Allergies


Allergies to dogs and cats are common and it appears that in dog owning families prone to allergies approximately 30% of children will be sensitised to dog allergen. We have surveyed our owners and found that among allergic families only 10% have any reported allergies to their dog. This finding is independent of hair shedding. This does suggest that there are some advantages to owning a labradoodle compared with other dogs with regard to allergies.

On the plus side of the Allergy issue – there is a considerable amount of research which suggests that while “early exposure to cats seems to increase the risk of sensitization to cat allergen but not of asthma at 4 years of age. Dog ownership, on the other hand, appears to be associated with lowered risk of sensitization to airborne allergens and asthma”.

The findings from research in this area are numerous, conflicting and confusing but it does appear that exposure to, at least two furry pets – dogs and possibly cats at a very early age may actually protect children from asthma in adulthood.

Labradoodles and Allergies

oscarLabradoodles were originally bred by the Australian Guide Dogs association in an attempt to produce a “hypoallergenic” guide dog. They have had a lot of publicity in Australia and are widely believed to be hypoallergenic, which means that they don’t cause allergies in people sensitive to dogs. According to the Guide dogs breeders some first cross Labradoodles appear to be hypoallergenic. Labradoodle guide dogs have been tested against their potential owners and some dogs have been placed with people with allergies.

The consensus from the Allergists that I have spoken with is that the tests are still controversial and that allergy patterns can change with time, so it would not be possible to guarantee that, with continuous exposure, an allergy would not develop at a later date. In addition the tests are only performed after the dogs are over 12 months old when their adult coat comes in – before this the coat is changing and testing is unreliable.

tobyIt is worth noting that the Guide Dog breeders did NOT find a correlation between coat type and allergenicity. Some non shedding dogs caused allergies, some which shed did not. This is consistent with the claim by allergists that is not hair which causes allergies but “scurf” – skin squames shed from the surface of the skin, also saliva, tears and urine.

I have included a number of links regarding various breeds claimed to be hypoallergenic (including hairless dogs – a radical solution!). It seems that there is no simple answer to the problem. My subjective experience leads me to believe that the Poodles and those few breeds which have the same coat type are reliably hypoallergenic for people sensitive to airborne allergens. Poodle wool differs from normal dog hair in that, like merino sheep, the coat does not shed seasonally and requires regular shearing.

The evidence for poodles hypoallergenicity is largely anecdotal but convincing and is supported by my personal experience. My sister Penny, who suffers from asthma and is severely allergic to most dogs, has owned a series of poodles with no problems, however Penny does suffer contact allergies when touching the dogs. I have never met an asthmatic who is allergic to poodles. I presume that the relative reliability of poodles reflects a reduced production of skin squames as less hair is shed, and the hair and skin cells that do shed are caught in the tangled coat and not released into the air.

The dog breeds which have “wool” like Poodles include:

  • Bichon Frise – a small robust dog, bred from poodles initially, which is like a terrier with a poodle coat
  • Bedlington Terrier – This is a rare breed and consequently has a small gene pool. I know nothing about them except that they have a liver disease named after them.
  • Hungarian Puli – another rare and apparently “strong minded” breed.
  • Laggotto Romagnola – a new breed from Italy. Used originaly as a Retriever like the early Poodles they have recently been hyped as Truffle dogs (but it seems that serious truffle hunters actually use pound dogs – or pigs)

sydneyIf I was considering buying a dog for an allergic household I would look at a Poodle, a Bichon or a Backcross Labradoodle. Because of my preference for “biddable” and easily trained dogs I would chose a Labradoodle or a Poodle rather than a Bichon. Unfortunately because of the ridiculous haircuts poodles have been given over the years they are regarded with suspicion and many people can’t bear the thought of owning one. Poodles with a long tail and an even short haircut are great looking dogs and not at all effeminate – the standards were originally bred as water dogs for retrieving ducks. They come in 3 sizes and so can suit any household.

A number of breeders of Labradoodles are now working to create a new ‘breed’ which has a particular coat type which doesn’t shed hair. We have chosen to breed “Backcross Labradoodles” which are 75% poodle and 25% Labrador for the same reason. Most of dogs I breed are first cross Labradoodles. When I started breeding them I was aware of the findings of the Guide dog breeders and so “Hypoallergenicity” was never one of the reasons I chose to breed these dogs however there is no way of escaping the interest in Labradoodles as an allergy friendly pet . Because of this interest I have carried out a survey of 116 dogs over 12 months of age – the results follow. This subject is also addressed on the goldendoodle website.

Results of a survey of First Cross Labradoodles with regard to coat type and allergies

woollypuppyOf 116 owners 89 people (or 77%) returned their questionnaire and now I can give some answers to a number of questions regarding coat types, shedding and allergies.

With regard to hair shedding:

79% of dogs shed “a little”, “moderately” or “not at all”, while 21% shed “a lot”. It is difficult to quantify what these descriptions mean because different people have different expectations however no-one I have spoken to believes that their dogs sheds as much as a Labrador Retriever. (the goldendoodle website attempts to objectively quantify shedding).

With Regard to Allergies:

Of 44 families in which some member of the family has allergies, 36 (or 82%) reported that no one in their family is allergic to their Labradoodle. 4 reported mild allergies and 4 answered that they were allergic to their dogs. This result does seem to support the claims that Labradoodles are reasonably hypoallergenic however one obvious limitation is that I have no “controls” and do not know how this result would compare with the incidence of allergic reactions to other breeds of dog.

Correlation between coat type and allergies:

sallyLooking at the coat types and the incidence of allergic reactions it appears that (as reported by the guide dog breeders in Victoria) there is no clear correlation between coat shedding and allergenicity. In this survey the dogs which shed a lot of hair were no more allergenic than the other dogs and in fact on these very limited figures were the group which performed the best – I assume that this is a sampling error rather then a real effect.

The figures were as follows:

  1. 11 dogs out of 89 or 12% were reported to be non shedding dogs. All need clipping. Of five in families with allergies one is causing allergies and the other 4 are not. The allergies caused take the form of skin rashes
  2. 56 of 89 or 64% of dogs were reported to shed a little or “moderately”. 26 of these dogs were reported to need clipping at least in summer. 29 people with these dogs reported allergies in their family, of these 7 reported allergies to their dogs. One reported asthma, 5 hay fever and 1 rashes
  3. 21 out of 89 or 24% of dogs were reported to shed “a lot”. None of these dogs needed clipping Of 10 families with these dogs in which someone has allergies no-one was reported to be allergic to their dogs

If you would like to look at other web sites on allergenicity of dogs the following would be of interest:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez
If you are interested in researching the link between dogs, cats and allergies the PubMed site provides access to published research on health issues.

Internet sites discussing Allergenicity of dogs.

  1. http://allergysa.org/pet.htm
    Allergy Soc of South Africa – Pet Allergy
  2. http://members.aol.com/AHTerrier/allergies.html
    American Hairless Terriers – Allergic to Dogs? Tips and Links
  3. http://www.cuhumane.org/topics/allergy.html
    Allergies to pets – Facts and myths
  4. http://www.allerpet.com/
    A site promoting allergy reducing products – note reference to independent trials in reference 6
  5. http://www.allergyasthma.com/archives/allergy19.html
    Questions commonly asked by allergy sufferers.
  6. http://www.insidetheweb.com/mbs.cgi/mb1069460
    A newly formed discussion page for people suffering from allergies to dogs.