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Allergies to dogs have increased in prevalence presumably as a result of increased dog ownership and sensitisation. Consequently, public interest in “hypoallergenic” breeds has surged in the last decade. Such interest was boosted when President Obama selected Bo, the Portuguese Water Dog – a breed considered ‘allergy-friendly’ – to be America’s First Dog due to his daughter’s allergies (Bukstein, 2009).
Hypoallergenic dog breeds are said to provoke fewer allergic reactions in allergy sufferers because they usually shed less dander and hair.
However, the primary allergen in dog dander and saliva is the protein Can f 1, a member of the lipocalin superfamily that represents the majority of allergens associated with pets (Hilger et al., 2012). Therefore, even hairless dogs can produce enough dander to affect a highly allergic person. So, can allergy-friendly dogs really prevent allergic reactions?
The science says…
Growing up with dogs has been linked to a lower risk of asthma (Fall et al., 2015), and it has recently been suggested that the more pets you meet as a baby, the lower the risk of allergies (Hesselmar et al., 2018).
However, a new large-scale study by Fall et al. (2018) has found breeds often described anecdotally as ‘hypoallergenic’ or ‘allergy friendly’, such as poodles and miniature Schnauzers are no more suitable for people with allergies than other breeds, meaning allergy-friendly breeds do not necessarily lower the risk of asthma.
This study involved the population and health data of 23,600 children born in Sweden between January 2001 to December 2004, who had a dog in their home for the first year of their life. The dogs were recorded by sex, breed, number, size and alleged ‘hypoallergenicity’. The team analysed the relationship between the risk of asthma or allergy diagnosis and medication at age six together with the dog’s characteristics to understand if the type of dog was a predictor for asthma / allergic reactions.
Although the study found no link between lowered asthma risk and specific breeds, they did note that children exposed to female dogs had lower risk of asthma compared to those exposed to males. This supports previous findings that highlighted entire male dogs typically produce more allergens than female dogs and neutered males (Breitenbuecher et al., 2016).
Despite this recent research, there remains a paucity of data that evaluates claims of hypoallergenicity. Further exploration into this area is needed to understand the relationship between dog characteristics and allergens and enable better access to scientifically valid information for individuals seeking an ‘allergy friendly’ dog.
Breitenbuecher, C., Belanger, J.M., Levy, K., Mundell, P., Fates, V., Gershony, L., Famula, T.R., Oberbauer, A.M. 2016. Protein expression and genetic variability of canine Can f 1 in golden and Labrador retriever service dogs. Canine Genet Epidemiol. (3). http://doi: 10.1186/s40575-016-0031-3.
Bukstein D. 2009. The Obama dilemma: Allergic rhinitis (animal dander allergy) -The great burden of illness. Allergy Asthma Proc (30) pp.567-572.
Fall, T., Lundholm, C., Örtqvist, A.K., 2015. Early exposure to dogs and farm-animals and the risk of childhood asthma. JAMA Pediatr. http://doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.3219.
Hesselmar, B., Hicke-Roberts, A., Lundell, A., Adlerberth, I., Rudin, A., Saalman, G., Wennergren, G., and Wold, A.E. 2018. Pet-keeping in early life reduces the risk of allergy in a dose-dependent fashion. PLoS One. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0208472.
Hilger C, Kuehn A, and Hentges F. 2012. Animal lipocalin allergens. Curr Allergy Asthma Rep. http://doi: 10.1007/s11882-012-0283-2.
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