Are Basenjis Hypoallergenic?

BY CHEY MILLER © 2019

This topic comes up quite often on our Facebook page. We are also asked through the Contact Us form here on our website: Is it true that Basenjis are hypoallergenic?

The fact is that fur length and type are not an indication of whether a breed will induce an allergic reaction. No dog breed is absolutely hypoallergenic. It depends strictly on the individual dog!

Let's look at the science. The source of allergies to dogs is allergens belonging to the lipocalin protein family found in dog's saliva and urine. A major study undertaken at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden concluded that the saliva of some breeds (notably Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, and Dogue de Bourgogne) contain fewer of these proteins than other breeds – but they are found in all dogs' saliva and urine.

These proteins stick to the dog's fur and skin when it cleans itself. Flakes of dead skin, known as dander, are released into the air and onto surfaces when the dog sheds its coat. Those dogs that shed less than others obviously will release less dander.

Dog Dander

[Image used with permission from MicrobialGallery.com]

Allergic reactions to dogs affect 5-10% of the adult population and serve as a trigger in those who suffer from asthma and allergic rhinitis. (Incidentally, any animal can trigger an allergic response in people who are susceptible; more people are allergic to cats than to dogs, but some people are even allergic to rabbits, guinea pigs, or hamsters!)

Some Basenjis shed very little, but others shed a LOT! It depends on the individual dog, just as it depends on the individual human whether he is affected. My Basenji girl Ruby was a heavy shedder. We spent a lot of time outdoors together year round, including during the cold, snowy months, which might have encouraged development of her heavy winter coat. I brushed her religiously when she began shedding every year in late winter. This photo shows the result of a typical grooming session — and there's plenty more to come!

One of our volunteers shared with us her experience: "…I did a home visit for an applicant who had previously owned a Basenji. I brought my Dixie along. She curled up in the wife's lap during our visit and the woman was fine. I placed a bonded pair of Basenjis with the couple, and in a few days the husband called me, asking me to take the dogs back. His wife had a severe reaction to the dogs."

If you have allergies and are considering adopting a Basenji, the best advice is to meet the specific Basenji you are considering bringing into your home. Pet it, hold it, encourage it to play with you. Get it to take a small treat from your fingers, and hold onto it while it salivates and licks it. You should know within a few minutes if you are allergic to the dog.

Another BRAT volunteer offered this advice: "I tell folks to take a t-shirt with them when they visit Basenjis. Rub it all over the dogs, let the dogs walk on, sniff, lay on the t-shirt. Then take it home and put it on their pillow. If they have no reaction, you're good to go. Best test I have ever found."

If you cannot visit the dog in person, perhaps the owner/foster would be willing to send you an article that has been in prolonged contact with the Basenji in question.

What if you have allergies (or have family or friends with allergies who visit frequently) but fall in love with a Basenji anyway? Where there's a will, there's probably a way! Here are some steps you can take to ameliorate the situation.

• Keep your Basenji out of rooms where you spend a lot of time (e.g. your bedroom)
• Bathe him frequently
• Wipe him daily with a wet cloth
• Get rid of carpets, or shampoo and vacuum them regularly
• Switch from fabric upholstery to leather or vinyl
• Use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, and vent it to reduce allergens

In the voice of experience of another of our helpful volunteers: "I am very allergic to all cats and most dogs, because I'm allergic to dander. I have a lot of other environmental allergies as well, such as pollen and dust mites. I'm not allergic to my Basenji, and I wasn't allergic to my prior Basenji, but I think that is, in part, because I mitigate the impact of other environmental allergies. I have a high-end air purifier going 24/7, and I've eliminated non-leather upholstery from my home; I have wood floors instead of carpeting, and my bedding is completely encased. When my Basenji has been around other dogs and I pet him, I get hives, but that is from the dander of the other dogs and I just need to wipe him down with a wet towel."