How hypoallergenic is your dog?

Hur allergivänlig är din hund?

Tests reveal the dog's allergen profile.

A society without allergies, is it possible? Yes, if associate professor Hans Grönlund, researcher at the Karolinska Institutet, is to be believed, it is not at all impossible. Perhaps it may sound like a utopia, but in fact the research group has already come some way.

Text and photo: Katarina Sundberg. The article was published in Hundsport Special No. 1/2015.

A dog allergy vaccine has been developed and is believed to be on the market within five years. And for those who can't bear to wait until then, a unique test is now being launched to find the least allergenic dog individuals, and the opportunity to match your new dog's allergen profile against your own allergy. In a two-part miniseries, we meet the world's leading researchers in fur allergy, and find out how we can get rid of the allergy for good. And also find out how hypoallergenic a dog can really be.

- I would be so incredibly happy. I could hang out with whoever I want, not have to think about always having the medicine with me. And then I could buy a dog. Finally. A Leonberger. Or by the way, a dachshund. Yes, they can be dachshunds, I just love their personality.

Sara is not alone in thinking about how hypoallergenic a dog can be

Sara Lindén dreams of being free from her fur allergy. She has been allergic, but loved dogs, all her life. At just six months old, it was discovered that she was allergic to both milk and eggs. And worst of all, against the family dog.
- My parents had to choose between me and the dog. Mother has told me that it was like their child before I arrived, so it was tough, she says. It is a friend you leave behind, a family member.

Unfortunately, Sara's story is by no means unique. Allergies and hypersensitivity are today our most common public illness. According to the National Institute of Public Health, 30-40 percent of the Swedish population states that they suffer from some form of hypersensitivity or allergy. In adults, the most common sources of allergy are cats and dogs, and in the Stockholm region around 15 percent of adult residents state that they are allergic to dogs and cats in particular. But allergies are not only common, but are on the rise. In fact, so much that the National Institute of Public Health calls the increase explosive. Allergies increase most in children and young people. Almost every fifth child is allergic to pollen or fur animals, and more and more families are denied the opportunity to have a dog, cat or horse in their home. This is one reason why more and more people are thinking about how hypoallergenic a dog is and which dog breed is, in that case, the most hypoallergenic.

Research to find a cure for fur allergy

Hans Grönlund's research group at the Karolinska Institute has been working with allergy from several different angles for many years. The ultimate goal, according to the researchers themselves not too far away, is to find a cure for fur allergy. A chance for a life with animals, despite allergies, without sleeplessly thinking about how hypoallergenic one breed is to another. The research provides an opportunity to become free of one's disability forever. The research takes place in close collaboration with the company Medi-tec, but also with the Swedish Kennel Club, which supports the project by disseminating information and recruiting suitable dogs for the research.
- This project has been very exciting to follow, says Ulf Uddman, CEO of the Swedish Kennel Club. Fur allergy is discussed incredibly much in our society. Partly in connection with dog ownership as a whole, partly in connection with the care dog and therapy dog ​​debate. The research is valuable because it gives us information which, in the long run, can lead to solutions for both dog owners and allergy sufferers, he says.

Although you have come a long way in terms of vaccination and a possible cure for fur allergy, you are not quite there yet. The road from the laboratory to the health center is long. And to get there, both clinical trials, permits and, above all, funding are required. If everything goes as planned, it is expected that the vaccine can reach the first patients within a five-year period.

And while waiting for the final cure, they are now launching a test to be able to match the right dog to the right personal allergy profile. In addition, anti-allergy skin care and shampoo products will soon be available that effectively neutralize the allergy-causing molecules, the so-called allergens.

Like little bombs with bran powder

Bo Karlstedt is CEO of Medi-tec, the company behind allergy research. He says that the dog excretes at least six different allergens, named Can f 1, Can f 2, Canf 3, etc. Allergens are completely normal proteins that all have an important function in the dog's body, but which the immune system for some reason reacts against, says he.

What happens in an allergic reaction can, for example, be that small, tiny particles of dried saliva are spread into the air when a cat licks itself, or that a dog's dander falls off. The small particles make their way, via inhaled air, to the mucous membranes in the nose and throat. There they encounter so-called mast cells, small bombs loaded with bran powder. On the surface of the mast cell in hypersensitive people are specific disease-causing antibodies against, for example, Can f 1 or Can f 6. The airborne dog particle, which in this particular case happens to be Can f 1, therefore fits into the mast cell's antibody like the key in a lock. And with the key in place, the cell is activated at lightning speed, spewing out quantities of histamine and other proteins that cause allergic symptoms. It starts to itch, the eyes water, and it becomes difficult to breathe.
- All dogs excrete most allergens, but in different amounts and concentrations, says Bo Karlstedt. For example, a dog can secrete the allergen Can f 1 in high doses, while other allergens are only present in lower doses. The allergen profile has proven to be highly individual, he says.

Hans Grönlund and Bo Karlstedt state that how hypoallergenic a dog breed is is actually just a myth.

Bo Karlstedt (left) and Hans Grönlund (th) work side by side towards a major common goal; to eradicate fur allergy. Now they are launching a test that enables the matching of dog and human, an opportunity to find a more "allergy-friendly dog" for you who suffer from allergies.

How hypoallergenic is one dog breed compared to another, or is hypoallergenicity a myth?

And it is not actually the breed, as many people think, that determines which allergens the dog excretes, in what quantity or "how hypoallergenic" a dog is. In recent years, several scientific studies have overturned the myth of the "allergenic dog breeds". The research has instead shown that the differences in "allergenicity" are greater between individuals than between races. And the results from the Karolinska Institute support that theory. In a scientific study, allergen production was investigated in 70 adult dogs and 10 litters of puppies. Although the number of dogs is limited and the results need to be validated, a clear trend has been seen.

- The amount of secreted allergen varied greatly between the individuals in a litter of puppies, says Bo Karlstedt. In addition, puppies seem to excrete slightly higher doses of allergen than adult dogs, but we need to validate this in more extensive studies before it can be considered to have a scientific basis, he says.

In adult dogs, however, the amount of allergen seems to be relatively constant over time, says Bo Karlstedt. So if you have acquired a dog that seems to work well, it is likely that it will continue that way. But of course a dog that bathes a lot during the summer, so that the allergen is regularly washed away, will be more "allergenic" during this period, than during the winter when it may not bathe at all. In other words, the lifestyle and activities together with a dog can affect how hypoallergenic it is, in a way anyway.

But it is not the fur's hair that secretes the allergenic substances. It is in dandruff flakes from the skin, and in the saliva most of the allergenic substances are found. And one of the dog allergens, Can f 5, is mainly excreted in the urine of uncastrated male dogs.

Your dog - an allergy dog?

The analysis methods the researchers used during their studies are now being launched in the form of a test for home use, called 'Allergenius Dog'. From the turn of the year, it is therefore possible to find out your dog's allergen profile, to find out in black and white how hypoallergenic your own dog actually is. With such knowledge, you can more easily deal with your own hypersensitivity, but also with those around you, says Bo Karlstedt. At the same time, the test contributes to building up a research material to increase knowledge of the dog's allergenic properties, and partly to finance the development of a fur-bearing animal vaccine.

Allergenius Dog quantitatively measures the amount of allergen in a dog's saliva and fur. The test is simple and is carried out at home by the animal owner or breeder. Via the company's website, you order a test kit containing a saliva tip and two fur brushes. After collecting saliva and brushing the fur in two places, you send the sample to Medi-tec and get an answer on which allergens your dog is excreting, and in what quantity. Right now the test contains three allergens; Can f 1, 2 and 3. Later in the year it will also be possible to test for Can f 4 and Can f 6, and those taking the test now will receive answers for Can f 4 and Can f 6 later.

Medi-tec is now launching a test, Allergenius Dog, which measures which allergens your dog secretes, and in what quantity. You do the test yourself at home.

Mix and match

As a complement to the dog test, a test for humans will also be launched in mid-2015. With the test, you can get answers to which dog allergens you have disease-causing antibodies against, and in what concentration. Because just as dogs excrete allergens in varying amounts and concentrations, allergy sufferers also react differently strongly to different allergens. Some are better tolerated. Maybe it's the case that you met a dog that you could spend time with, even though you're allergic? It may be that that dog then has an allergen profile that is the reverse of yours. That is, what you react against is only present in small amounts in the dog and vice versa.

A mix of heritage and environment

Why the allergen profile differs so greatly between different dogs is not really known, says Bo Karlstedt.
- One of the goals of our research is to investigate and map just that, he says. The allergen profile and the amount of allergen secreted are probably influenced by both heredity and environment, i.e. which genes the dog received from its parents, but also by washing, care, feed and health status. Therefore, we try to get as much information as possible from the dogs participating in the project. The owner is asked to fill out a comprehensive questionnaire about the dog's coat, grooming, castration status and coat. This information contributes positively towards the goal of finding out how hypoallergenic a dog can be depending on various factors.

A major environmental factor is probably washing and care, says Bo Karlstedt. The allergen is simply washed away when the dog bathes. But at the same time, too much washing and shampooing can irritate and dry out the skin, which then produces more dandruff and more allergens, he says.

Allergen reducing products

This is precisely why the research group works together with leading skin specialists to develop treatment preparations and allergy-relieving shampoo products.
- We have put a lot of focus on the products being good for the dog, that they strengthen the skin barrier and reduce the production of dander, says Bo. It is also important that the effect remains for a long time, so that the dog does not need to be washed so often, and that the product binds well to the allergens so that they are washed away effectively. In addition to shampoo, we work with other technologies that can neutralize the allergens, so that they do not cause allergies. But that is a little further in the future, he says.

Allergy-friendly dogs in the breeding?

But everything is believed to depend not only on the surrounding environmental factors. The researchers believe that a dog's allergen profile and "allergenicity" are also determined by heredity. And if that is true, is it then possible to breed more hypoallergenic dogs?
- Yes, with the fact that we can now test which allergens an individual secretes, and in what concentrations, it is possible to incorporate such an idea into the breeding work, says Bo Karlstedt. In any case, there is a theoretical possibility to strive towards more hypoallergenic dogs, he says.

And Ulf Uddman at SKK agrees.
- Yes, of course there is a theoretical possibility that such a demand would arise, he says. Over the years we have shaped our breeds so much through breeding, so surely this could be another way to do it. How hypoallergenic a dog can be and how hypoallergenicity will in the future become one of the arguments when choosing breeding animals, I therefore do not find it entirely unlikely. But the road from theory to practice is still long, and in the same way as the new DNA tests we can now use in breeding, there are also several aspects of this test that must be examined carefully before it can become a fully-fledged breeding tool, says Ulf Uddman .

But could the test have some dark sides? Is there a risk that puppies that are highly allergenic will be selected, become difficult to sell or even removed? The possibility exists, but neither researchers nor the Kennel Club believe in such a scenario, because the choice of a puppy contains so many more factors to take into account than how hypoallergenic it can be.
- A litter of puppies does not consist of five identical individuals, even if they have the same parents, says Ulf Uddman. Some are prettier than others, some are more advanced and work better in hunting and utility work. And others may be more hypoallergenic. So I think the risk that some puppies would be sorted out because of this is very small, as factors other than how allergy-friendly the dog is weigh more heavily.

Help for breeders

Ulf Uddman believes that the test, in addition to helping allergy sufferers or people who work with dogs in public environments, can also be helpful to breeders when they want to investigate how hypoallergenic the litter is. If the litter is tested, you have a good starting point to sell the right puppy to the right family, he says.
- The test gives allergy sufferers the chance to actually try having a dog that excretes less allergen, and that in itself is very valuable. If we can give dog-loving people the opportunity to own or spend time with a dog without getting sick, then we have won a lot for a lot of people, he says.

In the next issue of HSS, we will continue to report on allergy research at the Karolinska Institutet. We meet research group leader Hans Grönlund, who tells us about how he wants to cure fur allergy for good. You can read that article here .

Text and photo: Katarina Sundberg. The article was published in Hundsport Special No. 1/2015.