Kate’s Family Pets
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 and this finding
is independent of hair shedding – I discuss this in more detail
below but this finding suggests that there are some advantages to owning
a labradoodle compared with other dogs with regard to allergies.
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
Labradoodles were originally bred as a cross between Poodles and Labradors. These dogs were initially 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.
It 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 is severely allergic to most dogs but 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:
If 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
Of 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:
Looking 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:
If you would like to look at other web sites on allergenicity of dogs the following would be of interest:
Internet sites discussing Allergenicity of dogs.
Schoeffel BSc(Hons) BVSc