Life's a bitch ... ... when you're allergic to your pet

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Indy Lifestyle Online
COUGH, sniff, scratch, scratch, sneeze. A sweet little dalmatian pup may be the accessory du moment. But if it brings you up in hives, that is far from chic. If you are an allergy sufferer, you may be stuck with, erm, a poodle. Dogs with short, woolly coats are recommended in such cases, and the old lady's best friend comes top of the list. "There is certainly evidence to support this," says Beverley Cuddy, the editor of Dogs Today magazine. "The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association did some experiments, because there are blind people who can't have dogs because they are allergic. They found that poodles are likely to cause less reaction because their coats are woolly, so they crossed poodle with labrador and came up with the labradoodle." A brilliant solution ... except that "they got the worst of both worlds - they had kept the mad character of the poodle, and the dogs still caused a reaction."

Anyway, she says, the woolly-coat theory is only part of the equation. "Some people are allergic to the skin of the dog, so sometimes silky coats are better." The best solution, she says, is to visit a breeder and spend some time with the dog of your choice, to check what kind of a reaction is the result.

Dr Richard Allport, a vet who specialises in natural medicine, says that dogs that moult tend to also produce more dander (flakes of dead skin and scurf) so a non-shedder is probably a good bet. "The poodle is a very under-rated breed - they are healthy little dogs and full of character," he says. But if the worst comes to the worst, Pet City, Britain's largest pet store, says you can't go wrong with a reptile ("no fur, and very friendly") or a fish ("fairly bombproof as far as allergies go - how about a piranha?") or a tree frog ("easy to look after").

In the meantime, while you may be allergic to your pet, it may equally well be allergic to you - or at any rate, to your lifestyle. "I am seeing a marked increase in allergic reactions in dogs and cats," says Richard Allport. "I suspect carpet fibres, pollutants, and additives in pet food. I have also seen two or three cats who have had asthmatic reactions to their owners - but I think that was more likely to be their perfume or detergent or tobacco, rather than the person themselves."