Obamas Search for Hypoallergenic First Dog, But Does It Exist?

By Nina Bai | November 13, 2008 6:36 pm

goldendoodleThe issue of the First Dog came to national attention with Barack Obama‘s first press conference as President-elect, when he announced that the lucky puppy would have to be hypoallergenic due to older daughter Malia’s allergies. Since then, nominations for First Dog have come from all sides, even from foreign countries: Peru has offered to send a Peruvian Hairless Dog, prized by Incan kings, to the Obamas. But all the buzz has prompted a reality check from the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), which released a statement today reminding people that there is no such thing as a truly hypoallergenic dog.

Avoiding dog allergies completely may not be an option. It’s a misconception that dog allergies are caused by the dog’s hair. Allergies are caused by protein from the animal’s dander, which can be found in dead skin cells, saliva and urine. These microscopic proteins travel through the air and are inhaled, triggering an allergic reaction in, well, quite a few people [Los Angeles Times]. Studies suggest there are about 10 million Americans who suffer from dog allergies, but sensitivity varies and some people may do fine with certain breeds that are more allergy-friendly. These breeds may produce less dander or are groomed more often to keep dander at bay. Breeds often considered allergy-friendly include poodles, Kerry blue terriers, schnauzers, bichons and lhasa apsos.

However, according to the President-elect, Malia already has her heart set on a goldendoodle, a golden retriever-poodle mix. The adorable designer dog can be a low-shedding option if it has a poodle’s coat, but if the coat favors a retriever, it could pose a problem for the eldest Obama daughter. When a dog is still a puppy, it’s difficult to determine which characteristic a dog’s coat will take on [Chicago Tribune]. Dr. Corinna Bowser, an asthma expert, thinks a canine in the White House may be a bad idea: “If this was my patient … I would say it’s probably better not to get a dog” [WebMD Health News].

But it’s unlikely that the President-elect will go back on the promise made to his daughters and witnessed by the whole nation. The AAAAI offers advice for minimizing dog allergies, which include keeping the dog out of the bedroom, weekly dog baths, using air filters, and switching from carpet to hardwood floors. Allergists recommend spending time with the pet at the shelter or breeder’s before bringing it home. If, for example, Malia doesn’t have a reaction after being around a puppy during a lengthy visit, it’s unlikely the dog will cause her problems in the future [Chicago Tribune].

There is also a fringe group that thinks the Obamas should scrap the canine campaign completely and opt for a First Cat.

Related Content:
80beats: Hairless Dogs Give Up the Genetic Secret of Their Bald Glory
DISCOVER: The Genetics of… Dogs
Discoblog: Allergy Sufferers of the World: Don’t Stress, You’ll Only Make It Worse

Image: flickr / Logan Frick (a goldendoodle puppy)

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Living World
  • chetan bajaj

    i was seen somthing in a sky at night plz help i thing he watch on me

  • http://www.luluandlolly.com LuLu And LoLLy

    We are 2 Maltese dogs, and LoLLy is a rescue. Maltese are an outstanding choice for the humans with the allergies! Also, since LoLLy is an excellent dog we can attest first paw to the fact that rescue dogs are a great option for the new Prez and his pack. We hope the new doggy gets her own Cabinet, since the new Prez does, and that she fills it with truly awesome treats! Your Maltese PaLs, LuLu and LoLLy! http://www.luluandlolly.com

  • http://allergiesasthmaandthepresidentialpet.blogspot.com/ Alvin Sanico, MD

    Allergies, Asthma, and the Presidential Pet
    By Alvin M. Sanico, M.D.

    There has been increased interest in “hypoallergenic” dogs since Barack Obama brought up the topic in his first post-election press conference. The main concern is that his daughter Malia has asthma and allergies, so the wrong canine choice could lead to a disappointing – if not seriously detrimental – outcome. The president-elect already faces many crises that need to be addressed, so it would be in everyone’s best interest to take a potential problem off his plate. This brief article could provide useful insight not only for the future First Family but also for others in a similar situation.

    The quest for a “hypoallergenic” dog (or cat for that matter) is a natural consequence of the high prevalence of asthma and allergies combined with the high percentage of households that have pets. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology cites that in the US, at least 20 million people have asthma and this problem accounts for an estimated 5000 visits to the emergency department, 1000 hospital admissions and 11 deaths every single day. Asthma can be affected by various factors including sensitivity to indoor allergens. In the Institute of Medicine report Clearing the Air: Asthma and Indoor Air Exposures, it was concluded that asthma exacerbation is associated with exposure to allergens from cats, cockroaches, dust mites, and dogs among those who are sensitized to these allergens.

    Such sensitivity can easily be demonstrated by needle-free allergy skin testing that reveals results in 20 minutes. If the test is negative, then any concern about dogs in relation to allergies and asthma would be unwarranted. If the test confirms sensitivity, then it definitely should be part of the disease management discourse. The fundamental problem in allergies and asthma is inflammation that develops upon exposure to relevant allergens. The treatment strategy should thus include avoidance of such exposures, which can be effective but certainly not easy to accomplish. Indeed, a USA Today Snapshot showed that 45% of households with pet allergy sufferers kept a dog or cat knowing that the pet causes a reaction.

    The Humane Society reports that about 39% of US households have one or more dogs, and nearly 34% have at least one cat. Pets are clearly part of the family fabric in many American homes, so while talks about avoidance can lead to positive results, they are understandably often futile. The current talks about “hypoallergenic” dogs, on the other hand, can lead to negative outcomes if they perpetuate a myth and create unfounded expectations.

    The fact is that all dogs and cats produce allergens that can be found in their dander and saliva, regardless of their breed and the length of their hair, or lack thereof. Some may produce more – or less – allergens than others simply because of their individual nature. Based on this premise, it wouldn’t really matter if the Obamas choose a “mutt” over the various breeds that pet pundits now suggest.

    The American Kennel Club reported that the Poodle won in a poll where more than 42,000 votes were cast to choose the “hypoallergenic” breed for the Obamas. This is highly ironic, because a study by Ramadour et al published in the journal Allergy in 2005 showed that mean levels of the allergenic protein Can f 1 were highest in dander from Poodles and surprisingly lowest from Labrador retrievers. A key finding was that Can f 1 levels varied significantly within the same breed. The authors concluded that “we can advise patients to choose Labrador dogs over another breed but the variability from one dog to another in the same breed shows that a ‘hypoallergenic dog breed’ does not exist.”

    Given that the president-elect cannot renege on his promise to get a puppy, other approaches need to be considered at this point. Before the choice is finalized, a reasonable trial period would be advisable to test whether, and to what extent, exposure to any candidate dog triggers symptoms. Control of allergy and asthma need to be optimized and maintained with appropriate medications. Allergen immunotherapy may be considered, with the understanding that it would take several months before desensitization can be achieved. With the right strategy, the chosen dog could provide joyful companionship instead of consternation.

  • http://hypoallergenicdogbreeds.org/blog/ Small Hypoallergenic Dogs

    As for dogs, do you know any reliable resource where one can find all the local dog kennels?

  • http://twitter.com/roaster16/ Elli Lehnhoff

    I WAS having numerous well being problems…, with all of the forest fireplace smoke! My old C90 smoke eater labored good, but put ozone (BAD!) into the air- My dog began having bronchial asthma attacks!

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