August 2, 2011

The myth of the hypoallergenic dog

Being allergic to dogs and/or cats is a cause of unhappiness. It's not uncommon in a family of, say, five for one kid to be allergic, so none of the other kids can have a dog or cat; thus, the interest in supposedly hypoallergenic breeds.

From the Washington Post:
Hypoallergenic pets may be only a myth, according to a study of 60 dog breeds
By Carolyn Butler, Tuesday, August 2, 1:33 AM 
I’ve been suspicious of all so-called hypoallergenic pets ever since my husband first came face to face with his parents’ ragdoll cat, Posey — an adorable fluffball of a kitten who, the breeder improbably guaranteed, would neither shed nor cause allergic symptoms. He took one look and promptly started sniffling and sneezing. 
There has been very little hard research on the topic, even as the market for supposedly allergy-free animals — which often sell for hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars — has boomed. (Even the White House succumbed to the trend , with First Pooch Bo, a Portuguese water dog who was chosen because of Malia Obama’s allergies.) 
But a study in the American Journal of Rhinology & Allergy suggests that there may be no such thing as a hypoallergenic canine, after all. 
Researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit analyzed dust samples from 173 dog-owning households, representing 60 breeds, including 11 that are considered hypoallergenic, including Portuguese water dogs, poodles and schnauzers. They found that the homes with allegedly hypoallergenic pets contained just as much of the prime dog allergen, known as Can f 1, as those with the other breeds. “Any way we looked at it, there just wasn’t a difference,” says senior author and epidemiologist Christine Cole Johnson. “There is simply no environmental evidence that any particular dog breed produces more or less allergen in the home than another one.” 
... That’s not to say, however, that every animal generates the same quantity of dander. “The bottom line is that there’s huge variability from one dog to another in the amount of allergen they produce, but that variability is not predicted by breed, size, shedding or hair length — any of the things we thought in the past or that breeders still claim,” says Robert Wood, director of pediatric allergy and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore. In fact, Wood notes that it’s not uncommon, within a single breed, to see a hundredfold difference in the amount of Can f 1 one dog creates vs. another. He attributes this to a combination of genetics and behavior as well as environmental factors such as how often owners clean their pets and their home. Still, generally speaking, Wood says that male animals tend to produce and shed more allergens than females. 
Unfortunately, there’s no way to know how one bichon frise or German shepherd stacks up against another, allergen-wise, when you pick out a puppy. The only real solution, it seems, is trial and error.

But it's hard to buy a puppy, then take him back a week later because you are allergic to him.

If there really are 100X differences between individual dogs, but not between breeds on average, then, presumably, artificial selection of existing breeds wasn't aimed at allergenic properties, but at behaviors and looks. (Perhaps people are more prone to allergies today than in the 19th Century heyday of creating new breeds.) 

So, it shouldn't be that hard to create a truly hypoallergenic new breed. If they knew in Victorian times what we know now about the science of allergies, people in the days of Darwin and Galton would have come up with new breeds to do the job. 

But, creating new breeds isn't terribly popular anymore. We live in an era of great traditionalism about canine biodiversity.

I suspect that creating new functional breeds works better marketing-wise when the genes being selected for behavior pleiotropicly overlap with genes for looks. Breeds are their own advertising logos. Of course, when humans get overly obsessed with breeding for looks, they can lose the some of the functionality of a breed. But, there is an advantage to having a standardized look: if you want a dog that rescues people from drowning, you go buy a dog that looks like a Newfoundland.

Perhaps, the genes for being hypoallergenic don't have much to do with how a dog looks. 

39 comments:

Reg C├Žsar said...

Well, there's always iguanas...

Anonymous said...

Animals belong in the wild or in an abattoir.

Nothing more annoying than pet owners.

Londoner said...

I suspect that most allergies to household pets can be overcome with persistence. Exposure to an irritating animal is extremely uncomfortable but in time it is possible to build up a resistance to it. As a teenager I lived for several years with the family cat without being irritated, but now, many years later, when I enter the same building as it I begin to sneeze and suffocate. Simple habituation.

Anonymous said...

"He took one look and promptly started sniffling and sneezing. "

I had no idea allergies had progressed to visual transmission. So: if he hadn't looked, would he still have sneezed?

Anonymous said...

Why are you such a genetic determinist, Steve? As if all members of a breed are the same. As if allergen production had anything to do with a particular set of protein coding regions and transcription factor binding sites. As if the mere presence of standing variation in the population let you calculate how many generations of selective breeding it would take to accomplish an X fold reduction.

You need to be more enlightened like Malcolm Gladwell and writs that we're unfairly stereotyping pit bulls.

dearieme said...

How about Siberian silver foxes?

The Anti-Gnostic said...

I wonder if the AKC is becoming a gay and female club that's just breeding for the aesthetics of the show ring.

I have heard that law enforcement, schutzhund, hunters, etc. are developing separate bloodlines because the AKC lines are so messed up.

Anonymous said...

The only hair of the dog I go near is on Sunday morning.

Anonymous said...

Not that I'm looking to find out! But wondering if an airborne allergy to a pet, could translate into a food allergy if the pet was eaten?

In food nutrition there seems to be a theory that being allergic to animals is not likely. It is plants that create poisons to keep from being eaten, while animals have claws and fast feet to keep predators away. The idea makes some sense. But at least for the moment I am suspect of the idea.

jz said...

This topic came to the headlines when the Obama family was hunting for a dog. One of the Obama daughters is dog allergic.

The Hygiene Theory of allergy states that allergies and asthma are rising because babies lack sufficient exposure to dirt and animals during their infancy.

Nanonymous said...

But it's hard to buy a puppy, then take him back a week later because you are allergic to him.

Every reputable breeder will take the puppy back for whatever reason and with no questions asked. Those who won't shouldn't be in the business and people should be wary of buying dogs from such breeders. Same goes for shelters.

Dan Kurt said...

re: "Researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit analyzed dust samples from 173 dog-owning households...."

This is science? What is next "allergy modeling" similar to "Global Warming Research?"

Hypoallergenic cats do exist. A quick Google search will bring information on them. I know as through Google I found a breeder and obtained a Hypoallergenic cat for our home which we have had for over four years now.

In my twenties I discovered that I was allergic to cats which manifested in my eyes swelling, tearing and sneezing. Every close encounter with a cat produced the reaction. I had Hay Fever since I was a child and underwent five years of "allergy shots" which helped against trees and grass allergins but skin testing had not shown animal allergies. The cat allergy was something new.

Move forward decades and have a wife express the desire for a cat. I used the internet to learn about allergy and cats. What I learned was that cat saliva contained an antigen called feline f2 that was what most people who were allergic to cats reacted. I also found that a cat breed that was introduced into the USA from the previous Soviet Union in the 1990's was often hypoallergenic. That cat breed is the Siberian Forest Cat. Other hypoallergenic cats existed that were being bred by breeders but they commanded extremely high prices. I honed in on the Siberian as it was said to offer a friendly almost dog like personality.

It took me three years to find a breeder and handle a kitten which proved to be hypoallergenic before we bought it. Be sure to look up Siberian Cat or Siberian Forest Cat. BTW, the cat we got cost $1000.00 before shipping.

Dan Kurt

Anonymous said...

"Allergy' to dogs is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. I wonder how all those hunter-gatherers from the Paleolithic era could even stand up fighting their dozens or allergies that resulted from being exposed to the elements and all kinds of animals all day long. It doesen't make any sense that we would be around all these things for billions of years(literally) and become ill due to mysterious substances that they exalate. I think that the very concept of an "allergy" is the biggest medical fraud ever. It is a huge industry in the U.S. I think that these are all immunosupressive or sympathomimetic nervous sytem reactions that result from not being exposed to these substances ENOUGH. Consider pollen "allergy'. How could any animal, including Man, survive if they became sick from breathing this? It is all around the air in most of the World year-round, so how could a creature that is "allergic" to this survive? It doesen't make any sense. Doesen't. Make. Any. Sense. But a toddler that grew up in an apartment and never was exposed to it might feel distress, which triggers epinephrine release, which stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, which in their turn suppresses the immune system causing the so-called allergic reactions. I never had an allergic reaction. I grew up in the country running barefoot on grass, riding horses and dealing with all sorts of animals daily and I never got one of these "allergic" reactions. Hell, I have even eaten pollen and royal jelly straight from the honey comb, for the acetylcholine in it, and never got any reaction from it except mild euphoria from the acetylcholine increasing dopamine turnover in the CNS.

Now, reaction to things like gasoline, paint and insecticides are a completely different story. We never evolved to deal with inhaling massive amounts of hydrocarbons daily, so doing so results in hepatotoxicity, brain damage due to increased oxidative stress and inflammation of neurons caused by hydrocarbons creating reactive Oxygen species in the brain and their lipid-solvent properties causing the degeneration of the fatty myelin coating of white matter, etc. The same can be said for eating foods that are grown with organophosphate pesticides, as all vertebrates use acetylcholine, so parasympathomimetic poisons are just as effective for killing Humans as killing locusts. Like Paracelsus once said, the dose of something that might be a poison might be harmless in smaller doses, but eating small amounts of organophosphates daily cannot ever be good for you. The body has no problem digesting these small amounts, but what are the consequences of chronic ingestion for decades?

Anonymous said...

Most mosquito protection sprays are a myth too. They bite just the same.

Anonymous said...

So... no Magic Dogro?

Kylie said...

"Animals belong in the wild or in an abattoir.

Nothing more annoying than pet owners."


Oh, yes, there is and your comment is proof of it.

Luke Lea said...

The trend now is new half-breeds like the Goldendoodle and the Labradoodle and some others I've seen that don't even have names yet. I knew a guy in Berkeley back in the 60's who had a wonderful dog, very attractive and well-behaved, that was half Airedale and half German Shepherd. I'm thinking about getting a half-breed myself.

Luke Lea said...

BTW, Goldendoodles are rumored not to shed. I may have heard they were hypoallergenic too.

Kylie said...

"Every reputable breeder will take the puppy back for whatever reason and with no questions asked. Those who won't shouldn't be in the business and people should be wary of buying dogs from such breeders. Same goes for shelters."

A reputable breeder will also:

1) have a contract for you to sign

2) provide paperwork with a history of puppy shots, wormings, etc.

3) let you see where the dogs are kept

4) ask questions about your suitability as a potential dog owner

5) be willing to answer any questions you ask

6) have started the socialization process with the pups

bluto said...

I like the theory that allergies are the immune systems tools for parasites going a little off, due to a lack of parasites.

Bill said...

But, creating new breeds isn't terribly popular anymore.

Could you sketch out why you believe this? At first, it seemed wrong to me, but see below.

The AKC recognizes 173 breeds currently. It has been approving new breeds at a clip of about 3/year in recent years. Since it has been around since 1884, this means new breed recognitions have been faster than average in recent years.

I'm too lazy to collect data on all 173, so I looked at the 8 breeds whose name begins with "N," which are Neapolitan Mastiff, Newfoundland, Norfolk Terrier, Norwegian Buhund, Norwegian Elkhound, Norwegian Lundehund, Norwich Terrier, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. The AKC recognition years are: 2004, 1886, 1979, 2009, 1913, 2011, 1936, 2003. This is pretty recent on average. Plus, there are a bunch of proto-breeds (or whatever) "in line" to be recognized. So, this is why your claim seemed wrong to me.

But then I got worried that maybe the AKC has just been sitting around not recognizing perfectly good dog breeds developed a century or two ago. So, I went to Wiki and also the AKC site to view the histories of these 8 breeds. What a mess!

For example, the Neapolitan Mastiff represents an effort, after WWII, by some Italian dude to recover the breed of wardogs popular with Roman soldiers. He evidently bred some Italian dogs with some English Mastiffs to do this. Allegedly, the Romans got them (the wardogs) from the ancient Egyptians. So, was the breed developed by the ancient Egyptians or in the 20th C? And they are basically all like this. Well, not exactly like this, but messy.

So, what does it even mean to talk about when these breeds were developed? I'm guessing nobody much gave a crap about keeping records of dog breeds in the English-speaking world until the 19th C. Then, rich people got interested in it and developed/recovered a bunch of breeds. For example, the AKC and its English equivalent were formed in the 1870s and 1880s. Thus, I suspect the 19th C burst (if it exists) is an artifact of this being when people got interested in dog breeds, per se.

You can see this in the Newfoundland's history. Something like it existed back to 1600 or 1000 or whatever. But nobody bothered to classify it until the 1880s.

In other news, the articles I read were clearly written by fanbois who want to believe in the ancientness of their favorite doggies.

Bearing all this in mind, I found that the "N" dogs were developed, respectively: post-
WWII/ancient Egypt, pre-19th C, 19th C, 10th C, 4000 BC, 1600/1500, 19th C, 19th C. So, there is definitely evidence of some kind for the 19C burst at least among the "N" dogs: 3/8 is a lot when the dates span 60 centuries.

Bill said...

Anonymous said . . .

"Allergy' to dogs is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard.

Err, OK.

But a toddler that grew up in an apartment and never was exposed to [allergens] might feel distress[, whereas] I never had an allergic reaction. I grew up in the country

So, it's not that you don't believe in allergies. You do believe in allergies, you just happen to explain them using a variant of the hygiene hypothesis. (one of the standard theories of allergies).

I wonder, would it surprise you to learn that the standard treatment for allergies, "allergy shots," involve exposing people to the allergens they are allergic to---if you're allergic to grass pollen you get grass pollen injected under your skin, etc? It's almost as if this insight you are proclaiming to the world is already well-known.

Kylie said...

"I wonder if the AKC is becoming a gay and female club that's just breeding for the aesthetics of the show ring."

The gay and female thing is one factor. I think another factor is the horrid egalitarianism afflicting all of Western society. You know, the notion that everybody is just as good as everybody else not just in the eyes of the law, where that's appropriate but in every aspect of society.

For example, it's been common for years to see exclusive, deluxe, designer and gourmet items in discount and dollar stores. By the same token, just because you live in a trailer park or even the projects is no reason why you shouldn't have a purebred dog. At best, silly; at worst, dangerous.

Not every purebred dog or bitch should be bred. And not every dog-lover should breed dogs. Many are called and unfortunately, in our egalitarian age, too many mistakenly think they are the chosen few. And it's the dogs who suffer.

Anonymous said...

Things I learned from the comments:

Allergies don’t exit. So suck up that anaphylaxis.

Humans evolved billions of years ago.

Evolution stopped at some point. Harpending and Cochran will be PISSED about that one.

Ray Sawhill said...

Fun posting. As someone who once tried to live with some adorable Russian Blues and failed, because when I was around them I always felt like I had the flu, I can relate.

One question? Is this really a traditionalist era where developing new dog breeds goes? I was under the impression that things are a little looser and freer than they'd been for a while: labradoodles, puggles, and others are all over the place, or so it seems to me. The AKC is apparently quite peeved about this, or so I read somewhere.

The big mystery is why more breeders are focused on breeding ideal pet dogs. Screw the aesthetics, just give me something compact, fun, healthy, nonbarky, and not too energetic, and that only needs to be walked once a day.

A great dogblogger is Terrierman. He's been a bit of a fool for Obama, but he's generally smart and tough about dogs, nature, eco-things, and science.

http://terriermandotcom.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

I imagine that many pet allergies could be avoided if a person followed a paleo diet. Neolithic diets seem to put the immune system on a state of high alert.

Ray Sawhill said...

In my comment a few up, "The big mystery is why more breeders are focused on breeding ideal pet dogs" should have been "The big mystery is why more breeders AREN'T focused on breeding ideal pet dogs..."

Anonymous said...

Allergies don’t exit. So suck up that anaphylaxis.

And stop malingering, and get back to the salt mines and work a little for god, king, and country.

Anonymous said...

I had a friend who said his dog was allergic to grass. That's like a fish allergic to water.

Glaivester said...

Nanonymous writes:

[Quoting Steve in bold]:But it's hard to buy a puppy, then take him back a week later because you are allergic to him.

Every reputable breeder will take the puppy back for whatever reason and with no questions asked. Those who won't shouldn't be in the business and people should be wary of buying dogs from such breeders. Same goes for shelters.

I don't think that Steve meant it was hard getting the breeder to accept the dog, rather, it is emotionally hard getting a dog, becoming its friend, and then having to get rid of it because of an allergy.

Nanonymous said...

@Ray Sawhill:
Screw the aesthetics, just give me something compact, fun, healthy, nonbarky, and not too energetic, and that only needs to be walked once a day.

In case you are interested: miniature poodle fits the bill nearly perfectly. "Hypoallergenic", too.

@Glaivester: if that's what Steve meant, I am in a total agreement. Some people display surprising lack of attachment to their dogs though.

John Cunningham said...

so this puling little scum doesn't like dogs?
"Animals belong in the wild or in an abattoir.

Nothing more annoying than pet owners."

how about you ESADMF??

Whiskey said...

If you believe Animal Planet, there a lot of new breeds of both dogs and cats. They may not be AKC recognized, but various attributes (less allergenic, more sociable, etc.) are being selected for.

Allergies exist. Recessive genes and all. There's also a genetic bottleneck, a whole host of women who are not having kids creating a genetic bottleneck.

"According to a new study by the New York-based think tank the Center for Work-Life Policy, 43 percent of college-educated women between the ages of 33 and 46 are childless. And nowhere does that statistic resonate more than here."

White fertility, such as it is, seems to be shifting towards lower class White women, with likely far greater bottleneck effects. More auto-immune diseases, etc. just like Ashkenazi Jews who are also affected that way.

Anonymous said...

@Whiskey

Don't forget that prole white women are also more likely to race mix than their college educated upper-class sisters.

Anonymous said...

http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2011/07/31/the_invasive_species_war/?page=full

The Left finds a psychologically worrying element in environmentalism. Environmentalism's defense of native species against invasive species that may decimate or marginalize the natives could have psychologically 'racist' ramifications. (After all, some racial ideologues have said if species of animals and plants deserve to be protected, so should the races and cultures of man.)
Environmentalism, associated with the Left, is now suspected of harboring subconscious 'racist', 'nativist', and 'xenophobic' tendencies, which though applied to animals and plants, may contaminate our view of races, cultures, and nations as well.

Again, it goes to show that the Leftist war on the West isn't only ideological but psychological. It doesn't only oppose 'racism' but all forms of thoughts and feelings that may be psychologically connected to 'racism' and 'nationism'.

Sierra Club gave up on immigration-control, and it may now even have to give up on saving native species. I suppose it was great tht cats and rats introduced to the Galapagos ate up all the eggs of tortoises. And what did American Indians have to worry about when the white man came? Those damned racists! And what did Palestinians have to worry from the massive inflow of Jews in the 1940s? Terrorist scum.

Anonymous said...

"Exposure to an irritating animal is extremely uncomfortable but in time it is possible to build up a resistance to it."

Or the allergy just gets worse and worse as time goes on, as it did for me.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget that prole white women are also more likely to race mix than their college educated upper-class sisters.

Good point. The college-educated middle- and upper-class women are always the ones preaching about the evils of racism, yet are the most racist when they pick out their corporate sugardaddy husbands.

Raymond H said...

"Consider pollen "allergy'. How could any animal, including Man, survive if they became sick from breathing this?"

- One way- the flora where you currently live varies from that found in the homeland of your ancestors. Your ancestry did not evolve being exposed to the plant(s) you are exposed to, so there has been no selection in your line against people with allergies to it.

Satan Sandwich said...

"Most mosquito protection sprays are a myth too. They bite just the same."

- There is a bit of misconception floating around about these sprays. They don't work by repelling the mosquitoes per se, they work by camouflaging your body odors to the mosquito, so that they cannot detect you. It helps, but its not impossible that some may still find you.