Puppy Politics

President ponders pooch pick

A Real Boon”dog”gle.

Barack Obama’s first press conference after the 2008 election focused largely on a crucial appointment- the type of dog the president would deliver, as promised, to his two daughters. Obama said that his choice for First Puppy has to take into account the allergies of his older daughter, Malia. But are some breeds really more hypoallergenic than others?

Breeders say short-haired dogs, such as schnauzers, and dogs that shed less, such as poodles, are safer for sensitive pet owners than long-haired breeds. However, no credible studies support this claim. The idea of a “hypoallergenic breed” of dog is wishful thinking at best.

People have allergic reactions to dogs because they have developed antibodies to specific molecules, called allergens, that the animal produces. When the allergen is inhaled or rubbed on the skin, it binds to antibodies located on the surface of mast cells, a type of immune cell distributed throughout the body. The mast cell reacts by releasing its store of histamine compounds, which provoke itchiness, sneezing, and a host of irritating symptoms.

The most common canine allergens are primarily found in a dog’s saliva and skin. In all studies, the dog’s hair length does not influence the amount of allergen detected. Instead, scientists have discovered that allergens are most concentrated in dander, or dead skin cells. These flakes of skin slough off and, because they are tiny, can hang in the air for up to two weeks. Dander, moreover, is common to all breeds. Dogs with short hair, or no hair at all, still shed flakes of skin. Instead of debating between goldendoodles and Portugese water dogs, the president would be best advised to simply invest in a moisturizing shampoo for the First Pup. Vets agree this the only known way to reduce dander.

A week before his inauguration, Obama joked with reporter George Stephanopoulos about the puppy-vetting process. “This has been tougher than finding a commerce secretary,” he said. No word yet on whether confirmation hearings for Senator Judd Gregg, the designate for that position, included the dandruff question on the agenda.