If you have a pet allergy but want a dog as a family pet, you may have been advised to get a Poodle or other “hypoallergenic” breed. For years, certain breeds including Bichon Frise, Chinese Crested, Irish Water Spaniel, Maltese, Poodles, Schnauzers, and some terriers have been promoted as being “ideal for allergy sufferers.” (American Kennel Club) But a new study from researchers at Henry Ford Hospital shows that so-called hypoallergenic dogs don’t actually have lower allergen levels than other breeds.
Popular belief holds that dogs which don’t shed, such as Poodles, won’t cause allergies because they don’t release hair. In fact, pet allergies are caused by an immune system reaction to dead skin cells (dander) and saliva, not by animal hair. The researchers at Henry Ford Hospital created a study to determine whether hypoallergenic dogs actually produced less dander and saliva, and therefore, were less likely to cause an allergic reaction than other breeds.
The study was designed to measure the amount of allergen found in environments where hypoallergenic dogs lived. The research team tested dust samples from 173 homes that were collected one month after a newborn baby was brought to the home. The samples were collected from the floor in the baby’s room. Each home had only one dog. 60 dog breeds were involved in the study including 11 that are considered to be hypoallergenic. The team set up four criteria to compare dogs in the study:
• Purebred hypoallergenic dogs vs. purebred non-hypoallergenic dogs
• Purebred and mixed breed dogs with at least one hypoallergenic parent vs. purebred non-hypoallergenic dogs
• Purebred and mixed breed dogs with at least one hypoallergenic parent vs. purebred and mixed breed dogs with no known hypoallergenic ancestry
• Purebred dogs which the American Kennel Club calls hypoallergenic vs. all other dogs
The research team noted no significant difference in the amount of allergen between any of the four groups, meaning none of the groups were more or less likely to cause an allergic reaction. In homes where the dog was not allowed in the baby’s room, non-hypoallergenic dogs created a lower level of allergen in the room than did hypoallergenic dogs. In homes where the dog was allowed in the baby’s room, the study did not track how much time the dog spent in the room.
Christine Cole Johnson, Ph.D., MPH, chair of Henry Ford's Department of Public Health Sciences, was the senior author of the study. She said, "We found no scientific basis to the claim hypoallergenic dogs have less allergen.” Other research studies show that being around a dog early in life can help prevent a child from becoming allergic to dogs later in life. But this study shows that there are no truly hypoallergenic dog breeds. Johnson advises potential dog owners not to expect any breed of dog to produce less allergen than any other breed.
Reviewed July 21, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.