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The myth of the hypoallergenic dog

Updated: July 29, 2013 04:50 PM
© Cade Martin / CDC / Dawn Arlotta © Cade Martin / CDC / Dawn Arlotta
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By Stacy Brecher
From The Dog Daily

Over the past few years there has been a lot of talk about specific dog breeds that are "hypoallergenic" and perfect for families with members who have pet allergies. Most of the time these dogs tend to be hairless, or they have hair instead of fur, which leads many people to believe that the dogs do not spread allergens into the home.

Unfortunately this is a mostly a myth, as no dog is entirely hypoallergenic. We spoke to Dr. Jules Benson, VP of Veterinary Services at Petplan pet insurance, to find out more.

What Causes Pet Allergies?

According to Dr. Benson, "there is no true hypoallergenic dog, because [the thing that] causes the allergic reaction is common to all dogs. All dogs shed skin cells -- or dander -- even if they don't shed fur." The allergens are also present in these skin cells, as well as in saliva and urine. People with pet allergies react when these allergens are inhaled. "Dog dander is extremely small, like a micron of dust, and it can linger in the air so people can breathe it in without knowing it," Dr. Benson explains. "Pet urine and saliva particles can adhere to a pet's fur after they lick themselves, as well, so petting a dog could also lead to a reaction."

Do Allergy-free Dogs Really Exist?

So that's the bad news. But don't worry, there's good news as well. While there are no dogs that are 100% allergy free, there are some breeds that are better for people with allergies than others. "Dogs that have hair, not fur, actually don't shed as much and tend to produce less sneeze-provoking dander," said Dr. Benson.

The list for these types of dogs includes Poodles, Shih Tzus and Yorkshire Terriers, mostly hairless dogs like the Chinese Crested, and larger breeds like Portuguese Water Dogs and Schnauzers.

Unfortunately there is no way to totally cure pet allergies. "Allergic reactions occur because the body's immune system is treating the allergen -- in this case, pet dander -- as an enemy, so repeated or prolonged exposure could simply lead to a more extreme reaction -- which could be very dangerous," says Dr. Benson.

It is possible that some people, mostly children, may outgrow an allergy completely, but this has nothing to do with repeated exposure to a dog. If you do bring home a so-called hypoallergenic dog, don't be surprised if those allergies do rear their ugly heads. However, if you or a family member only has minor pet allergies, one of the dogs listed above could be the right fit for your home.

Reduce the Allergens in Your Home

There are also ways to reduce the pet allergens in your home so as to limit the spread of dander. Specific areas of your home collect more allergens than others. This includes carpets, furniture, mattresses and window treatments. The key is diligent housekeeping. When purchasing a vacuum cleaner, make sure to get one with a HEPA filter. These are designed to remove even the smallest particles of pet dander. Hardwood floors are a great option, too, as hair is visible and easier to remove.

Frequent baths and grooming of your pet will also help. "Just be sure to use a moisturizing shampoo so your pet's skin doesn't dry out from so many baths," warns Dr. Benson. You can also restrict your dog to specific parts of your home, and keep him out of the bedrooms of the family members who are allergic. Special air filters are also available to help remove dander that could be floating in the air.

At the end of the day, if you believe you are allergic to dogs, be sure to get tested by an allergist who can determine if your allergies are due to pet dander or other allergens. Then you can determine if you're perhaps able to live with a dog that produces less dander.

Stacey Brecher is an editor at Woman's World magazine and a contributor to Animal Fair magazine. Stacey's articles have previously appeared in The Dog Daily.

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