When the Obamas brought a First Dog into the White House in 2009, the media seized on the family's need to get a hypoallergenic dog due to First Daughter Malia's allergies. Now, some researchers say all that fuss may have been for naught. A study from Detroit's Henry Ford Hospital has found that poodles, Portuguese waters dogs (like the Obama's pet, Bo), and other supposedly hypoallergenic dogs produce no fewer allergens than their shedding counterparts. Here, a brief guide to the "myth of the hypoallergenic dog":
What did the study find exactly?
Researchers focused on 173 homes, each with one dog and a newborn baby. Sixty different breeds were represented in the sample, including 11 supposedly hypoallergenic ones. When scientists analyzed dust samples from the floors of the homes' nurseries, they did not find any significant difference in the allergen levels in the homes with hypoallergenic dogs versus those with standard, shedding pups. "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," says Christine Cole Johnson, Ph.D., the study's lead author.
Which dogs are supposed to be hypoallergenic anyway?
According to the American Kennel Club, dog lovers with allergies typically fare better with the following breeds: Beddington Terrier, Bichon Frise, Chinese Crested, Irish Water Spaniel, Kerry Blue Terrier, Maltese, Poodle, Portuguese Water Dog, Schnauzer, Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, and Xoloitzcuintli. The Kennel Club says these dogs produce less dander because they don't shed, but concedes that no dog is 100 percent hypoallergenic. In recent years, designer mixed-breeds, such as the Labradoodle (the offspring of a Poodle and a Labrador retriever), have also become popular for the allergic set.
What is dander exactly?
Dander refers to dried flakes on a pet's skin. A protein found in a dog's saliva and urine sticks to these flakes and is the real source of allergies, says Dr. James T. C. Li, the Mayo Clinic's chair of the division of allergic diseases, at CBS News, not fur. Dogs who shed less fur release less dander into the air, says Li, but he agrees that "no dog breed is hypoallergenic."
I love my Labradoodle — how conclusive is this study?
Labradoodle-breeder Gail Widman, who says she's placed pups with allergy-vulnerable families with good results, insists her Labradoodles produce less dander than typical dogs and are better for those with allergies. The study's authors concede that their study was limited and too small to yield firm conclusions about specific breeds.
Is there anything that can be done to reduce pet allergies?
Some studies suggest that exposing infants to pets may help prevent them from developing allergies. "For adults who already have full-blown allergies… relying on the hypoallergenic label may be no guarantee," says Meredith Melnick at TIME.