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Allergies Health Center

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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.


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.

Even Doods a Don't?

"If there is a strong family history of allergy or asthma," Brian A. Smart, MD, an allergist with the DuPage Medical Group in Glen Ellyn, Ill., tells WebMD. "I say the person probably should not get a pet.

"But," Smart hastens to say, "I don't usually ask people who already have pets to part with them. They are more likely to part with me than with their pet."

There is no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog, though, Smart emphasizes. "The more the dog costs, the more the breeder is likely to say it won't cause allergies."

Still, Smart notes:

  • Dogs with shorter hair carry less dander, which may make the dog "less likely to trigger allergies."
  • Some breeds do shed less, which results in less hair (on surfaces) in the home.
  • Smaller dogs also have less dander and fur (because there is simply less dog).

Other "medical" hybrids include the schnoodle -- a poodle bred with a schnauzer -- and the bichon/yorkie.

Could Dogs Even Prevent Allergies?

Allergic dog lovers got a huge boost from a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2002, showing that early exposure to dogs and cats actually reduced asthma sensitization in children, rather than increasing it. In other words, being around dogs and cats early in life might prevent later problems in a large percentage of cases.

"We looked at kids from birth to age 7 to see what was the biggest cause of allergies," says Dennis R. Ownby, MD, head of the section on allergy and immunology of the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, tells WebMD. "We thought high levels of dust mites were probably the No. 1 cause."

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