Hypoallergenic Dogs

pretty dogQuestion: My wife and I are thinking about bringing a dog into our family. However, my allergies are very sensitive.

Recently, my wife’s parents purchased an F2 cockapoo. I can tolerate this dog much better and I was even able to hold the dog. Although my allergies did not bother me as much as when I am around a full-bred cocker spaniel, I did have some mild allergic symptoms.
My wife and I are hoping to have a dog and we are interested in your experience with F2 cockapoos. Is there a high degree of variability with respect to how allergy sufferers will tolerate F2 cockapoos? I read that F1b cockapoos are ideal for allergy sufferers. In your experience, do allergy sufferers tolerate F2 cockapoos well as F1 and F1b?

Thank you!

Answer: I hope you have a few minutes to read my lengthy response! I take the health and comfort of our families just as seriously as that of our puppies! If I (or anyone else) lead you to believe something that isn’t true, you could be stuck in a very unfortunate situation (and have a dog that needs a new home).

The general reason an F2 cockapoo is better than an F1 cockapoo (and an F3 cockapoo is better than an F2 cockapoo, and so on) is because of the likelihood of consistent cockapoo characteristics in all of the puppies.

An F1 (or first generation) cockapoo might not be a cockapoo at all. It will be a cross between an American Cocker Spaniel and a Poodle, but the dog may not have the characteristics that would define him as a Cockapoo. The pup can look like a cocker spaniel mutt, or a poodle mutt, or it can fall in the middle, and be a cockapoo.

This makes getting an F1 cockapoo a game of Puppy Roulette. You have to have a very experienced eye and a good breeder, willing to work with you, to get a dog that is an actual cockapoo (or in your case, perhaps leaning towards the poodle side of the standard). The further down the line (provided the parents of the puppies are actual, up-to-standard cockapoos) the more likely it is that all (or at least most) of the puppies will be actual cockapoos. All of this F1 and F2 or F1b generation stuff can look intimidating and seem confusing. Don’t be put off by it and therefore not take it into consideration when choosing a dog. Generation does have an effect on any ‘designer dog’ or hybrid breed. I’ve written a separate post about the importance of generations. You can read that here. (Sorry, not posted just yet. Still under construction!)

An F1b dog would be the offspring of a cockapoo bred to a poodle. If the parent that is a cockapoo is a dog within standard and the poodle parent is a toy this cross would probably yield a much smaller dog, since a toy poodle is equal to or less than 10 pounds. If bred to a miniature poodle then it might not shrink the cockapoos’ size too much. Size of the dog is more important than people realize! (I made a whole post about that if you’d like to read why.)
This F1b dog would not be considered a cockapoo by any quality breeder. I don’t know what that is called… possibly a poodle-mutt, but the cockapoo breed has been around since the 1950s and has a few clubs and a basic set of standards that breeders agree with.

An F1b dog would be 3/4 poodle genetics and 1/4 cocker genetics. And, of course, there is no telling which genes will win out phenotypically (what you can see). But the strong likelihood in a cross like this is that the puppies would look and act mostly like a poodle, and is more likely to have all the genetic health problems associated with poodles.

I personally would not like that cross. You might as well just get a poodle (from a reputable breeder of champs-so health is assured) if you’re going that route.

I really like the characteristics that the cocker brings to the table. With an F1b you lose much of the “hybrid vigor” that accompanies the cross. This means that you can have some serious health problems from bad breeding and the over-done inbreeding of purebred dog lines. Any breeder making these F1b dogs are almost guaranteed to be unknowledgeable and breeding from poor-quality breeding stock! Breeders that are interested in producing a vast quantity of puppies and are focused on making money are motivated solely by revenue and will make the necessary cuts in quality to produce more animals for less investment. These types of breeders will say anything to sell an animal. They will lie their faces off, bash the opinions of knowledgeable breeders and entire associations, claim bogus reasons for their F1 and/or F1b crosses, etc. Bad breeders are like the smarmy used-car salesmen of the dog world. I do have a post designed to help you find a quality breeder for any breed of dog, with extra information about cockapoos, of course. You can read that here. (When I post it, sorry it’s not posted just yet.)
The reason a cockapoo makes a good pet for allergy sufferers is that they *should* have single layer hair coats, and not what is typically considered to be a “fur” coat.
Fur and hair is really the same thing. There are many different types of hair, but they are all basically made of similar material, though they vary in function, growth pattern, and rate of growth. A “fur coated” dog is one that has several layers to the hair coat. Some of these hairs shed with temperature and light changes (seasonal), and this can really aggravate allergic reactions in people. For this reason, a single-layer hair coated dog (such as a cockapoo) is preferable for those with non-health-risking allergies to animals.

The term “non-shedding” is true for a cockapoo that meets standards, but it is very often used to mislead people… All hair falls out at some point! A dog that doesn’t have a seasonal coat loses hair when that individual hair reaches the end of its growth or “life” cycle, and there are not mass hair loses all at once. The low-to-non shedding attribute of a cockapoo (or other “hair-coated” breed) is a huge plus, and sometimes a deciding factor when choosing a dog breed. I’ve written a post on the topic of “fur-coated” vs. “hair-coated” dogs, the pros and cons of each, and the differences and meanings of these labels. You can read that article here.

The use of the word “hypoallergenic” for dogs is really NOT true. This term is accepted by the community, however it is really misleading, and as a nurse I really object to the use of this term!!

The definition of hypoallergenic is non-allergy producing. It is a term applied to “a preparation in which every possible care has been taken in formulation and production to ensure minimum instance of allergic reactions” (Blakiston’s Medical Dictionary). An F1 cockapoo has not been bred with every possible care to ensure minimum instance of allergic reactions, as the offspring are not guaranteed to be low-dander and low-shedding animals. It is safer to suggest that F2, F3, F4 and so forth pups are getting closer to the meaning of the word. But the correct terms for animals that have a single-layer hair coat are “low-dander” and “lower-risk of allergies” (or less aggravating and miserable allergies).

There is no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog, sadly.

All animals with skin shed dead skin cells, also known as “dander”. This is what causes most reactions. Dander and sometimes the skin’s oils, and then the coat sheds, bringing dander with it, and the airborne shed hair tickles your face and nose, making it all the more miserably irritating… A non-seasonally shedding coat also makes for thinner, less flaky/shedding skin. This results in a lot less dander and therefore a lot less allergies.

Single-layer hair coated dogs are significantly better for allergy sufferers. Some of us with allergies (my seasonal and pet allergies can be downright miserable) love these crosses because of the low-dander, hair coated qualities! As a mom, I also like not constantly vacuuming up dog-hair tumbleweeds bouncing across my living room floor!

Cockapoos are supposed to have a nice curl to their coats. This is also a big plus for allergy sufferers. The curl in their coat tends to keep the hairs that naturally are at the end of their growth cycle wrapped up in the rest of their coat instead of falling out into the environment. Those then get taken out when the pup gets clipped or groomed.
The curl also helps to prevent airborne dander when the dog scratches himself, gets pets, or rolls around on the carpet giving himself a back-rub (which they love to do). The dander can then be bathed off. When wet, the dogs don’t bother my allergies, as the dander cannot get airborne. But that’s me, and everyone’s sensitivities are different! So the curlier the coat, the better for allergy sufferers.

I have seasonal allergies and I do have allergies to both cats and dogs, and I, personally, do not have a problem with my dogs BUT everyone’s allergies are different.

So, truthfully speaking, I really, really strongly dislike the use of the accepted term of “hypoallergenic” applied to a dog that is NOT actually “hypoallergenic”… it really bugs me. Anyone that tells you that their puppy won’t cause any chance of a reaction or is “super unlikely” or “very doubtful” is telling you a pack of lies.

Everyone’s allergies respond differently!!

If your allergies make you miserable around dogs you might have a reaction to even a low dander dog like a cockapoo. The problem here is that sometimes no reaction will happen at first, but often the more you’re exposed to the allergen the more and more severe your body reacts to “fight it off”. Your body is confused, thinking this allergen is a harmful foreign substance such as a virus or bacterium that needs eradicating. So, because of this, lots of people get adorable puppies and don’t find out they are allergic for some time, even several months… and then they are stuck with the heartbreaking choice to get a monthly shot, take a pill, or give up their friend. 😦
Of course, there are times that being “inoculated” with this allergen can cause the person to become immune to it. This can actually be helpful, especially with children.

Since you seem particularly sensitive I want you to seriously think about getting any pet. All pets have dander… if they have skin, that is. I couldn’t tell you anything about reptiles 🙂

If you have been around hair-coated dogs before for any extended period of time (such as a purebred poodle, a purebred Yorkshire terrier (yorkie), etc. and your allergies were manageable, then you might be ok…. but there are no guarantees. Choose the right puppy with the right breeder and your chances increase.

IF you have ever had a dangerous reaction to an animal, requiring an epi-pen or an ER visit you would be risking your life to take any pet and I would never, ever let you do that if I could help it!!!

If you’ve ever had a violent and/or dangerous reaction to any other allergen (or any of your children, if you have any, have ever had a violent or dangerous reaction to any other allergen) I would recommend a consultation with your doctor about whether or not this is even something you should consider, & what the likelihood is of your allergies becoming severe. If you have children with severe allergies you should definitely clear a pet with require a pediatrician to be certain that your sweeties will be safe and not in danger with a new furry best pal.

If you are sure that your in-law’s dog is a hair-coated dog I advise you to spend time hugging the dog, petting the dog, doing anything that you would do with your dog. I do NOT recommend that you groom the dog.
NO brushing, NO cutting the dog’s hair yourself. Not unless your allergies are not dangerous, (but annoying-really, really, really annoying… oh, my allergies are SO bad, sometimes one of my eyes swell up in the fall!), AND you’re willing to take a medication OR “tough it out”. Generally, it is better to just pay someone to cut your dog’s hair and skip the nasty reaction and misery for a day.
I actually do “tough it out” with my dogs. I groom them (clip their hair, comb them out, among other things) myself, at most quarterly, and I get a very mild reaction of an itchy nose and eyes during the clipping. When I wash my face and hands afterward I am just a little uncomfortable, until I can get into the shower. Then I feel fine.

This reaction is generally the most annoying when I haven’t clipped them all winter long. The dander is more built up than usual and when I start combing them out and I clip, little hairs get in my face and there is the oil and dander attached to those already little annoying hairs… ooo… it makes me want to rub my eyes just thinking about it! Allergies really stink! I’m sure you agree.
In fact, I clipped the dogs today and I do still have a bit of an itchy nose, but nothing that is even annoying enough for me to drop everything and hop in the shower, and this was my first clipping after winter.

So, to make a very long email somewhat less long… you will have to consider this extremely carefully. If you can spend time with your in-law’s dog, or any dog that is a pure-bred hair-coated dog (try not to trust hybrids or designer breeds) and after several visits on different occasions you show only mild symptoms (I cuddle, kiss, bathe, pet, scratch, play with, basically everything with my dogs and I have never had any symptoms of allergies, ever, unless I clip them myself, which I do because I’m stubborn) If you can do that then the next step would be to come and visit me, well, visit my dogs and see how you feel.

A side note… why did I say try not to trust designer or hybrid poodle or doodle or yorkie mixes? Well, this is because most breeders are greedy and so they breed first generation crosses. This can, and does, produce some shedding dogs each litter. An F2 (like your in-laws have) is more likely to be non-shedding. If the dog has a very smooth coat and looks more like a cocker there is a higher chance that the dog will also be a shedding dog.

How do you know if your in-laws have a hair-coated dog or a fur-coated dog? A favorite test of mine that helps determine if a dog has a fur coat is a good old fashioned rub-down. You gently, but not lightly, run your hands down the dog’s back with warm and damp/wet palms and see if you get anything on your hands… a hair-coated dog should not lose any hairs at all, or maybe just one or two. A fur-coated dog, even if it is a thinly coated dog, will leave several to tons of hairs (fur) on your hands. Especially you will see short hairs (the denser under-coat).

Also a single-layer hair coat does have a different texture. You can feel the difference between single-coated hair and a double coat once you think about it and touch.
A cockapoo is not necessarily wire-like or bristle-like, this is a texture of some hair coated and really curly dogs (like purebred poodles). The wavy or soft-curled coat of the average cockapoo should feel smooth and silky like a woman who has wavy to curly hair that is done up in soft curls (and it should look that way too).
A cockapoo can have enough curl that there is more texture to their coat. This adds in a bit of roughness, but the hair should not be wiry or feel rough or fuzzy like a poodle. A fur-coated dog is soft, but has a fluffier, downy feel to it. It is not like putting your hands in your wife’s hair. It is much denser, is more difficult to see their skin through, and you can usually see that the hairs in the coat are of different sizes. You can often see an undercoat that is a lighter color than the outer coat (if the season is right).

If you go through all this and you think a Cockapoo is not going to endanger your health or make your life miserable you can come and visit at least once to meet my adult dogs and spend a little time with them. A half-an-hour at least, and we can have a cup of tea or coffee and you can snuggle my dogs, or they will snuggle you if you don’t snuggle them. If you sit on the floor you’re getting snuggled in my house, whether you like it or not! Unless I order them away they are going to cuddle you. 🙂

Then if you feel pretty much ok for the remainder of the day (no sore throat from post-nasal drip, no sniffles, red-rimmed eyes, itchiness…. oh, you know) then you’ll be ok to talk to your doctor and possibly go forward with getting a hair-coated dog, but still only IF you feel like you’re willing to take an allergy pill or tough it out while grooming them, or have them taken to a groomer about once every 2-3 months.

After all this, you’d pick a puppy and snuggle away. And even then you really should pick an F2 (or higher) puppy and from a breeder who knows and cares about you and their puppies and can help you select a sure-fire hair-coated, low dander friend.
You should also choose a puppy that is obviously curly from birth. These guys are obvious right away. A very smooth coated dog is only obvious to a trained eye… A smooth coated or average-curled cockapoo can be differentiated from the very curly pups from birth. Most distinctly, they don’t have obvious waves and curls down their faces.

After you bring your puppy home there are several things you can do to minimize reactions to him/her. You can vacuum regularly and keep the dog off of anything your face might be near (furniture, beds, blankets and pillows). You can make sure any dog-bed or dog-sofa you get has a machine washable cover so that you can wash it somewhat regularly. An alternate idea is covering the dog bed with an inexpensive but soft blanket, and washing that every couple of weeks.
Giving the dog frequent baths can also really limit the amount of airborne dander from the dog. For more sensitive allergy-sufferers I recommend bathing your dog at least every other week. If you’re willing to put in the time and effort, you can easily bathe your dog every week and really minimize dander problems. I use baby shampoo (much cheaper and is tear-free and works much better than dog shampoos). You will want to give the dog a good scratching/scrubbing all over (which your dog will love) with the soap in the hair, and a good rinse. This will help to slough off all dander regularly and will keep their skin in good condition. If you bathe somewhat regularly and you start to notice dry skin on your dog you should include some oils in the dog’s diet and also try out an oatmeal formula baby shampoo. A dry, flaky and itchy dog is a dog that will worsen your allergies. If you want to reduce dryness you can also use a conditioner on the dog. Any inexpensive human conditioner is fine. One common (and good) brand is “Mane and Tail”, which was originally formulated for horses, but started getting used on people so much it is now pretty easy to find in stores.
If you have a dry, itchy dog you really need to address the dog’s diet first and only then cut back the frequency of bathing. Your dog’s skin should be able to produce enough oils to be bathed once a week without serious dryness and discomfort. Many dog foods are less than ideal, however, for the dog’s body to function optimally.

I really hate to have to say this to you, as negative-sounding as it is. 😦 You sound like your allergies are severe and that means you might have to miss out on owning one of these gorgeous, awesome little clowny dogs!!! 😦 But it is possible that you can own one and be just fine. The curlier the coat, the better. The dogs develop the curl in their coat as they grow, but the puppy for you will have serious wave and curl to the coat from birth.

*Phew* That was a long response!! Thanks you for sticking it through! I am very happy to help people looking for pets, and I feel very sad by the number of people that get tricked and lied to and go through the horrible experience of having to give up their friend…. and so I do try to give very thorough explanations about things so that current owners or potential owners, especially those with no personal experience raising a dog, will know fully what they are getting into!
So if you decide to get a dog from me you might get some reading… although I think this is *by far* the longest email I’ve ever sent. This is really an important issue.

Oh my goodness this response is long!!! I hope you were able to skim over the parts where I was over-explaining. I probably way over-did it. But at least I try to be thorough.

I hope I’ve helped!!
-Annette

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