Fur Is Not a Key Factor in Animal Allergies
(MS) — One of the latest crazes in the pet industry is the careful breeding of dogs to create “hypoallergenic pets.” Some of this breeding involves boosting the numbers of dogs that are less likely to cause allergic reactions, while in other cases, two different breeds are mixed to create a “designer” dog, purported to be the best thing since sliced bread for allergy sufferers. Case in point: the labradoodle (labrador-poodle mix).
One must understand that there is a certain fallacy behind the allergy-free pet. By looking at the definition of hypoallergenic and recognizing what substances cause animal allergies in people, it can become evident that some individuals are paying a high price tag for a pup that may be no less likely to cause allergies than a run-of-the-mill mutt.
DO HYPOALLERGENIC DOGS EXIST?
With the term “hypoallergenic” plastered on all sorts of products this day, individuals may question just what the word means. Hypoallergenic items have a reduced tendency to cause allergic reactions. However, since the prefix “hypo” means “less” and not “none,” there is still the possibility that a hypoallergenic product (or animal) could cause allergy sufferers to have a reaction. This is particularly true for asthma sufferers who still may be affected by a dog with a hypoallergenic name tag.
A big misconception among potential pet owners is that it is the fur of the animal that is responsible for allergies. However, according to allergists, this is simply not the case. In fact, urine, saliva, and dander (excess skin cells shed from the animal) are the main allergen sources. So no matter how short you shave your dog, or if the animal has a natural short coat, to begin with, this will largely not be a factor in allergic reactions, particularly if dander is present in a high amount.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t some dog breeds that may have a reduced tendency to trigger allergic reactions. These include single-coated dogs, who do not have a thick undercoat, and hairless dogs. However, even hairless dogs can produce enough dander to affect a highly allergic person. Types of single-coated dogs include poodles, schnauzers, soft-coated wheaten terriers, the Bichon Frise, and the West Highland Terrier (Westies), for example. But if an individual’s allergy stems from contact with a dog’s urine or saliva, even these breeds can pose a problem.
The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunization (ACAAI) reports that an estimated 10 percent of the population suffers from some sort of allergic reaction to animals. A higher rate of 20 to 30 percent of individuals with asthma has pet allergies.
Still, there are some people who, despite being allergic to animals, refuse to give up a pet. The ACAAI recommends these individuals do the following to perhaps make symptoms more manageable:
- Keep the pet confined to one room of the house, and install a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Arresting) air filter on the heating/cooling system (if a forced-air system is at work in the house) to limit the amount of allergens traveling throughout the house.
- Allergic individuals should not pet, hug or kiss their pets because of the allergens on the animal’s fur or saliva.
- The pet should be kept out of the bedroom of the allergic individual.
- Litter boxes should be placed in an area unconnected to the air supply for the rest of the home, and should be avoided by the allergic patient.
- Some allergic patients may have severe reactions, such as wheezing and shortness of breath, after exposure to certain pets. Also, a chronic, slowly progressive feeling of shortness of breath, loss of energy and feeling of fatigue can result from long-term exposure to birds and their droppings. This type of disease is known as hypersensitivity pneumonitis and can result in severe disability. In the event of these severe cases, removal of the offending animal is mandatory.
There are some allergy shots recommended for people who must come in contact with animals. These are best administered and supervised by an allergist-immunologist. They may be given for at least three years and decrease symptoms of asthma and allergy. Usually, after about six months of weekly injections allergy symptoms improve and less medication is required.
For those who suspect an animal allergy, visit an allergist who may conduct skin tests or special allergy blood tests for diagnosing allergy to animals.