German shepherd dogs, or GSDs, are one of the most popular breeds in America. While they have an intimidating appearance, German shepherds are often good with kids, and they’re rarely aggressive when socialized. This breed is a great choice for families who want a loyal and protective companion. But, is it a great choice for people with allergies? Are German shepherds hypoallergenic?
Unfortunately, no. German shepherds are one of the worst dogs for allergy sufferers. They can trigger anywhere from a mild to severe allergic reaction — depending on the person and how bad their allergies are. People with serious dog allergies may have trouble breathing if they spend time in a home with a GSD. But even people with mild allergies will react to this breed of dog, often with a runny nose, sneezing, and itchy, watery eyes.
We’ll explain what makes allergy sufferers react more strongly to German shepherds. Plus, we’ll share tips for managing your allergies, and show you which dog breeds are a better choice for German shepherd lovers with pet allergies.
What Causes Dog Allergies?
One of the most common misconceptions about dog allergies is that they’re caused by dog hair. This isn’t exactly true.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), pet allergies are triggered by a protein found in dog dander, saliva, and urine. The protein makes its way into dog hair when dogs lick their fur (saliva) and when dead skin cells (dander) flake off into their coat.
When dogs shed loose hair, they shed these allergens along with the hair — spreading pet dander throughout your home and triggering your allergy symptoms. So even though dog fur doesn’t cause allergies, dogs who shed more will spread more allergens around your home, making allergies worse.
The most common allergy symptoms are sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, and shortness of breath. People who are severely allergic may also develop rashes if a dog licks them. The rash will appear anywhere that the dog’s saliva has contacted the person’s skin.
If you experience shortness of breath or develop a rash, you should immediately remove yourself from the environment where the dog lives to avoid continued exposure to allergens. If your symptoms don’t subside or get worse, seek medical attention.
Why Aren’t German Shepherds Hypoallergenic?
German shepherds are very heavy shedders. This breed has a thick, double coat, which means that the coat has two layers. Double coats are one of nine coat types recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC). Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, Australian shepherds, and English springer spaniels also have this type of coat. Of all the coat types, the double coat is the worst for allergy sufferers.
In a double coat, there is an outer coat and an undercoat. The outer coat provides some weather resistance in the case of light rain or snow. The undercoat is extremely dense and provides temperature control, keeping the dog warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
These two layers shed in different ways. The outer coat sheds moderately year round. The undercoat sheds heavily twice a year — once in the fall and once in the spring. All this shedding spreads dander around your house, triggering allergies.
Essentially, the GSDs coat will trigger allergies year round, but during the heavy shedding seasons, your allergy symptoms will be at their worst.
What Can You Do If You’re Allergic to German Shepherds?
If you have allergies and are looking for a new best friend, you may need to consider a more allergy-friendly breed. We’ll cover low-allergy breeds for German shepherd lovers below.
German shepherd mixes will usually cause the same allergy problems as purebred German shepherds. So, if you have allergies, you should generally avoid mixed-breed German shepherds as well.
However, if you’re considering a German shepherd-poodle mix, make sure you get a third-generation puppy from a breeder who specializes in breeding non-shedding puppies. A first or second generation puppy can still inherit the double coat of its German shepherd parent of grandparent. By the third generation, a dedicated breeder can ensure that all the puppies inherit the poodle’s non-shedding coat.
What If You Already Own a German Shepherd?
If you have allergies but you already own a German shepherd, there are a few steps you can take to reduce your allergy symptoms. Try these tips to keep the dander to a minimum.
- Invest in a robot vacuum: Daily vacuuming will suck up dog hair and dander so there’s less of it in your home, and a robot vacuum can ensure floors are cleaned daily.
- Keep your dog off the furniture: Train your dog to lay on the floor and in their dog bed so that you’re not exposed to dander when you sit on the couch.
- Keep your dog out of the bedroom: You spend one-third of your day in your bedroom. By keeping your dog out of this space, you’ll reduce your exposure to dander.
- Use an air purifier: An air purifier can help remove allergens from the air you breathe.
- Put filters over your vents: Your AC can spread dog hair and dander all over your house through your air vents. Use cheesecloth to cover the vents in any dog-free rooms, like the bedroom, to keep pet hair out.
- Change clothes frequently: When you pet your GSD, you’ll get hair and dander on your clothes. Change your clothes after a petting session to reduce your exposure.
- Bathe your dog weekly: Weekly baths with a deshedding shampoo will help leave loose hair circling the drain instead of floating around your house.
- Brush your dog daily: Brushing your dog with a wire-bristle slicker brush will help remove loose hair from your GSD’s undercoat before it spreads around your house.
- Feed high-quality dog food: A high-quality food with real meat as the first ingredient and whole fruits and vegetables in the ingredient list can help prevent hair loss due to health issues.
- Give your dog fish oil: A fish oil supplement improves a dog’s coat and skin health. It helps prevent dry skin and reduce shedding, both of which can lead to excess dander around your home.
- Try immunotherapy: Immunotherapy allergy shots can make you less reactive to allergens. Talk to your doctor to decide if this treatment can help you.
The Best Breeds for Allergy Sufferers Who Love German Shepherds
Many allergy sufferers do well with a non-shedding dog. But there’s no such thing as a 100% hypoallergenic dog breed. Non-shedding dogs simply spread less dander around the home, which is enough to prevent many people’s dog allergies.
However, for people with severe allergies, even low-shedding and non-shedding dogs may still cause allergy symptoms. So before you get a dog, try pet sitting or fostering the breed for a few days first to see if the dog triggers your symptoms.
Many types of dogs can be a good fit for allergy sufferers. You can find hairless, short-haired, and long-haired dogs, and dogs of different sizes, that don’t shed much at all.
We’ve rounded up the best non-shedding, large, family dogs for people who love the German shepherd’s size and stature. If you have allergies, consider adopting one of these dog breeds instead of a GSD.
- Giant schnauzer
- Irish water spaniel
- Kerry blue terrier
- Portuguese water dog
- Soft-coated wheaten terrier
- Standard poodle
So, Are German Shepherds Hypoallergenic?
German shepherds are NOT hypoallergenic. Their thick double coat sheds year-round with two heavy shedding seasons. Whenever they shed, they spread dander around your home, triggering allergy symptoms. All their shedding can cause a lot of sniffling and sneezing.
If you already have a GSD, there are steps you can take to reduce shedding, like vacuuming more frequently and using an air purifier. However, these steps will help decrease but not eliminate your symptoms.
If you’re a dog lover with allergies who’s looking to adopt, you may want to consider a different breed that sheds less. Giant schnauzers, poodles, and Portuguese water dogs are all good choices for people with allergies.
To learn more about your favorite breeds, visit the Native Pet blog.