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You’re a dog lover, but the mere sight of a wagging tail turns you or your spouse into a sneezing, eye-watering mess. So you do the next logical thing: you bring home a cute, loveable hypoallergenic breed, like a hairless terrier. Sure, you have to slather it in sunscreen every time you go out, and it looks more like a rat than a pooch, but at least you get to have a canine companion without your allergy symptoms kicking into overdrive. That’s why the Obamas have Bo -- the family’s Portuguese water dog is said to be a breed that is great for people with dog allergies, like first daughter Malia.
Except for one thing: hypoallergenic dogs probably won't make you, or Malia Obama, stop sniffling and sneezing.
According to a study published in the latest issue of American Journal of Rhinology and Allergy, there’s no such thing as hypoallergenic dogs. Say what? It’s true; research at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit found that so-called hypoallergenic pups carry just as many allergens as other breeds.
Contrary to popular belief, people who are allergic to animals don't wheeze because of fur. The real source of pet allergies is a protein found in Fido’s and Whiskers’ saliva and urine, which sticks to pet dander (another word for dead, dried flakes of skin). Up until now, it was believed that dogs labeled hypoallergenic produced less dander and saliva, and shed less fur. But the scientists of this study say that homes with hypoallergenic dogs carry just as many allergens as those of breeds like drooling Newfoundlands or double-coated golden retrievers, which shed several times a year.
To test their theory, the researchers collected dust samples from 173 one-dog households. Sixty dog breeds were involved in the study, 11 of which are considered hypoallergenic. They found no significant differences in allergen levels between hypoallergenic dogs and non-hypoallergenic dogs.
“The idea that you can buy a certain breed of dog and think it will cause less allergy problems for a person already dog-allergic is not borne out by our study,” said senior author of the study, Christine Cole Johnson, Ph.D., M.P.H., chair of Henry Ford’s Department of Public Health Sciences, in a written statement.
According to Johnson, previous research has shown that the only way you can head off an allergy to dogs is by being exposed to a dog early in life. So if you want your kids to be able to enjoy a pet later in life, expose them at a young age to protect them against future allergies.
The good news is if you already have a hypoallergenic dog and aren’t troubled by their dander, you can probably upgrade to whatever breed you want -- hair, drool and all.