We (my family) are thinking about getting a dog but my daughter is allergic to some animal fur. We took on a friend's two elderly rabbits when they moved abroad and she couldn't go near them for long. We were able to limit her exposure a bit as the rabbits stayed in a run in the garden during the day, but had to bring them in at night because we get a lot of foxes, and also I was worried about the temperature at night.
I've heard Poodle crosses are hypoallergenic, and my daughter doesn't seem to be affected by my sister's Cockapoo. I've heard its something to do with dander but I'm not really sure what this is. Do you have any information on this?
Deborah Webster, by email
Dr Susan Aldridge, Allergy Cosmos, says...
It doesn’t sound very nice, but dander is actually the name given to microscopic skin flakes shed by animals. It’s a bit like dandruff flakes really, only much smaller at around 2-3 microns in size.
But what people are allergic to are certain proteins found in their urine, sweat, and saliva, which can adhere to the skin, and in the case of dogs the two main dog allergens are Can f1 and Can f2 which are found in their saliva. I know - it’s not getting much nicer!
The dander particles, complete with these allergens, stick to an animal's fur or feathers and that is how they are shed and dispersed around your home. So strictly speaking it is not the dander itself, or the animal's fur, which is the allergen, it is the invisible protein particles, which are widely distributed in the air.
Sadly the most full-proof way of avoiding pet dander is not to have a pet at all… but that’s much less fun! Instead, there are various measures you can take to cut down on pet allergen exposure, from controlling the animal's access to certain rooms to using air filters to trap dander particles.
My top tips would be:
- Do not let your pet roam the house at will. Dogs shed allergen-containing dander wherever they go and it persists for months, both in the air and on the surfaces it sticks to. At the very least, never allow a pet to enter the bedroom of the allergic person.
- If your dog is to be allowed controlled access to the house, the kitchen, with its lack of soft furnishings, is a good choice – but do take care not to let your pet come into contact with food.
- It is also worth reducing dander spread by washing your pet regularly with an anti-allergenic pet shampoo. This has been shown to reduce allergen load by more than 85 per cent. So be gentle, make it fun, and have a treat ready at the end.
- Be sure to wash your hands after touching your pet. Cuddling your dog is part of the fun of ownership, and it’s therapeutic for both of you. But always wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
- Try to avoid touching your face after handling a pet if you are allergic.
- Be sure to vacuum regularly with a vacuum that contains a HEPA standard air filter and is leakage free. Daily damp dusting is also helpful.
And finally, to answer your question as to whether hypoallergenic dogs really do exist, the dog genome does not, as far as we know, vary so much between species that some have lower allergen levels than others. So all dog species produce the same amount of allergen in their secretions. Any differences probably relate to the length of the dog's coat and how much hair it sheds, or maybe how much it sweats. There are around 60 breeds of dog that are said to be 'hypoallergenic', of which the Cockapoo is one - generally, as you might expect, they are those which are hairless or have short coats and therefore do not shed as much. Examples include various breeds of terrier and the US President Obama's dog (Bo, ‘The First Dog’), which is a Portuguese Water Dog, because one of his own daughters is also allergic.
For more information please do check out our website: http://www.allergycosmos.co.uk/causes/pet-dander
I wish you all the best in your search for a new best friend.