Norfolk Terrier on grass

Estimates for dog and cat allergies hover around 20% of the population, but some doctors estimate that as much as 30% of the population is allergic to dogs or cats. With so many people allergic, it can be hard to understand how pet ownership rates are soaring. One way allergy sufferers adapt to their symptoms is by adopting hypoallergenic animals. Unfortunately, Norfolk Terriers didn’t make the American Kennel Club’s list of hypoallergenic dogs. But even the dogs on the list aren’t truly hypoallergenic.

Here’s what you need to know about hypoallergenic dogs. With this information, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about what animals you bring into your home to give space to your allergic friends and family.

There’s No Such Thing as a 100% Hypoallergenic Dog

Unfortunately, while many dogs are bred and sold as “hypoallergenic,” there’s no dog breed that will 100% guarantee a lack of reaction from the allergy sufferers in your life. To understand why there are no genuinely hypoallergenic dogs, we must first understand what causes dog allergies.

The Cause of Dog Allergies

Dog allergies are caused by an immune system sensitivity to the protein known as Can f 1. Can f 1 is a protein in dogs’ saliva, skin cells, and urine. Scientists aren’t sure what the Can f 1 protein does for dogs. Its function is unclear, and the guesses we have are guesses. However, Can f 1 is not innately harmful to humans, with one notable exception.

People allergic to Can f 1 have an immune system that overreacts to the Can f 1 protein. Essentially how your immune system works is that it has a list of all kinds of pathogens you might encounter. But people who are allergic to something will have an immune system reaction when exposed to otherwise harmless substances like peanuts, pollen, or Can f 1. Essentially, their immune system has flagged these harmless substances as pathogens.

Once the allergen is introduced to the person’s system, their immune system kicks in and starts releasing histamines. Histamines are a type of hormone released when the body tries to rid itself of a pathogen. Histamines make your skin itch and swell up into wheals (known as hives), they make your nose run, and you’ll cough and sneeze. In severe cases, histamines can cause the throat to swell up and restrict the airways, known as anaphylaxis. Severe cases of anaphylaxis can result in the body going into shock when the lack of oxygen reaches a critical level that induces cardiac arrest.

Norfolk Terrier
Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Hypoallergenic Dogs: The Science of the Breed

Dogs producing a lower amount of Can f 1 than other breeds are hypoallergenic. Since they produce less of the allergen, these dogs are less likely to produce a reaction in an allergic person, and their response will be less severe because less of the allergen was introduced to their system.

However, it’s critical to remember that “less” allergenic is not the same as non-allergenic. These dogs still produce the Can f 1 protein and shed it in their saliva, skin cells, and urine. People severely allergic to dogs will still react to a hypoallergenic dog. So, ensure that the person who is allergic to dogs goes with you to meet the dog to ensure their reaction is not severe.

What Can Allergy Sufferers Do?

There is currently no cure for dog allergies. Dog allergy sufferers who want to share their lives with dogs can pursue allergen immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is a series of shots, usually administered weekly, containing a small amount of the allergen. When administered for the entire duration of treatment—generally between one and three years—many allergy sufferers experience remission of their allergy symptoms.

However, these shots are only very rarely covered by American Healthcare providers as they’re considered elective procedures on the same level as cosmetic augmentation. However, reports show that the shots are generally reasonably affordable (at least by comparison to other American procedures) at around $800 a year in the USA.

Last Thoughts on the Norfolk Terrier

Dog allergies are just an all-around bummer, but luckily, there’s a lot of recourse for people who can’t bear the thought of not having a dog. The Norfolk Terrier is not a hypoallergenic dog breed, and no dog is truly hypoallergenic. Whether you pursue medical intervention or a hypoallergenic dog, scientific advances in medicine and genetics are on the horizon. We may see a cure for dog allergies or a genuinely hypoallergenic dog breed in the future!

Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock