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President Barack Obama's Search for a Hypoallergenic Dog

February 11, 2009

By Janet Millan - Co-founder, Project Allergy

There has been some discussion in the past few months about President Obama’s decision to purchase a puppy for his children, once he moved into the White House. His daughters are allergic to animals, so he is looking for a hypoallergenic breed. This is a subject I have discussed with many well-intended people who own breeds that are labeled hypoallergenic, as well as consulting our allergist. Here is what you need to know about these breeds if you are considering purchasing one of these dogs, which include the Poodle, Bichon Frise, and Portuguese Water Dog.

While it is argued that they are safe for people with allergies and asthma, in fact they are not 100% safe at all. It is true that their fur is different than that of other dogs, perhaps they shed less, or the texture is different, but the hair is not the problem with most allergies. Humans are allergic to the protein of the dog itself. Proteins are found in the skin and saliva of the dogs. A person could perhaps touch a hypoallergenic dog without side effects of hives or becoming itchy, but be forewarned; one lick, and the hives and itchy skin may appear. Furthermore, patients with asthma may not suffer initially from the presence of the dog in their home, but have symptoms that appear within a few months after the dander builds up in the home.

We have also researched the so-called hypoallergenic cat breed and have found no truth to the claims. At the time of this article, the cat breeder was being investigated for fraud in California and Delaware. He did not return our repeated requests from Project Allergy for an interview, although his website was still accepting cash for these cats with a year waiting list and a hefty ‘starting’ price tag of $6,995.

So what is a parent to do? It is very hard to give a beloved pet away once your family becomes emotionally attached. Our family did an experiment. We took our son, along with his meds, to see the so-called hypoallergenic breeds at a pet store. The clerk was eager to make the sale and showed us what she called a safe bet. It was half Bichon Frise and half something else. As cute as the puppy was, it caused a reaction within seconds. So we went back another day and took the purebred Bichon out to play. Although our son had no reaction initially, the hives did appear where the puppy licked his hand and face. The reaction was not as severe as the initial visit with the mix dog, however, and he could tolerate the visit. (Please do not try this without consent of your allergist.)

So good luck, President Obama, with your quest to find the holy grail of dogs. Be careful. Although these breeds are initially safe, over time, they may escalate allergy and asthma symptoms.

If you have an animal-allergy story, please share it with us in our forum.