7 April 2011

havanese dog allergies

Havanese Allergies

You may have heard that Havanese are non-shedding and hypoallergenic. You or other family members have allergies and/or asthma, so is a Havanese a good choice for you?
Maybe… but maybe not. An estimated 10 to 15 per cent of the population is allergic to animals; even so, approximately a third of that group chooses to live with at least one pet in their household. Choosing and living with a Havanese despite having allergies needs a basic understanding of pet allergies and a few sensible guidelines.
Glands in the dog’s skin secrete tiny proteins, which can be a trigger for allergies in people with sensitive immune systems. These proteins linger on the dog’s body but also easily drift in the air. Proteins are also found in a dog’s saliva and urine. Sensitive individuals can be allergic to one or more of these proteins. Dander is the most common allergy trigger, followed by saliva, then urine.
Reactions to these protein allergens vary from person to person, ranging from very mild to severe. Reactions may include sniffling, sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, itchy and watery eyes, skin itch, hives, rashes, headaches, coughing and shortness of breath, wheezing and life-threatening asthma attacks. These can happen as quickly as a few minutes after exposure or 24 hours or more later.
Contrary to long-held belief, no dog breed is truly non-allergenic. Since all dogs of all breeds have skin and produce saliva and urine, they all have the potential of provoking allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. The term “hypoallergenic” is typically used in reference to breeds such as the Havanese that appear to have a lower incidence of provoking allergic reactions. This may be attributed in part to the breed’s tendency to have less dander and to shed less than other breeds. (Havanese may be considered a minimally shedding breed.) Many refer to these as “hypoallergenic” or “allergy friendly” breeds (meaning less likely to provoke an allergic response).
Does that mean that anyone with allergies can add a Havanese to their family without concern of allergic reactions? Not at all. If you or a family member have ever experienced an allergic reaction to any dog or other animal, it’s wise to check for potential allergies to Havanese before choosing one for your family. Allergic reactions to Havanese may be less common, but they can and do happen.
Allergy triggers
If Havanese are considered hypoallergenic, why can a sensitive individual still react to them? Let’s look at some of the potential allergy triggers for a better understanding.
Dander is small particles of dead skin cells that flake off the body as the skin regenerates itself. If dogs have skin, they produce dander. Some breeds, like the Havanese, seem to produce less dander; however, it must be kept in mind that individual dogs produce individual amounts of dander. This means that one Havanese may be more irritating to an allergic individual than another Havanese. Tiny, almost invisible flakes of dander can also float through the air.
Fur. Contrary to popular belief, few people are specifically allergic to dog fur. Rather than reacting to the fur itself, allergic individuals are more likely to be reacting to allergens that cling to the fur. Similarly, it is not specifically the amount or length of hair that causes allergic reactions. While a full-coated Havanese does not necessarily produce more dander than a Havanese with a clipped coat, because of the volume, it has more space to hold dander and may also pick up and carry other allergens more easily. The long luscious Havanese coat can pick up an amazing amount of debris outside, including grass, seeds, dust, pollen, moulds and other allergens that may be additional triggers for allergic individuals.
Shedding. If fur is not specifically an allergen, what does shedding or not shedding have to do with allergies? Dogs that shed profusely may leave more hair everywhere, so allergens carried by the hair are naturally distributed more widely than by breeds that shed less. Havanese are considered a minimally shedding breed.
Saliva. Havanese form strong bonds to their families and can be expressive in their love, with kissing and licking that can be an issue for saliva-sensitive individuals. It’s important to know that saliva protein can also be transmitted by residue lingering on the skin and fur from the dog’s self-grooming. Some Havanese self-groom extensively.
Urine protein is the least likely to provoke allergic reactions since housebroken Havanese eliminate outdoors or in designated areas and there is minimal direct contact. However, urine residue on the fur on the belly or legs may cause unexpected problems in sensitive individuals.
Check for reactions
Tell the breeder about your allergies when you visit. Stay as long as possible; hold, hug, cuddle and kiss all their Havanese – puppies and adults. Rub your face into their fur; let them lick you, especially the sensitive skin on your face and neck and inside your arms. This will test your allergic reaction to dander and saliva and help you determine a basic allergy level to Havanese.
A mild reaction doesn’t necessarily mean you cannot live with Havanese. It may simply mean you need to check further. While some mildly sensitive individuals can tolerate one or two Havanese with few problems, they may not be able to tolerate a houseful.
Visiting a pet owner who has only one Havanese is a good next step. If you are highly sensitive to Havanese, it’s probably best to investigate other breeds if you’re determined to add a dog to your family.
Living with allergies to your pet
Many people with only mild, tolerable allergic symptoms can live with a low-dander, minimally shedding Havanese with proper environmental controls. Here are a few ideas to help reduce allergens on the dog and in the home. These are not to be considered long-term solutions for highly allergic individuals.
• Keep your Havanese clean and groomed. Regular brushing helps remove loose hair and the allergens it carries. Bathing your Havanese every seven to 10 days can reduce levels of fur-borne allergens by as much as 80 per cent.
• If possible, groom in a closed-door ‘dog room’ to minimize allergens loosened during grooming from becoming airborne throughout the home. Ideally, a non-allergic family member should do the grooming and clean the room afterwards. Even better, bath day can be done at a self-wash station at a local pet-supply store.
• Daily or weekly use of products that claim to reduce allergens when sprayed on an animal’s fur may be helpful for some, though studies show they are less effective than weekly bathing.
• Regular, thorough cleaning of the home, and using heating and air-conditioning filters and HEPA filters, are all ways of reducing allergens.
• Use an anti-allergen detergent for pet laundry.
• Saliva-sensitive owners should discourage their Havanese from licking them, especially on the face and neck. Wash hands thoroughly after handling the dog.
• For fur- and dander-sensitive individuals, the bedroom should be a dog-free zone.
• Many allergy sufferers are sensitive to more than one allergen – dust, pollen, smoke, etc. The overall allergen level in the environment must be reduced by concentrating on all the causes, not just the pet allergy.
A combination of methods is most likely to succeed in allowing a mildly allergic person to live with a Havanese.
Suzanne McKay, Havanese Fanciers of Canada
Photo: iStock
Originally published as Breedlines columns in the January, February and March 2006 issues

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