The search for a "presidential dog" has dominated the headlines since President Obama's campaign. It has been reported that President Obama's 10-year-old daughter, Malia, is allergic to dog hair, and thus starts the search for a "hypoallergenic" dog. Many of my patients find themselves with the desire to have a pet, despite a pet allergy as well.
There is a myth that pet allergies are caused by animal hair! It is actually a protein found in pet skin/dander, saliva and urine that causes the allergy. Hairless dogs are still going to have at least some allergen. Some dog breeds, are said to be "hypoallergenic," as they shed less, but no dog breed is completely 100 percent hypoallergenic.
In some cases, there are individual differences between breeds, and a particular pet allergy sufferer may do better with one breed as compared to another. Lastly, it has been postulated that perhaps female dogs might produce less animal allergen, but the jury is still out on this one!
You may look for breeds with shorter hair and less shedding, although there isn't any real scientific evidence this will really help. Some allergists have also advocated that there may be an advantage to keeping a dog that tends to keep their coat throughout the year. Also, there is a consideration to selecting a smaller dog, as these animals may shed less dander than a bigger dog. Other factors discussed are the animal's temperament or disposition that might make frequent bathing more feasible.
Tips that can help reduce dog allergy suffering_
• Create a pet-free bedroom
• Wash bedding in hot water
• Bathe your dog frequently and have a non-allergic family member perform grooming
• Use a HEPA air purifier, double bag and/or HEPA vacuum cleaner/home A/C, and as well as vacuuming carpets, cleaning walls
• Shampoo carpeting frequently or better yet, go with wood or washable tile/linoleum flooring
• Increase time your pet spends outside, when the weather allows
• Visit an allergist to discuss treatment options
Nevertheless, there are no guarantees that an individual who is truly allergic to pets (about 10 percent if those with allergies) will tolerate living with a pet dog or cat. What I have found helpful is actually trying out a pet on a "temporary or trial basis" for a future pet, to ensure a successful ending to this story. An even better strategy is to begin allergy treatment before getting a pet if you are allergic, including allergy injections!
For more information on pet allergies go to: http://www.aaaai.org/media/news_releases/pressrelease.asp?contentid=8326
For for home and animal allergy management tips check out: http://www.allergyandasthmarelief.org/animal_allergens.html
Dr. Clifford Bassett is an adult and pediatric allergy specialist, and diplomate of the American Board of Allergy and Immunology. He is the medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of NY. Bassett is a clinical assistant professor of medicine and on the teaching faculty of NYU School of Medicine and NYU Langone Medical Center, and faculty at Cornell University Medical College. Follow him on Twitter.