"We don't always like the 'hypoallergenic' term, because there is no true hypoallergenic dog," says veterinarian Jay Whittle of Mill Creek Animal Clinic in Palos Park, Illinois. " Allergies are dictated by the person with the allergies and what their immune system is going to do."
"It's that skin component that people are allergic to," he says. "There are some thoughts that dogs have certain bacteria in their saliva that also could potentially do that as well. But the theory behind that isn't as certain."
For those unlucky people with allergies, the tiny particles cause the immune system to produce antibodies, sparking allergic reactions—sneezing, stuffy nose, runny and itchy eyes.
That's where the allergist comes in.
"We can manage [allergies] with medications," Jabbar says, citing antihistamine tablets and sprays or steroid nasal sprays.
And if that's not enough, they can try allergy shots, which are based on skin scrapings of the person's pet. By reintroducing those scrapings in tiny amounts, a person's immune system can be trained to accept it.
"People can continue to have dogs and live an OK life," Jabbar says.
Dog lovers also need to be smart about the breed they choose.
"There are certain breeds that are less allergy inducing," Whittle says. "There's a number of them—the bichons, the soft-coated wheaten terriers ... most of the dogs that are groomed rather than those that shed will be less of a problem. Poodles, bichons, Yorkies [Yorkshire terriers] are less likely to cause problems."
When looking for a dog, it's not necessary to pay premium prices to a breeder. A Portuguese water dog, reportedly the breed the Obamas have settled on, can go for $2,000 or more.
But Paula Fasseas, founder of PAWS Chicago, says she sees allergy-friendly breeds at her Clybourn Avenue shelter all the time.