re still wet. Once you’re done washing all remnants of shampoo out of their fur, it’s a good idea to dry them as much as you can with a towel and give them another brush outside to ensure any stray hairs don’t pollute your home.
There are some dog shampoos on the market that are designed to minimise shedding so it might be worth looking into one of these, perhaps with a recommendation from your vet.
As mentioned above, swimming can reduce the concentration of allergens in your Labrador’s coat. If you live near a pond, river, or beach, taking your Labrador out for regular swims will help in managing your allergies as well as giving your lab a chance to do one of their favourite activities – it’s a win-win!
Of course, not everyone will have regular or easy access to bodies of water where their Labrador would be able to swim freely, but it’s a good tip if you’re one of the lucky ones.
Invest in a Good Vacuum
Regardless of how well your groom your Labrador, you’re still going to get loose dog hair accumulating on your clothes, carpets, and furniture. A high-quality portable vacuum will be your best friend in dealing with this hairy doom!
Something hand-held or cordless might be the most suitable option as this will allow you to get into those hard-to-reach nooks and crannies.
Vacuuming regularly will definitely help to minimise the amount of fur and dander drifting around your home and should result in a noticeable reduction in your allergy symptoms. It will also ensure your house looks cleaner which is an added bonus.
On a Balance
Is a Labrador the right dog for you considering your allergies? Maybe, maybe not. Only you can make this judgement as only you know the true extent of your allergy. If you suffer with quite severe allergic symptoms when you come into contact with animal fur, then perhaps a dog isn’t a good fit for you, period.
Whatever you decide, Labrador or another breed, furry pet or reptile, there will be something out there for you. Do your research, shop around, and if you’re still uncertain then consult a doctor.
The main thing to remember is that your health must come first. Labradors (or any dogs for that matter) are a big commitment so before jumping in, make sure your health won’t suffer as a result of your new furry friend.
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