Pet allergy is fairly common, affecting between 15 and 30 per cent of people with allergies such as asthma. Cats and dogs shed a material called dander from their skin and hair.
Dander contains allergens that have been secreted into the animal’s sweat, saliva or urine and it readily becomes airborne, so it can be inhaled by and trigger an allergy.
The ‘First Dog’ Sets the Trend
There’s been growing interest in so-called hypoallergenic dog breeds in recent years, heightened by the appearance of the United States’ ‘First Dog’, Bo.
Many families will share the President’s dilemma. He promised his daughters a puppy as a reward for their patience during his campaign, yet 14-year old Malia Obama has allergies.
Bo is a Portuguese water dog, said to be hypoallergenic. Unfortunately, I don’t have any inside information on whether Malia is allergic to Bo, after all – but I have come across a research paper that suggests that there may be no such animal as a hypoallergenic dog.
Hypoallergenic breeds in the spotlight
The two main dog allergens are known, for short, as Can f1 and Can f2. Researchers at Henry Ford Health System, Detroit, have now shown that hypoallergenic dogs do not shed any less allergen than any other breed.
Sixty hypoallergenic dog breeds are listed in this paper, including 23 terrier breeds. The researchers looked at 190 one-dog families, all of which had a very young baby. They noted the type of dog, and measured levels of dog allergen in the home.
Dust was hovered up from the baby’s bedroom and analysed for the presence of Can f1.
They found that 163 of the homes had detectable levels.
Furthermore, (although this wasn’t the focus of this study) around half of the owners actually allowed the dog in the baby’s bedroom.
Allergen levels did not depend upon the breed of dog.
The researchers believe further research is needed to confirm whether the hypoallergenic label is of any use at all to people with an allergy to dog dander. So you might as well be guided by your heart, not the breed, when you are choosing a dog!
Keep the Dog Outside – and Other Tips!
There are a couple of other things to note about this paper. First, only 17 families kept their dog entirely outside.
Second, around half of the owners let the dog into their baby’s bedroom. This is risky – for the presence of dog allergen might sensitize the baby, leading him or her to develop childhood asthma or rhinitis. And if anyone else in the family had an allergy, all that dog dander floating around is likely to trigger an attack.
If you do want to keep a dog indoors, a kennel by the door in the kitchen is a good idea. See below for more tips for keeping allergy at bay if there’s a dog in the family.
Feature Image Credit – clémence·Liu
About Susan Aldridge PhD:
Susan is a freelance science and medical writer and editor based in London, UK. Her regular slot is as a blog writer for Allergy Cosmos where she covers asthma, allergy (including, of course, pet allergy), air pollution and air quality issues.