There's been a lot of media hype about "hypoallergenic dogs" in the past week since President-Elect Obama announced his family would be bringing a new puppy to the White House, come January. Apparently, his daughter Malia, 10, has allergies, and so they are in the hunt for a shelter dog who is also "hypoallergenic."
I read a report on this in People magazine online last week with a bit of dismay. That particular article made it sound as though picking the right dog breed would be a magical answer to preventing allergies in little Malia. In fact, although they acknowledged that dander is the actual allergy trigger involved with dogs, they also said that because you couldn't see the dander from certain dogs, such as Bichon Frise or a poodle, that those dogs were hypoallergenic.
What's wrong with that statement? Well, first of all, their so-called "expert" was a shelter owner, not a health care professional. So, while he may know dogs, he's not the best person to quote about allergies. Second, dander is seldom visible, no matter what kind of dog (or cat) is in play.
Dander is tiny, nearly microscopic flakes of dead skin shed by a pet during the normal course of a day. Although dander does attach to hair at times, it can also be shed on its own. So, the length of the hair or amount a dog sheds doesn't affect how "allergenic" the dog is. Also, even hairless breeds can still trigger allergies. And the fact that you don't see dander doesn't mean it isn't there.
Also, hypoallergenic can be roughly translated to mean slightly allergenic. It does not mean, however, that the pet is nonallergenic or not allergenic or allergy free, as many reports have said. Sensitive people may still react to even a hypoallergenic pet.
My fear is that all this hype about the Obamas looking for a hypoallergenic pet is going to perpetuate the myth that if you adopt the "right" kind of dog, you don't have to worry about it triggering allergy or asthma symptoms. I happen to be a dog lover (I have 3!), so please don't assume I'm against adopting dogs. But, if you decide to add a dog to your family, please understand that it is probably going to trigger some allergy symptoms.
I live with this fact, and to me, the joy my dogs give me is worth the symptoms I have to endure. But, if I had a child who was allergic to dogs, I would probably not have 3 of them and I might not even have one.
I had a reader on another site where I posted on this issue tell me that she was sure President-Elect Obama's advisors know more than I do about hypoallergenic dogs and that I should stop questioning his decisions and start praising the fact that he was willing to adopt a shelter mutt. My response to that is that this issue is not about the Obama family. They'll do what they want. I'm just trying to make sure readers here truly understand the risks of adopting a dog, whether it's called hypoallergenic or not, especially when there are children involved.
What do you think?
Published On: November 12, 2008