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Hypoallergenic Dogs and Dog Allergies: FAQ

Obama Family Wants a Dog That Won't Trigger Dog Allergy in Daughter; What Are Their Options?
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Nov. 12, 2008 -- Hypoallergenic dogs have gotten a lot of buzz lately as the Obama family searches for a dog to bring with them to the White House -- without triggering dog allergies in older Obama daughter, Malia.

A quick glance at the Internet shows lots of web sites devoted to "hypoallergenic dogs" and "hypoallergenic dog breeds." But no dog may be free of potential allergens, cautions allergy and asthma expert Corinna Bowser, MD, of Havertown, Pa.

WebMD talked with Bowser about hypoallergenic dogs and dog allergies -- and what the Obamas might consider to help avoid triggering Malia's dog allergy.

(How do pets and allergy sufferers co-exist in your home? Share your suggestions on WebMD's Allergy Support Group message board.)

Is there such a thing as a hypoallergenic dog?

"I don't think there is such a thing as a hypoallergenic dog," Bowser tells WebMD.

She explains that the major allergen in dogs is a protein found in dog serum, and dogs excrete that allergen in sweat and shed it from their skin. "It also gets secreted into the saliva, and possibly a little bit in the urine," Bowser says.

Since all dogs have that protein, no dog is completely allergy-free, according to Bowser.

Karl Jandrey, DVM, an assistant professor at the University of California, Davis' School of Veterinary Medicine, agrees with Bowser. "There really is no truly allergy-free dog," Jandrey tells WebMD via email. But Jandrey also notes that "low-allergen" dog breeds may include poodle, bichon frise, and Maltese.

What about dog breeds?

Bowser says she didn't find much evidence in medical literature about dog breeds being better or worse for allergies.

But she did find a German study, published this year, that tracked allergies among people exposed to various dog breeds. "They said factors related to individual dogs seem to influence the allergenicity more than breed or gender, which I thought was interesting," says Bowser.

In other words, it was a dog-by-dog issue more than a breed-by-breed issue in that particular study, which Bowser says is the only one she found that involved specialized allergy tests.

Jandrey agrees that "some people who have been allergic to one dog may be less allergic to other dog breeds or individual [dogs] within the same breed."

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