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Are hypoallergenic dogs just a myth? Bad news for Bo Obama.

First daughters' best friend Bo is definitely cute, but is he allergy-proof? (Photo by Roger L. Wollenberg-Pool/Getty Images)

First daughters' best friend Bo is definitely cute, but is he allergy-proof? (Photo by Roger L. Wollenberg-Pool/Getty Images)

Myth:  Bo Obama, The White House Dog, is hypoallergenic. 

When the Obamas brought the Portuguese Water dog into their family fold in 2009, his so-called "hypoallergenic" breed was a selling point for allergy-prone first daughter Malia. Now Bo may be riding on his cuteness, rather than his breed's allergy-friendly label. 

Reality: "Hypoallergenic" dogs may not be allergy-proof.

A new study published in theAmerican Journal of Rhinology and Allergy suggests that "hypoallergenic" dog breeds don't make a difference forpeople with dog allergies. 

"We found no scientific basis to the claim hypoallergenic dogs have less allergen," says Christine Cole Johnson, Ph.D., MPH, chair of Henry Ford's Department of Public Health Sciences and senior author of the study in a statement to press. "The idea that you can buy a certain breed of dog and think it will cause less allergy problems for a person already dog-allergic is not borne out by our study."

In what's believed to be the first study of its kind, Henry Ford Hospital researchers collected dust samples from 173 homes with a variety of 60 different dog breeds. Eleven of those breeds fell into the "hypoallergenic" category as specified by breeders. But when researchers analyzed their allergen samples, they found no real statistical difference between the dog breeds. While the study only looked at one type of major dog allergen, and the study faced variables in terms of time spent with each animal, the research suggests the "hypoallergenic dog" may just be another Bigfoot. 


Myth: Dogs who shed more are more likely to cause allergies.
Reality: Pet fur isn't necessarily linked to pet allergens.

Several breeds, including the
 Obamas' Portuguese Water Dog, Schnauzers and Poodles, have been given the hypoallergenic stamp because they shed less. Christina Duffney-Carey, spokesperson for American Kennel Club, tells the New York Times, "there are many breeds with consistent and predictable coats that we suggest for allergy sufferers. These breeds have nonshedding coats, which produce less dander."

But fur isn't necessarily the purveyor of pet allergens. This new study conducted by Henry Ford Hospital's team of researchers looked specifically at the allergen Can F1. 
 

"Can F1, one of the major dog allergens, is found in dogs' saliva," says Ganesa Wegienka and epidemiologist and one of the co-authors of the study.  "I think that people think that allergies have to do with a dog's coat or dander, but I'm not sure how [saliva] relates to shedding and dander."

In fact, a dog's saliva can trigger many of the major symptoms that pet allergy sufferers face, like itchy, watery eyes, stuffy noses, hives or even exacerbation in asthma sufferers.


Myth: All pet-related allergies are caused by pet allergens.
Reality: It's not always your pet's fault.


Sometimes an allergic reaction to other environmental factors causes a deceptively pet-provoked attack. "Say for example, your child is allergic to peanuts, and they're visiting with neighbor's dog who just had a peanut biscuit, contact with the dog's saliva could trigger an attack,"  explains Wegienka. "Another example is if the dog is out running in the grass and you have grass allergies it could be the environmental contaminate on the fur, not actually an allergic reaction to a pet allergen." Wegienka suggests getting tested for specific types of allergies to identify the symptom triggers, before you blame your pooch. 


Myth: People with allergies should now ditch their hypoallergenic dog.
Reality: Pet allergies are treatable. 


Wegienka acknowledges that allergies can be very serious, but they're also manageable with the help of a board-certified allergist.  "They'll take a history, identify the allergies, help develop a plan for managing your symptoms, or an avoidant strategy," she says.

For many people, an allergy shot does the trick. "They may take up to 6 months to see an initial symptom change, but they do work for many people." 

Another reason to keep your pet around: They may be good for warding off allergies. Wegienka and her fellow researchers also found that infants who live with dogs and cats may be less likely to develop allergies to those pets later in life.  One theory is that early exposure builds up immunity to that type of pet. 

As for Bo Obama, Malia's best friend and possible allergy agitator, Wegienka isn't suggesting impeachment. "I'm sure they have access to the best healthcare and their children have seen board-certified allergists," says Wegienka. "Dogs are wonderful and I hope the family enjoys him."
 

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