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Q. We are looking into getting a family puppy, but we have a child who has been allergic to dogs in the past. Is it true that hypoallergenic dogs will not cause discomfort for an allergic child? We are currently looking into getting a Weimaraner puppy. Is there medication the child could take? Would slow exposure to the puppy build up a resistance?

A. Many patients hope to purchase a “hypoallergenic” dog or cat, but unfortunately these pets do not exist.

Avoidance is the most effective way to manage dog allergy.  Before bringing a pet into your home, I recommend you discuss your child's history with his or her allergist.

Although data suggest that children who are exposed to pets during infancy may be less likely to become allergic to dogs and cats in later life, in a child with history of an established dog allergy, slow exposure to the puppy would not be expected to desensitize your child.

Q. I have moved into a house where two cats lived. They are gone, but I am sick all the time with a cough and wheezing and headache, which I never had before. I am 80 years old with pulmonary hypertension, and I moved from an elevation of 6,000 feet to sea level. How long does the hair and dander remain after cats are gone?

A. Your first step should be to consult with an allergist to determine if you are asthmatic.  While asthma can develop at any age, if this is the first time you have had wheezing and coughing, your symptoms may not be related asthma.  Pulmonary hypertension can also cause respiratory symptoms, especially shortness of breath.

Your allergist can perform a simple in-office allergy test to determine if you are allergic to cats, dust mites, or other common allergens for your geographical region. 

In a home that previously had cats, it may take up to 20 to 30 weeks before the cat allergen concentration is reduced to the levels found in animal-free homes.  You may be able to speed reduction of the cat allergen by replacing carpet with hard surface flooring, removing any upholstered furniture and drapes used by the former owners, and cleaning the walls.  However, all homes, even those never occupied by a cat, will have a minimal level of cat dander that can be measured.

Your allergist should be able to provide medications to help reduce your upper and lower respiratory symptoms for as long as they are needed. 

Q. After a recent trip to the local animal shelter, my children want to adopt a dog or cat. I have a number of allergies and worry that my symptoms will become worse if we bring an animal into our home. I have heard that there are non-allergenic or hypoallergenic dogs, which allow an allergy sufferer to have a pet in their home without having symptoms. Is this true? If so, which types of dog would be considered non-allergenic. Are certain breeds of cats non-allergenic as well?

A. Unfortunately there are no "non-allergenic" cat or dog breeds! All of these have some level of allergen. The allergic potential of dogs or cats is not affected by the length of their fur. This is a common myth!

The protein that causes allergies is found in an animal's saliva, dander and urine. Almost 10 million pet owners – including children – are allergic to their animals.

The fur of a dog or cat can also collect additional allergens, such as pollen and mold spores.

Cats seem to be more allergenic than dogs. Almost all already-allergic people exposed to cats on a regular basis will develop a cat allergy. 

If you plan to introduce a pet into your home, have an evaluation by a board-certified allergist, including skin testing. This will tell you for certain what you are allergic to. If you are found to be allergic to dogs or cats, consider immunotherapy (allergy shots). These shots will eventually desensitize you to these animals, so that you may one day be able to have a family pet without compromising your health or well-being.