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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?

Does the dog's size or hair length matter?

"The size of dog could matter in terms of the overall amount of allergen," with smaller dogs contributing less allergen, says Bowser.

"Hair length could have something to do with how it spreads in the house," Bowser says. She explains that shorter dog hairs may not stick as much as long hair to furniture, clothes, and other surfaces, "so maybe the allergen does not stick as much, but the amount of allergen should be the same."

What about dogs with no hair? "Hairless animals have a lower allergenicity but the dander from the skin can still pose a problem for anyone sensitive to it," Jandrey says.

So are all dogs off limits to the Obamas?

Bowser has no ties to the Obamas, but she says that "if this was my patient ... I would say it's probably better not to get a dog."

"Of course, now he [Obama] made the promise and he kind of has to," she says. So Bowser recommends doing two things before bringing a puppy home: Dog-sit and see how Malia's allergies fare, and set some rules about how they'll handle any allergy issues.

"What we tell our patients is draw an imaginary line in the sand. If the child has an ER visit for asthma or needs significantly more medication, or whatever you want to determine as the line, that's when the dog has to go. And set these rules ahead of time, because then everybody knows that's when the dog has to go," Bowser says.

What can a family do once they've brought a dog home?

Here are Bowser's tips:

  • Keep the dog out of the allergic child's bedroom, since the child spends a lot of time there.
  • Wash your hands after petting the dog.
  • Keep the house clean.
  • Consider using an air purifier.

Bowser speaks from experience. She's allergic to cats, but her husband had a cat when they married. So their cat is banned from their bedroom, and they use air filters; she washes her hands after petting the cat so that she doesn't rub her eyes and wind up with swollen, itchy eyes.

Bowser also mentions the "hygiene hypothesis," which holds that exposure to animals and less-than-sterile environments may reduce the risk of developing allergies.

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