Pet dander is known to be a major cause of allergic reactions in people who are susceptible to animal allergies. Though people often believe their dog has less dander, no animal with fur is completely dander-free, and no specific dog has been identified as having less dander than another.
A 2011 study by researchers at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, and funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, found no difference in the amount of dog allergen found in homes with a so-called hypoallergenic dog compared with homes having a dog that is not considered hypoallergenic. While previous studies often shaved the dogs and measured the amount of dander on their hair, researchers in this study tested the homes rather than the dogs. Each home had a new baby and only one dog. Some owners allowed the dog into the baby's room and others didn't, but the amount of dog allergen was statistically the same. This means allergens come into the room regardless, whether through the air or on people's clothes.
The length or fullness of a dog's hair is not a reliable indication of the dander it will emit. Some dogs naturally shed more hair than others. But dander is more than hair; it's also saliva, skin and proteins that cling to the hair. Dander's skin particles are similar to human dandruff, but much smaller -- even microscopic -- allowing them to remain airborne for hours. Dander is sticky, so it can cling to furniture, mattresses and carpets in spite of cleaning.
To reduce the level of allergens in homes with dogs, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America recommends keeping animals out of the bedroom. Other recommendations include removing carpeting and installing wood floors or having low-pile carpet and steam cleaning it regularly. Use a vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, and wear a face mask when vacuuming. Cover air vents with cheesecloth to collect dander that is spread through the home's air systems. Brush and wash the dog outside, preferably by someone who doesn't have dog allergies.
Still, some people swear to have had better luck with some dogs than others. Dog breeds that consistently make the lists of those that are "hypoallergenic" or produce less dander are -- in alphabetical order -- bichon frise, Chinese crested, Maltese, poodle, schnauzer and soft-coated wheaten terrier. Many other dog breeds are named as "hypoallergenic," depending on the list. Allergists stress, however, that these breeds are not proven to have less dander than others.
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