Is Your Dog Making You Sneeze? It Might Be Because He's a Male

Dan Nosowitz

Labradoodles, goldendoodles, bernedoodles, schnoodles, sheepadoodles–the list of "doodles" and "poos" goes on and on, and not just because of their fluffy, teddy bear-like looks. With as many as 10% of the population suffering from pet allergies, there's a thriving business in dogs that won't cause you to experience sneezing and itchy eyes, or shed all over your house. But the idea of hypoallergenic dog breeds is not without controversy, and a new study indicates that there might be a simpler way to steer clear of pet allergies: just opt for a female dog.

Those with dog allergies are triggered by any or all of five proteins, which are found in the dead skin cells, urine, and saliva of dogs—not their fur, as is sometimes believed. Dog species that shed less tend to be better for those with allergies, simply because keeping their fur for longer reduces the amount of dead skin cells that end up in the house, but that’s not a surefire way to predict whether a dog will cause sneezing.

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There are five known proteins, found in dogs, that seem to trigger allergies. They’re named, uncreatively, Can f1, Can f2, Can f3, Can f4, and Can f5. The latter was the subject of a recent study published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. The researchers in that study tested whether those with dog allergies responded the same way to exposure to male and female dogs.

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See, male and female dogs don’t all produce all of those five proteins. Can f5, as a matter of fact, is only produced by males; it’s made in the prostate, and comes out in male dog urine. And not everyone who’s allergic to dogs is allergic to every single one of those five proteins. Some are, but some are allergic to one or some combination of a few of them. Studies indicate that more than half of people with allergies are allergic to a combination of multiple allergens; these people are called “polysensitized.” “Typically it’s an accumulation of multiple allergens,” says Laura Wilson, DVM, Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Dermatology.

Those with a specific allergy to only one protein are called “monosensitized,” and those are rarer. In this study, seven of the 22 kids tested were monosensitized to Can f5. 

The study found that those kids, the ones with a particular sensitivity to Can f5, were much more tolerant of female dogs than male dogs. In fact, of those seven kids, only one also reacted to the female dog. This is a very small study, with only 22 kids tested and only seven really being the subject of this particular test. “I think it’s cool, I guess I just wonder in the real world, how much difference will it really make?” Wilson says.

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Luckily, recent advances in testing have enabled testing specifically for Can f5. There are tests, like the ImmunoCap test, which can look incredibly specifically at what each person is allergic to. Theoretically, if you test positive for sensitivity to that Can f5 protein, well, it may not be good news, technically, but it’s certainly much better news than testing positive for sensitivity to other proteins. This research may be too limited to draw a sweeping conclusion from, but it’s certainly more information that we didn’t have before. And it could theoretically make a difference for however many people suffer specifically and only from an allergy to Can f5. Their solution: just get a female dog!