Saturday Stub: The Dog formally known as Hypoallergenic
Posted by Ethan Clow on July 9, 2011
nerds people out there, I have allergies. I’m allergic to most kinds of pollen, what some might call hay fever, which is aptly named, experiencing a full on allergy attack is like having the flu. In addition to hay fever, I have several other allergies that are annoying, but not too severe like for instance, cats and dogs.
Unlike a hay fever experience, my allergies to cats and dogs is very mild. I would usually need to be in contact with the animal for an extended period of time. If for example I was staying at a place with a cat, I would probably start experiencing allergic reactions by the end of the day.
However, biology wasn’t going to stand in the way of me having a dog while growing up. My mother, who’s something of an expert on dogs, got us a poodle. The reasoning is that poodles are hypoallergenic, meaning they cause less allergic reactions. In fact, poodles do shed significantly less than other breeds of dogs, in theory this should control the amount of pet dander in the air.
However, a new study is challenging this piece of dog-related wisdom. In a demonstration of how media fails to grasp the nature of science, two headlines reporting this story include: “The Myth of the Hypoallergenic Dog” and “Hypoallergenic dog claims don’t stand up”
The study went like this: researchers took samples of 60 different breeds of dogs, 11 of which were considered hypoallergenic from 173 homes one month after a newborn baby was brought home to check allergen levels from hypoallergenic dogs and other breeds.
What they discovered was no significant decrease in allergens in hypoallergenic homes.
Obviously this is not a slam dunk. The researchers admitted they didn’t find out how long the dogs spent in the baby’s room, which could easily skew the results. Some immediate concerns for me that pop up would be to find out: how long the family had the dog? what other pets do they have? do any of the family members smoke? do they have plants in the house? is the room carpeted or hard wood? how often do they vacuum? And finally, what did they use a control? Did they examine the rooms of babies whose family had no dog, hypoallergenic or not?
In reality, poodles do shed. However, they shed less than most breeds of dog. Also, because of their course, curly hair, anything they shed tends to get trapped in their hair. Some have suggested that because poodles are more likely to get cleaned than other breeds (because they’re so fancy I guess) that the dander gets washed away more. I have also heard it suggested that since poodles frequently have shorter haircuts than other breeds, they pant a lot less. Saliva is also a huge source of allergens.
I don’t know if those theories have ever been scientifically verified but it’s somewhat feasible. And while the plural of anecdote isn’t data, many people claim that they’re allergies to dogs cease when it’s a hypoallergenic dog. I suppose it could be a placebo effect. Although sometimes allergies do decrease in severity over time. It’s an interesting topic, worthy of further investigation. And of course, we must remain skeptical even when headlines make bold statements that aren’t supported by the study they quote.