You’ll see advertisements and news stories about how certain dogs are safer for people with allergies — they’re not true.
People can spend more than $1,000, sometimes $3,000, for a dog that they’re told is less likely to trigger allergy symptoms. They’re wasting their money.
About 12 percent of Americans may be allergic to dogs, reacting to proteins in a dog’s saliva, urine, or dander (dead skin cells). Those proteins cling to walls, furniture, and clothing, sometimes remaining in the air for up to six months even after a pet is gone. Pet hair can also trap mold, pollen, and other outdoor allergens, adding to your exposure.
The story goes like this: Ordinary dogs spread allergens around the house when they shed their fur. Because poodles and some other dogs have hair rather than fur, there’s less visible fluffy stuff in your home.
The claim doesn’t hold up upon investigation. There are at least five dog allergens, but the dog allergen that bothers people most often is Can f 1. Levels of Can f 1 are about 50 times higher in homes that contain a dog. A Dutch team gathered samples from the coat and in the floor dust and air in the homes of a Labradoodle, Poodle, Spanish Waterdog, and Airedale terrier — all dogs marketed as “hypoallergenic.” The comparison group was a Labrador retriever and other ordinary dogs. The dogs marketed as “hypoallergenic” had significantly more, not less, Can f 1 on their coats, which means you were exposed whenever you touched them. And there were no differences in the amount of allergen in the air.
When the Henry Ford Health System looked into the issue, collecting samples from 173 homes with dogs in the Detroit area, researchers also found that there were no hypoallergenic dogs. Nearly all homes with dogs had detectable Can f 1 in their dust, and the breed made no difference. Some people think smaller dogs spread less dander — but, in the Henry Ford study, the size of the dog didn’t change the amount of Can f 1 in the home.
You might think an allergy isn’t a big deal, but you’ll be taking a chance. Once you are sensitized, you run the risk of asthma, and it won’t be easy to avoid dander, which is common even in public places, including classrooms.
There also isn’t scientific backing for the idea that people get used to their pets. About 10 percent of people who work with animals develop asthma to those animals.
What are the signs of a pet allergy?
Reactions include sneezing, a runny nose, a congested nose, itchy eyes, post-nasal drip, coughing, facial pressure, blue skin under your eyes, or an itchy throat.
Some people develop hives, itches, or eczema.
If you have asthma, you may experience difficulty breathing, chest tightness, or pain, a wheezing sound when you exhale, and sleep interruptions.
What can I do about my pet allergy?
Washing a dog helps, but not entirely, and you’ll have to do it twice a week, research suggests. It may help to keep your dog out of your bedroom and, especially, out of your bed. You can also install carpet-free flooring, wash your dog regularly with shampoo, or use a high-efficiency particulate purifier (or HEPA) and vent filters.
Talk to an allergist about medication.
There’s some good news for dog lovers. Exposing babies to pets may help them avoid allergies later.
Cats aren’t any safer than dogs, and short-haired cats spread as much dander as long-haired cats.
October 25, 2021
Janet O’Dell, RN