Do anti-dander pet shampoos really work?


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Pet owners are not shy about spending a pretty penny on their furry friends. According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), in 2009 alone, they spent a combined $3.36 billion on services such as grooming and related items such as shampoos. For many allergy-prone animal lovers, these aren't just frivolous purchases; specialty products such as anti-dander shampoos are used in the hopes of making life with beloved pets a little easier. But do they actually work?

The answer is both yes and no. While anti-dander shampoos may not prove to be magic solutions that completely eliminate pet allergens, regularly bathing your pet can provide some measure of allergy relief -- and it's good for your pet, too. To understand why anti-dander products get such mixed reviews, let's take a look at what goes in to these products to understand just exactly how they work.

Dander Fighters: Lack of Proof

There are a number of anti-dander pet shampoos and sprays on the market, most of which claim that they can neutralize the protein allergens responsible for triggering allergic reactions in owners. The active ingredients in these products may vary depending on the manufacturer, but the most common ones are salicylic acid and sulfur -- both of which are thought to provide itch relief for animals and potentially reduce the amount of flaking skin they have. Since allergens tend to live in pets' skin secretions and shed off with the skin, reducing the amount that's shed around your home may help minimize allergy symptoms.

The majority of anti-dander shampoos are also meant to hydrate pets' skin, thereby replenishing the epidermal barrier, which should theoretically decrease skin flaking as well. However, the actual results from using these products are inconsistent.

"People have tried bathing with a regular pet shampoo, special dander shampoos or using a spray called Allerpet," says Dr. Bill Freedman, veterinarian and owner of Animal General in Edgewater, N.J. "Studies have shown very little difference in the effectiveness of any of these. Some people have had success with them, but it's all anecdotal, and there is no proof behind their effectiveness."

Freedman also points out that, even if a product is effective in treating the allergens secreted through pets' skin, allergens can also live in their saliva -- as is the case with the protein FelD1 produced by cats. Since cats self-groom by licking themselves, those allergens end up right back on their fur, even after a good shampoo.

Bathing: A Best Practice

No matter what type of shampoo you use, if you're prone to pet allergies, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) recommends giving your pet weekly baths to reduce the presence of airborne allergens in your home. There's no guarantee that this will minimize your allergy symptoms, but regularly bathing your pets is important practice for maintaining their overall hygiene, regardless.

However, if you are trying to combat pet allergies, there are a few best practices you can follow when it comes to bathing. "The bath water should be lukewarm for both dogs and cats," recommends Dr. Karen Halligan, director of veterinary services at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Los Angeles (spcaLA) and author of "What Every Pet Owner Should Know: Prescriptions for Happy, Healthy Cats and Dogs." "Never use hot water to bathe your dog, because it can cause the blood vessels to dilate, leading to itchy skin." An anti-dander formula won't necessarily provide an allergy-prone pet owner with any advantages over regular pet shampoo, but generally adopting a regular bathing and grooming regimen may make a difference. This practice may very well result in a less stuffed-up and sneezy owner, and if done correctly, it will almost definitely lead to a happier, healthier pet.

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