Hypoallergenic dog or marketing myth?

Dog allergies are very common, up to 20% of the population are affected. This has not limited the popularity and enjoyment of having a dog at home. The ASPCA estimates that 37-47% of all households in the United States have a dog. Patients with dog allergies may have upper respiratory symptoms (sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes), lower respiratory symptoms (cough, wheezing) or even skin symptoms (itching, rash). An allergist can confirm dog allergy as the cause of these symptoms.

What’s next? What are the options? Removing the dog from the home is an option, but not very pleasing for the owners or their dogs. There are medications that can lessen symptoms. However, patients are looking for  other ideas. Suggestions have included, frequent washing, frequent vacuuming, putting air filters in the house and buying a “hypoallergenic dog.”

What is a “hypoallergnic dog?”  The substance produced by a dog, causing an allergy is an allergen. The word hypoallergenic means less likely to cause allergy. This implies that the dog would produce less allergen. As of today, there have been six identified dog allergens, named Can f 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. These proteins are found in hair, skin, dander (skin flakes), saliva and urine. Each allergen can be found in each type, or breed of dog. Can f 1 and 5 are considered major allergens, causing allergy in a large percentage of patients. However, patients can be allergic to any single allergen or any combination as well. Interestingly, Can f 5 is found only in male dog urine, suggesting that some patients may be allergic to male dogs only.

These proteins come off the dog and are found throughout the home. For example in carpets, couches and pillows. They can also be found in places without a dog. For example, in a classroom or on an airplane.

A Google search will recommend, if you have allergies buy a hypoallergenic dog. Dogs that do not shed or with wiry hair.

So is there such thing as a hypoallergenic dog? A dog breed that produces less allergen than other breeds? Is there anyone certifying or testing breeds to show that there are real benefits?

Here are a few studies that may answer these questions:

TITLE: Dog factor differences in Can f 1 allergen production. Allergy 2005.

CONCLUSIONS:

  • Allergen levels (Can f 1) were highest for Poodles (17) and Yorkshire Terriers (16) and lowest for the Labrador retriever (2).
  • Males produced less allergen than females.
  • There was no difference according to hair length or hormonal status.
  • Skin seborrhea caused higher allergen levels.

TITLE: Can f1 levels in hair and homes of different dog breeds: Lack of evidence to describe any dog breed as hypoallergenic. JACI 2012.

CONCLUSIONS: Allergen levels in hair and coat samples were higher in breeds considered hypoallergenic. Although there was a lot of variability between dogs of each breed. The amount of allergen in dust samples was similar for hypoallergenic and other breeds. Although certain dog breeds are described and marketed as being “hypoallergenic”, no evidence was found that these breeds are less allergenic.

TITLE: Dog allergen levels in homes with hypoallergenic compared with nonhypoallergenic dogs. American Journal of Rhinology & Allergy 2011.

CONCLUSIONS: Clinicians should advise patients that they cannot rely on breeds deemed to be “hypoallergnic” to in fact disperse less allergen in their environment.

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The evidence is pretty clear, at this time there is no “hypoallergenic” dog breed. Some dogs may produce more allergen than other dogs. Some people may be more allergic to one dog than other dogs. There is no consistency for which breed is best. Here are some tips for patients with dog allergy. Unfortunately, they are based more on common sense then scientific evidence.

Here is some more practical, but no better proven advice, for patients with dog allergies :

  • Choose a small dog. They will shed less dander.
  • Keep the dog out of the bedroom and other rooms in which you spend a lot of time.
  • Keep the dog out of the house. Remember, dogs may bring pollen or other allergens inside with them.
  • Bathe your dog weekly.
  • Remove carpet or other places dog dander may reside.
  • Get a cat.
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY: see an Allergist.

 

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