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Allergic to Shih Tzu

Being Allergic to a Shih Tzu 


Despite popular myths as this breed being hypoallergenic, many people can't help wondering, ‘Can I really be allergic to my Shih Tzu?’. 

While dogs are classified in a number of ways (breed, size, temperament, inside vs outside dog, etc.) the one element that is touted quite often in regard to possible allergies toward a dog is the dog’s coat. Some say that if the coat is short, a person is less likely to be allergic. Others say it is the type of coat that matters; that if the breed has hair instead of fur, that is the element that will make the dog hypoallergenic. However, both of those are misguided theories. It is very possible to be allergic to a Shih Tzu. You can even have allergy symptoms toward this breed while feeling just fine around others. 

In this section, we will go over why you can be allergic to a Shih Tzu and steps you can take to lessen the reaction that you are experiencing.

So, if you are typically allergic to dogs and are thinking about getting a Shih Tzu or already have a Shih Tzu and find you are allergic to him, this section will cover all you need to know:
  • Why People can Be Allergic
  • The 11 Steps to Reduce or Eliminate Reactions
  • What Your Doctor Can Do
  • If You Tried and Nothing Works
Why You Can Be Allergic to a Shih Tzu

Many people think (or hope) that they will not be allergic to a Shih Tzu because the breed has a flowing coat of hair, thus shedding much less than a breed with a thick double coat of fur. 

However, it is a popular yet false assumption that people, when allergic to dogs, are having a reaction to the dog’s fur. One reason why this notion is so common is that a dog’s fur is a tangible thing. It often sheds and can be seen on carpeting, furniture and even an owner’s clothes. Then, if that person finds their eyes watering and their skin itchy (some even get hives) and that they are sneezing, they assume it must be from the fur. In a way it is, but only by the fact that the true allergens (dander, saliva and urine) can cling to the fur, thus transporting those allergens to other areas where the dog sat, played or slept. 
Shih tzu outside on summer grass
Photo courtesy of Betty Ferguson
Another element that comes into play is that other common allergy triggers such as dust and pollen can become trapped more easily on a dog with thick fur as opposed to a dog with a coat of hair… and this can lead a person to experience more symptoms around breeds with fur and less on with those without. 

This being said, allergies to dogs is a tricky thing. Everyone reacts differently to each dog on an individual basis. You may have previously had a Shih Tzu and had no issues, but with your second dog, you may find that you’re allergic to him. Or, you may have had a Boxer dog and suffered terrible symptoms, but you don’t with a Shih Tzu. It had nothing to do with the dog’s coat at all. 

The truth is, no matter what the breed, if someone is allergic to a dog is due to a reaction of:
  • The dander – This is the most common trigger. It refers to the flakes of dead skin on the dog’s body. 
  • The saliva – With some people, general allergies will occur and with others, it will be direct contact, such as getting hives where the dog has licked their skin. 
  • The urine – Less common of the three, but still possible. If a dog has splatters of urine on his coat, a person can come into contact with it when grooming or petting the dog. 
Therefore, there really is no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog breed despite the hype of this. And certainly, the Shih Tzu is not a hypoallergenic breed, despite his coat of hair. He, just like every other breed, produces dander and of course, has saliva and urine: the 3 elements that can trigger symptoms. 

Signs of Being Allergic to a Dog

The most common symptoms will be:
  • Itchy eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy skin
  • Hives
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
Testing to See if You Are Allergic to a Shih Tzu

If you are thinking about bringing a Shih Tzu puppy into your home, it is always wise to try and test how you will react, even if you have previously had one and especially if you have had troubles in the past. While each dog will have varying levels of dander and varying levels of protein in the saliva, it is suggested to spend a full 24 hours with a Shih Tzu to test your reaction. Of course, in some instances that will not be possible, and if so, even several hours of contact can give you a good idea of how your body will react. 
Possible ways of testing:

Ask to doggie sit someone’s Shih Tzu. If a family member, friend, co-worker or neighbor has a Shih Tzu and you explain that you’d like to see if you can tolerate the breed, they may take you up on your offer to provide a free dog-sitting. 
Visit your local shelter to spend time with a Shih Tzu. The best case scenario will be that the dog can be bathed right before you visit and segregated from other dogs so that nothing is picked up by the many other dogs in the facility. If so, spending time petting and holding the Shih Tzu in a private area may give you your answer. 

Spend time with a potential puppy several times before buying him. Many puppy buyers do not need to be around a pup for very long before making a decision. If the puppy is cute, it may be a matter of only ten minutes or so. However, this is not enough time to know if you will be allergic to that Shih Tzu.

It must be noted that as a dog matures, he may produce more allergens, thus if you are not allergic to a puppy you may be allergic to the adult dog he becomes. However, this can still help to some degree and certainly if you have 3 visits of 20 to 30 minutes and do see that your eyes are starting to itch or your nose is itchy, you’ll know that there is an issue. 
Shih tzu white and gray with black on face
Rusty at 8 months old
Photo courtesy of Ted & Max
Contact with a puppy's belongings - Ask a breeder who owns a puppy you are considering to send you a blanket that the pup has been in contact with (resting with, sleeping on). While this is not 100% guaranteed to work, for those that are very sensitive, allergies to that blanket may come on quickly, thus letting you know. 

Allergy Testing for a Specifically for the Shih Tzu Breed

In many cases, general allergy testing from your doctor will only test for canines in general. And even so, those results can be misleading. The National Institute of Health published a paper showing that people can have only slight positive or even negative results to testing while still experiencing dog allergies. 

However, some Allergists are able to test for specific breeds and therefore can use a sample from a Shih Tzu and even a specific dog when a hair sample is given. Yet again, this is not always accurate. 
11 Things to Do If You Are Allergic to Your Shih Tzu

If you are allergic to a Shih Tzu there are some things that you can do to lessen or in some cases, resolve this completely. This said, each person is different and in some cases, there may not be much of a change. Implementing just one remedy often does little good. The more of these steps you follow, the better your chances of fixing your allergic response to your Shih Tzu puppy or dog. 

1. Keep the coat clipped short. While the type of coat (fur vs hair) is not directly related to any allergies you may be having toward your Shih Tzu, keeping his coat short makes it easier to wash away his dander, urine and saliva, thus easier to reduce the real triggers. 

2. Bathing. Bathe the Shih Tzu more often than usual. Typically, it is recommended to give a Shih Tzu a bath once every three weeks. However, if you are allergic to a Shih Tzu a weekly bath should help quite a bit. Over-bathing can lead to dry skin (thus more dander) however this can be counteracted by using a quality oatmeal based shampoo, a thick conditioner and importantly, a quality leave-in product that should aid in preventing dander from exiting the coat as much as it would otherwise. 
Shih Tzu in stroller on summer day
Rocky at 1 year old
Photo courtesy of Don VanGelderen
3. Brushing & Spritz. Ideally, the person who is allergic to the Shih Tzu should not perform the brushing. Also, if the weather permits this, brushing should be done outside to prevent dander flakes from becoming airborne in the house. A good full-body brush 3 times per week can be advantageous to removing dander. 

Spritzing the coat with a quality leave-in can then also help to hold the dander down until the next bath is due. Do use the spritz moderately, but do not drench the dog because an over abundance of it can block skin pores. However, a light misting, brushed through the coat is not only great for those allergic to a Shih Tzu, but also recommended for all owners to protect the coat from split ends, contact friction and outdoor elements such as the sun. A nice spritz can also help with odor problems

4. Wiping. Wiping down a Shih Tzu with body wipes is underrated as both as way to keep a Shih Tzu clean, smelling great and to make the puppy or dog less of an allergic trigger. Remember the 3 elements that cause someone to be allergic to a Shih Tzu? Dander, saliva and urine. 
Using a quality canine wipe removes 2 of those 3 elements (and all 3 if the dog tends to drool). You’ll want to use an effective yet gentle disposable wipe to go over the body (don’t forget the underbody to wipe up little specks of urine), down the neck, over the chest, down the legs and even the tail. Do this daily and the best time to do so is after the dog has been outside, to wipe off possible outdoor triggers such as pollen that may settled into the coat.

Additionally, using ‘Tushie wipes’ after each bathroom trip will help resolve an allergy to the dog’s urine. While male Shih Tzu are more infamous for their urine splashing back up onto their bodies, females also may have some backsplash and wiping the genital area after each urination can be of help. 

5. Furniture. It’s not easy to keep a dog off of your sofa and other furniture if you want him to be part of the family. A good alternative is to obtain furniture coverings that are washable. If you are following all the rules of what to do if you’re allergic to your Shih Tzu, washing the sofa cover once or twice per week can often be just the thing to allow the allergy sufferer to sit where the dog has sat or to even relax together. 

6. Limiting access. For those who are very allergic, it is best to keep the puppy or dog out of that person’s bedroom as that is the room that he/she will spend at least 8 hours. 

7. The Shih Tzu’s area. Hopefully, you have great setup for your Shih Tzu: A nice quiet yet not isolated area, either a playpen or gated off area that holds what he needs: an excellent bed, blanket to cuddle, food & water and plenty of great toys. If you’re allergic to a dog, it is best that this area is not located over carpeting, as dander can fall down into it, become trapped and then cause allergies. It’s better to spread out a blanket that can be washed once per week or have it over hardwood or linoleum flooring for easy clean-up. In addition, we recommend a doggie bed with a washable cover, so that can be laundered once a week as well. The best time to do this is while the Shih Tzu is being bathed; this way a dander-free dog is returned to a dander-free bed. 
8. Your flooring. Carpeting will hold allergens more than hardwood floors, however in either case, the house should be vacuumed and/or swept (with a Swiffer type broom that catches debris, not one that spreads it around or sends it airborne) as much as possible and at the very least, 1 time per week.

9. Limiting contact. For those that develop hives when touching the dog and particularly for those that that get hives if the Shih Tzu licks them, it really is best to avoid direct contact. That person may still be able to teach commands, take him for walks, play fetch, etc.; but if the licking is stopped it can prevent this sort of reaction. 

10. Washing hands. For many people allergic to a Shih Tzu, symptoms only appear due to that person touching their face.
And a person may not even make this connection simply due to the fact that most ‘face touching’ is not noticed. It is estimated that a person touches their face anywhere from 200 to 2000 times a day. Even if you take the lowest number and slash it in half, that is 100 times per day that you may be possibly be transferring the allergens from the dog to your eyes and nose. For this reason, frequently washing your hands and especially doing this after handling the dog (or his toys & belongings) can help quite a bit. Be sure to wash with soap and for a good 20 seconds. Using a small scrub brush to clean under the nail can also be helpful since pet dander can get trapped there. 

11. Clean the air. Air purifiers (you can get free-standing ones) or air filters (if you have central heating or AC) can help rid the air of tiny particles that can cause allergies. These are great for those who suffer seasonal allergies (and good for a dog that does as well) and if you use HEPA certified filters with the highest rating, they will remove 99.97% pet dander (and dust, dust mites and mold spores). 
Shih Tzu with Santa Clause
Paisley at 1 year old
Photo courtesy of William
Treatment for Dog Allergies

If you have tried all of the above (not just one at a time, but simultaneously) and still find that you are allergic to your Shih Tzu, you may want to consider seeing your doctor or an Allergist (though you can try OTC medications first). There are several prescription medications that can be given such as nasal sprays, eye drops and/or oral antihistamines.
Shih Tzu dander on bed
Brayden, at 8 months old
Photo courtesy of Kenisha 
It is also possible to start receiving allergy shots to help your body build up a tolerance. This is known as immunotherapy.

Allergy shots (immunotherapy) are an effective treatment of allergies by building tolerance over time through gradually injecting increasing doses of an allergen. It is not guaranteed but does work for many people. This is not recommended for children under the age of 5 years old. 

Since it is a gradual process, it can take months to work. Most people experience a slow, incremental improvement with full results seen in 12 months. If successful, maintenance is suggested for 3 to 5 years. 

The cost for immunotherapy to prevent allergies to dogs can be $1000 per year though many health insurances will pay this in part or in full. 

If You are Still Allergic to Your Shih Tzu

It is understandable that the steps to find relief when allergic to a Shih Tzu does take some commitment and that receiving allergy shots may be out of reach for those whose insurance does not cover this. 
In those cases, where at-home remedies are not working and one cannot seek help from an allergist, the debate of whether or not to keep the dog may come into play. It must be noted that obtaining a dog is meant to be a life-long commitment and if it is decided to remove the dog, effort should be put into finding a solution other than a shelter. 

If the Shih Tzu is a puppy and was bought from a breeder, that breeder may agree to take the puppy back (many will agree if the alternative is a shelter) though to not expect to receive a refund. Do look to family members, friends and neighbors for a loving home. If a new home cannot be found, we’d suggest looking to a Shih Tzu rescue group in your area. 
All recommended items for grooming & care can be found on the Shih Tzu Supplies page.
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