Allergies To Dogs... Is The Shih Tzu Breed For You?

By Laurie Semple

“I have allergies – will I be allergic to a Shih Tzu?” is a question I have begun to dread. It has come up time and time again in my 36 years as a breeder/exhibitor of Shih Tzu and also in my 25 plus years as a rescuer of this breed. I dread it because, unfortunately, it is a question that has no easy answer. Every person is different; in fact, even dogs of the same breed can affect an allergic person in varying degrees. I have also been informed as of late that a person’s allergy response to a puppy may worsen as the dog reaches adulthood.

The best answer I can give someone who is planning to bring a Shih Tzu into their household but has had allergic reactions to other dogs is: You will not know for sure until you spend some time with a Shih Tzu. It is true that Shih Tzu, like other dogs who have hair instead of fur, shed less (a bit every day rather than huge quantities seasonally) and have less dander than most dogs. For this reason they are often classified as “hypo-allergenic.” But no dog is non-allergenic - not even a hairless breed - because a person could be allergic to the saliva or urine of a dog as well as the dander/fur.

Ideally, the family member that has allergies should spend a full day or, even better, an overnight with a friend or relative’s Shih Tzu before you shop for that new Shih Tzu. Some people can tell within minutes if they are allergic to a particular animal; if the person is sure that they will know right away, then perhaps a visit to a breeder who has Shih Tzu but no other animals in the household would be a good idea. It is very important to determine before the visit there are no other animals, especially those with fur or hair, in the breeder’s house. Otherwise, you will not know for sure if the Shih Tzu or the other animal is causing the reaction, should there be one.
An ethical breeder will of course accept return of a puppy whose owner turns out to be allergic, but that can be heart-wrenching for the buyer as well as the puppy. I therefore strongly recommend that you try to make the determination of whether you can live with a Shih Tzu before bringing one home. This is especially important where children are involved.

As a rescue representative, I am often asked to give advice to people who have found that they are allergic to their Shih Tzu over time, and in cases where the owner just could not bear the thought of giving up the family pet. Unfortunately, most face an uphill battle. While it may be possible to improve the situation with the following measures you can rarely affect a cure. I offer the following list of things to try:

1. Although the breed’s flowing coat is a thing of beauty, people with allergies are advised to keep your pet Shih Tzu’s coat clipped regularly to as short as possible. This is not so much because less hair means less dander, but because it is just easier to keep the dog very clean, and a clean dog will be less bothersome to the allergic person.

2. Bathe your Shih Tzu often….weekly or three times a month is all right for most dogs, as long as a good quality dog shampoo that has moisturizing ingredients is used. Most importantly, use a cream rinse (conditioner), diluted and left in the coat (don’t rinse out) at the end of the bath to help hold the dander down. If possible, someone other than the allergic person should do the bathing. It is also a good idea to brush and blow dry the dog outside the house - in the garage or on the porch, perhaps, or at a “do it yourself” grooming shop. A fabric softener for laundry can be used in place of the conditioner, diluted about 1-2 capfuls to a quart of water. Like the conditioner, it is left on the coat. An unscented fabric softener would be best, if you can find one. Some perfumes in laundry products may make your Shih Tzu a little itchy. If this happens, rebathe and try another brand or use a cream rinse instead. Be sure not to get this or any other product designed to reduce dander into your dog’s eyes. You can also try a product called “Allerpet-D”, sold through mail order pet catalogues and some pet stores. Follow the instructions on the bottle. This will only work on short coats, so again, your dog will need a haircut. Other grooming products that may provide some relief are Nature’s Miracle Allergy Relief Dander Remover/Body Deodorizer; Outright Simple Solution Allergy Relief (Dog); Allersearch Pet Shampoo; and MiteNix Herbal Pet Care Natural Pet Shampoo. All can be ordered online, and most are available through major pet catalogues.

3. Obviously, you should keep the Shih Tzu out of the allergic person’s bedroom.

4. If possible, carpeting should be removed, at least from the area where the dog spends most of its time. Carpet holds in dander, as well as other allergens.

5. Frequent vacuuming of bare floors and rugs is a must.

6. Your Shih Tzu’s bedding should be the washable type, that can be laundered every time the dog has a bath.

7. An electronic air cleaner/purifier may offer some relief. Use it in the area where Shih Tzu and allergic owner spend the most time, and also in the owner’s bedroom. Such machines are not as effective as the claims that are made by the manufacturers, and should not be relied upon as a cure-all. However, they should at least take some of the dander out of the air. Buy the best type you can possibly afford; the cheap ones will not get the job done.

8. As a last resort, consider seeing an allergist, who can give you a course of desensitizing shots. This can be costly and does not work for everyone; it also takes months or even years to complete the course of desensitizing shots. For that reason, the shots are not a viable option for some people who are already experiencing severe symptoms such as asthma.

After giving this advice I say a little prayer that one of these measures, or a combination thereof, will keep a dog from having to be removed from the home. Unfortunately, it has been my experience that a number of people just cannot live with a dog of any breed, in spite of how much they would like to. Of those people I ask the following: If you must give up your Shih Tzu please make every attempt to return him or her to the breeder, and if that is not possible, contact a local Shih Tzu rescue representative so that an appropriate home can be found. Your Shih Tzu deserves to have a suitable new home where he will be loved as much as he was with you.