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Exposing Kids to Dogs, Cats Early Can Pay Off

Research shows early exposure to pet dander and fur can ward off allergies later.
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WebMD Feature

Researchers were shocked to learn that exposing children to house pets might make it less, rather than more, likely that they would develop an allergy to dander and fur. But this is just the beginning of the "tail" when it comes to accommodating allergic pet lovers.

"I had a dog growing up," recalls Karen Can of Broomall, Penn. "But both my husband and I have allergies." Then they heard about Labradoodles -- or doods, as poodle variants are called. Labradoodles are Labrador retrievers crossed with poodles. After the adorable bundle of well-stuck-on fuzz came into their lives, the Cans have not experienced allergic reactions, although they do have a friend who starts to sniffle after a few minutes in their home. "We both seem fine," Can says. "He sheds very little."

Doods can run from $1,000 to $2,000 or even higher and are sort of a "recognized mutt." They were originally "designed" for blind people who were also allergic to dogs (such as a German shepherd) with higher shedding quotients. The secret ingredient is the poodle, which is famous for its tenacious, fuzzy fur.

Dee Gerrish, owner of Lake Ridge Kennels in Cleveland, N.C., breeds Goldendoodles -- a golden retriever crossed with a poodle. She started out as a chaplain's assistant in the military in Germany, helping soldiers find homes for their pets when they left Germany. When she returned home, her sister was there with a golden retriever; her friend had a poodle.

"I was in doodle heaven," Gerrish tells WebMD. "We had seven puppies and a hundred calls wanting them!" Then someone told her there was a name for the cross-breed; that it had started in Australia.

Gerrish does not tout the match as hypoallergenic. "I don't believe there is such a thing as nonshedding," she says. "This comes up a lot from people with allergies. Every dog sheds a little. But I can wash and groom seven puppies and not see much hair, so I guess people don't see the hair all over everything and think they are not shedding at all."

Gerrish herself has asthma, but has had no problems. She takes precautions, though, washing her hands after handling the dogs, discouraging face licking, and changing clothes after clipping the doods. She also grooms her animals outside and tries to stand upwind of the flying fur. A pet's saliva, dander, and urine can have the protein that triggers allergies in some people.

Possible drawbacks of such designer dogs? They need frequent grooming, which can get expensive, and there is no guarantee of size. Gerrish's goldendoodles run from 30 pounds to 80 pounds. When they are puppies, it's potluck. This can be an unwelcome surprise for people living in apartments.

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