The Myth of the Hypoallergenic Dog

Over the past few years there has been a lot of talk about specific dog breeds that are “hypoallergenic” and perfect for families with members who have pet allergies. Most of the time these dogs tend to be hairless, or they have hair instead of fur, which leads many people to believe that the dogs do not spread allergens into the home. 

Unfortunately this is a mostly a myth, as no dog is entirely hypoallergenic. We spoke to Dr. Jules Benson, VP of Veterinary Services at Petplan pet insurance, to find out more.

What Causes Pet Allergies?

According to Dr. Benson, “there is no true hypoallergenic dog, because [the thing that] causes the allergic reaction is common to all dogs. All dogs shed skin cells -- or dander -- even if they don’t shed fur.” The allergens are also present in these skin cells, as well as in saliva and urine. People with pet allergies react when these allergens are inhaled. “Dog dander is extremely small, like a micron of dust, and it can linger in the air so people can breathe it in without knowing it,” Dr. Benson explains. “Pet urine and saliva particles can adhere to a pet’s fur after they lick themselves, as well, so petting a dog could also lead to a reaction.”

Do Allergy-free Dogs Really Exist?

So that’s the bad news. But don’t worry, there’s good news as well. While there are no dogs that are 100% allergy free, there are some breeds that are better for people with allergies than others.  “Dogs that have hair, not fur, actually don’t shed as much and tend to produce less sneeze-provoking dander,” said Dr. Benson. 

The list for these types of dogs includes Poodles, Shih Tzus and Yorkshire Terriers, mostly hairless dogs like the Chinese Crested, and larger breeds like Portuguese Water Dogs and Schnauzers.

Unfortunately there is no way to totally cure pet allergies. “Allergic reactions occur because the body’s immune system is treating the allergen -- in this case, pet dander -- as an enemy, so repeated or prolonged exposure could simply lead to a more extreme reaction -- which could be very dangerous,” says Dr. Benson.

It is possible that some people, mostly children, may outgrow an allergy completely, but this has nothing to do with repeated exposure to a dog.  If you do bring home a so-called hypoallergenic dog, don’t be surprised if those allergies do rear their ugly heads. However, if you or a family member only has minor pet allergies, one of the dogs listed above could be the right fit for your home.  

Reduce the Allergens in Your Home

There are also ways to reduce the pet allergens in your home so as to limit the spread of dander. Specific areas of your home collect more allergens than others. This includes carpets, furniture, mattresses and window treatments. The key is diligent housekeeping. When purchasing a vacuum cleaner, make sure to get one with a HEPA filter. These are designed to remove even the smallest particles of pet dander. Hardwood floors are a great option, too, as hair is visible and easier to remove.

Frequent baths and grooming of your pet will also help. “Just be sure to use a moisturizing shampoo so your pet’s skin doesn’t dry out from so many baths,” warns Dr. Benson. You can also restrict your dog to specific parts of your home, and keep him out of the bedrooms of the family members who are allergic. Special air filters are also available to help remove dander that could be floating in the air.

At the end of the day, if you believe you are allergic to dogs, be sure to get tested by an allergist who can determine if your allergies are due to pet dander or other allergens. Then you can determine if you’re perhaps able to live with a dog that produces less dander.

Winter Abode Check for Dogs

Everyone’s heard of spring cleaning, changing the fire alarm batteries and getting ready for a new season. However, the winter months pose special indoor dangers for dogs too. For example, did you know fleas can live indoors all winter long?

Here are a few things all dog parents should do to keep their canines safe and sound in the colder months.

Heat Check
As the temperatures drop, the thermostat rises indoors. The usage of an electric heater or fireplace should be done with caution. Tails, fur and paws that come too close to flames, hot surfaces or the coils of an electric heater can be damaged, and an unattended heater could be knocked over by a curious pet. To make sure your pooch is warm indoors, and that fire hazards are diminished, never leave a heater on without someone in attendance.

Flea Check
Contrary to widely held belief, fleas can and do live indoors all winter long. Keep fleas away with proper prevention, and check with your dog’s veterinarian for how often and what to use on your dog.

Wires and Hazards
Some dogs love to chew on electrical wires. As the holidays have passed, now is a good time to assess any exposed wires and cords that are risky or any other access that dogs may have to electrical shock. Cover cords with plastic sleeves, unplug cords when not in use where applicable and take a check around the house for any balls or toys that might be close (or stuck) to electrical sources.

Bedding Position
A dog’s bed, kennel or “comfy spot” should be kept away from any drafty areas. Though dogs have a fur coat, cold can and does affect them. If you feel a draft or cold, then chances are your dog is feeling that same cold air. Keep dog beds off of heating vents, but in a spot that keeps them warm and secure.

Paw Alert
What dogs walk on outside is oftentimes brought inside with them. With winter sidewalks being laden with rock salt, chemicals and other debris, it’s important to protect a dog’s paws outside, and then keep them clean inside. Ice can burn and cause damage to a dog’s sensitive paws, so using dog booties or a food-grade pet-safe wax can help prevent problems. Wash dog paws (and tummies) with warm clean water prior to coming in the house after a winter walk.

Antifreeze Alert
If dogs have access to the family garage, take a check for any antifreeze containers. Clean up any spills, do not allow pets to have access to any containers that are poisonous, and do not allow pets to lick or step in any puddles near cars while out on walks.

Puppy Protection
If a new puppy has graced your life, a whole extra set of puppy-proofing precautions apply to new dog parents. Everything from cabinets that need to be locked and toilets that need lids down to plants need to be kept from prying paws.

Carbon Monoxide Dangers
Just like people, pets can be overcome with carbon monoxide. Have a furnace check—both odorless and invisible, carbon monoxide poisoning is always a danger year round.

Indoor Plumbing
Last but not least, some dogs are opposed to doing their duties outside when there is cold weather and/or snow on the ground. Shovel a nice little path for dogs to do their outdoor business and never punish a dog for relieving himself inside.

Use this list and both you and your pup will appreciate the extra precaution and safety this season.

When Good Dogs Turn Bad

A dog's bite may be worse than its bark -- especially if the pooch isn't feeling well. A new study has determined that dogs brought to a veterinary behavior clinic for biting children most often didn't have a previous history of biting. The research, which was conducted by a team of experts from the University of Pennsylvania, School of Veterinary Medicine and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, found that about half of the 111 dogs in the study had preexisting medical conditions that may have triggered the lash out.

These Medical ailments that triggered lashing out included hip dysplasia (and the associated arthritic pain), compromised vision, itchiness and ear pain, says one of the study's authors, Ilana R. Reisner, DVM, PhD, DACVB, a professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Reisner cautions that the association between bad behavior and illness in half of the dogs in the study doesn't imply that medical problems were the cause of the bad behavior. Some dogs are aggressive, and that needs to be treated as a behavioral issue. But veterinary experts say it's quite common for canines that have never shown any aggressive traits to snap, bite and show other signs of agitation when they are ill -- and particularly when they have chronic conditions.

Since your pet can't speak, here's how you can read the signs that something is physically wrong with your dog before it, too, may snap.

Signs That Your Dog Is Ill
Most people can recognize when a canine is sick to its stomach because it may leave behind telltale visible evidence, but other ailments are much harder to detect. In addition to physical symptoms, you should look out for behavioral signs. There are two main categories of behavior that can signal red flags:

  • Lethargy The most common indicator that a dog isn't feeling well is not aggression -- it's depression, or lethargy, says Bonnie Beaver, DVM, past president of the American Veterinary Medicine Association and a professor at Texas A&M University. "The most common changes would be where the dog becomes less active, doesn't want to eat or eats less, tends to sleep more and tends to interact with the family less," Dr. Beaver says. "This is a common sign associated with fever, although it can be the result of other things, too, such as an upset stomach."
  • Aggression Another behavior that can be an indicator of a pet ailment is unusual aggression. In this sense, dogs have a lot in common with humans. "If I have a headache, I get grumpy. My fuse is shorter," Dr. Beaver says. "We don't know that dogs have headaches per se, but if they have a chronic pain, such as arthritis, or if they have an ear infection, they hurt. It eats at them. Their fuse is shorter, too." Little things that would not have bothered your pooch in the past suddenly become transgressions that merit a growl or even a snap. This is particularly of concern if children are in the household. Many children tend to want to hug, pick up or be physical with the family pet. A growl or nip may be the dog saying, "Leave me alone," says Dr. Beaver. But you should read these warning signs and take action before the interaction gets that far -- or worse.

Steps To Prevent Bad Behavior
Many dogs would never bite, snap or growl at humans, Dr. Beaver says. Like numerous other behaviors, it depends on the individual pooch, its inherent temperament, and even the background of the pet. If the dog was rescued from an abusive situation, you may not know whether the pup will respond with aggression to pain. Here are some steps that you can take to try to prevent a situation from ever getting that far.

  • Yearly veterinary exams These are a must to keep tabs on your pet's possible physical ailments. Dogs that come down with many diseases, such as cancer, liver problems, eye disease, etc. don't show obvious physical signs until the disease is quite advanced. Beaver recommends that you ask your veterinarian to do a complete physical exam, including blood tests, on your pet each year.
  • Treat ailments sooner rather than later If you see outward signs of sickness in your pup --scratching more than usual, a red "hotspot" on their body, or limping or crying when it jumps into the car -- it's important to have those symptoms treated as soon as possible. Ailments such as joint pain, ear infections or dental pain "can increase irritability," Dr. Reisner says.
  • Never leave small children alone with pets Pet owners need to constantly supervise whenever youngsters and pets are together. "Little kids don't mean to hurt, but they don't think. They may do things that scare or hurt the dog," Dr. Beaver says. Petting from a child may feel like slapping to the dog. And kids screaming and yelling may even frighten a pooch. "Even the most loving, trusting dog in certain situations can react," Dr. Beaver says.
  • Dogs should always have a quiet place to go Your home should have a place where the dog can go to escape noise, children, and other potential annoyances -- but especially when it's ill. This may be created by putting up a dog gate or by placing a dog bed in a quiet area of the basement. Make the quiet place warm, cozy and easily accessible for a sick pup. Dogs with arthritis may be uncomfortable lying down outside or on a cold floor. Similarly, walking up and down stairs to get to their escape place might be difficult.

Reisner says that her research on children who are bitten by dogs holds some important messages for dog owners -- and parents, in particular. Illness can increase the risk of aggressive behavior in dogs, even those with no predisposition to aggression. "When they're not feeling well, they need to be treated with some extra caution," she says. "Leave a dog alone if it's setting itself apart or moves away to the other side of the room. Don't let a child interact with the dog. And, if the child is too young to listen to those guidelines, put up a gate." Both dog and child may not appreciate the temporary solution, but they'll be better off because of it.

Photo: Corbis Images

Hydrotherapy Helps Dogs Get in Shape for Adoption

Emma, a golden retriever, clearly loves her hydrotherapy sessions at Doggie Paddle in Portland, Oregon. The two and a half-year-old swims for 45 minutes with the water jets blasted on high. And then there’s two-year-old Labrador retriever Seamus. “He won’t get out of the pool unless he’s retrieved four rubber chickens. Not two or three, but always four,” says Julie Thomas, who owns the canine therapeutic swimming and exercise business.

While the sessions might seem like fun and games to Emma and Seamus, hydrotherapy provides important physical therapy to dogs, especially those who have difficulty engaging in regular outdoor activities. “It can be comparable to human physical therapy, only for dogs,” Thomas says.

What Is Hydrotherapy?

Hydrotherapy usually involves either a small pool with a treadmill or, in the case of Doggie Paddle, a larger pool with adjustable swim jets that provide resistance. With the latter on high, just a five minute swim can be equivalent to a five mile run. Most facilities keep the temperature comfortable and warm. Chlorine can irritate the skin, coat and eyes of dogs, so look for a pool that offers some other, gentler form of filtration and sanitizing.

Dogs either walk right in or, if they need a bit of help, are carried into the pool. “I had a Great Dane once who just lay in my arms and did not move a muscle,” shares Thomas. “I simply got behind him and moved his legs as though he were riding a bicycle.” This got his circulation going, helping to relax his muscles and improve his joint function.

Which Dogs Benefit Most From Hydrotherapy?

Thomas says that at least seven types of get the most out of hydrotherapy, including:

·         Dogs recovering from surgery. This includes canines that have undergone everything from amputations to hip surgery.

·         Overweight dogs. For pooches with packed-on pounds, swimming provides “a safe, low-impact way to burn calories.”

·         Older dogs. When arthritis kicks in and energy levels slow down, hydrotherapy can still provide your pet with regular exercise.

·         Overactive dogs. Some healthy dogs just have incredible energy to burn. They can work it off safely in the pool without driving your family nuts.

·         Sporting dogs. Dogs that compete in sports, such as agility, gain conditioning from pool time.

·         Dogs -- both literally and figuratively -- on their last legs. Thomas often sees dogs right before they are euthanized, allowing the dogs to naturally relax and providing owners with one final meaningful, shared moment with their beloved pet.

·         Dogs up for adoption. Doggie Paddle is located very near the Oregon Humane Society’s Westside adoption center.

 

How Hydrotherapy Helps Homeless Hounds

Go into any animal shelter, and you’re bound to see dogs looking less than fabulous. They are often stressed, older, out of shape and perhaps feeling unloved. That’s where Thomas’ work comes into play. For the past two years, she’s been donating swim sessions to homeless dogs and improving their chances for adoption.

“They not only get in shape physically, but they also become more socialized and used to handling,” she explains. Karl Willard, an animal care technician at the OHS, believes the shelter is the first in the country to offer this form of enrichment.

Splashy Fun for Owners Too

At some pools, such as the one at Doggie Paddle, owners can go in along with the dog(s). This can lead to a great workout for all, and what amounts to a mini-refreshing pool party.

“Sometimes friends will do this together,” Thomas says. “I have a few clients who bring all six of their bearded collies.” She has yet another client who brings her four dogs -- along with her 5-year-old son.

The Human-Dog Connection

Before starting her hydrotherapy business, Thomas earned a doctorate in adult education and gerontology. She is also certified to do hydrotherapy and massage for dogs. All have come in handy. “In terms of gerontology, the basic concepts concerning many physical issues, emotional concerns, and more carry over to dogs,” she says.

As for massage, many dogs enjoy a soothing rubdown as they enter or exit the Doggie Paddle pool via ramp. “Dogs frequently bark like crazy in their owner’s cars because they can’t wait to get here,” she says. After hydrotherapy, they display another mood, she concludes. “One dog is so relaxed that he drifts into blissful slumber after each session.”

How to Prevent 5 Common Dog Illnesses

A few simple steps on your part could mean more years of happy times with your dog. You are likely your dog’s primary health advocate, playing a critical role in your pet’s continued good health and long life.

Too often, illnesses and injuries that affect a dog’s health and even shorten its lifespan are easily preventable, say the experts. Yet it needn’t take great effort on your part to avoid these canine health problems. “That’s how most of life is,” says Dr. Tracy Dewhirst, a Knoxville, Tenn., veterinarian who writes regularly for The Knoxville News-Sentinel and Exceptional Canine. “We find ourselves in these predicaments sometimes when we could have easily done the right thing. Most of the common dog diseases can be avoided.”

Helping to Prevent Dog Illnesses

You can hopefully look forward to a number of years filled with games of fetch, rambles on the beach and other pleasures of dog companionship if you work to prevent these health problems, say Dewhirst and other veterinarians.

Heartworm
“Heartworm tops the list,” says Dr. Duffy Jones, owner of Peachtree Hills Animal Hospital in Atlanta. The heartworm is a parasite spread through the bite of mosquitoes. Heartworm disease, which affects the lungs and sometimes the heart, can be fatal if untreated. “Heartworm is such a devastating disease, and it can almost be totally prevented,” says Jones. Consistently administer a monthly preventative, such as Revolution, to protect your pooch, he advises. In the past, dog owners in cold-weather areas might not administer prevention during winter months. However, the disease is spreading, and it’s critical to treat your dog year-round. “Get the monthly Revolution and don’t worry about it,” he says.

GI Upset
Your dog’s upset tummy is likely preventable, according to Dr. Katy J. Nelson, a veterinarian who hosts a local pet show on a Washington, D.C., TV station. “Pets’ GI tracts are not equipped to handle all sorts of different protein and carbohydrate sources as ours are,” explains Nelson. “We routinely eat high-fat, high-protein or sugar-loaded foods, though they might not be the healthiest options. Our pets, however, are accustomed to a more controlled diet.” Even the smallest morsels of people food can lead to anything from diarrhea to pancreatitis in your dog. Limit your dog’s diet to canine food.

Diabetes

Nelson considers this debilitating illness to be the No. 1 preventable disease in veterinary medicine. “Obesity is the predisposing factor to this awful disease, and the way to avoid it is to keep your pets slim and trim,” she says. Practice portion control as you feed your dog, and provide regular exercise. Diabetes can lead to multiple health problems for your dog, such as heart and kidney problems. “Weight is a big thing that contributes to disease, and it’s one of the things that owners can directly have some control over,” advises Dewhirst.

Dental Disease

Your dog’s dental health has implications throughout its body, notes Nelson. “Dental disease has been linked to heart disease, kidney and liver disease and even some cancers,” she says. Brush your dog’s teeth regularly, and ask your veterinarian for advice if you’ve never done this before. Regular veterinary exams will let you know when your dog’s teeth need cleaning.

Injuries and Trauma

Too many emergency veterinary visits could be avoided, says Dewhirst. Make sure fencing is secure if your dog spends time outdoors, and use a restraint, such as a leash, on outings. Dewhirst sees many traumas caused by dogs being bitten by other animals or injured while chasing cars. Keeping your dog at a healthy weight will help prevent injuries, says Nelson. Don’t engage in bursts of activity (e.g., weekend warrior outings), but look for steady, frequent exercise opportunities.

Take practical steps to prevent illness, and you’ll reap the rewards for years to come, says Dewhirst. “Your dog will live into its geriatric years very healthy, mobile and happy.”