I worked with a person who was so allergic to cats that she couldn’t come near my coat. It took us months to determine why her eyes would start to water and she’d feel a sneeze coming on when she came into my work area. She had other allergies too, so it could have been anything from the carpet to the chemicals used in my equipment. But we noticed it seemed to fade in warmer weather. Was it in the heating system? No, when the second winter began we both guessed it might have been my jacket draped over the back of my chair complete with cat hairs left when I petted my cats before I left the house. When I began hanging my coat at the other end of my room, she was fine.
Between 10% and 20% of the human population is indeed allergic to cats, and that’s a lot of people. Requests to surrender or rehome cats because of allergies are so common that they are suspect, but they are also sincere. Aside from surrenders, many cat lovers work very hard to suppress their allergic response so they can just love their cats, but they can also develop related conditions such as asthma and also autoimmune issues as a result. But what if we could reach the problem at its beginnings, and safely modify the cat’s diet or body so that it reduced or didn’t produce the actual allergen without harming the cat?
The allergy is not to a cat’s dander or to a particular type of fur, but to a protein in the cat’s saliva and hair follicle secretions, Fel d1, which reaches your eyes and nose on bits of fur released while the fur moves around in the air (which is why my friend could be experiencing allergic symptoms when there wasn’t a cat around, honest). The two studies attempt to modify the amount of Fel d1 in the cat’s saliva and therefore on the cat’s coat by two different means.
“Immunization of cats to induce neutralizing antibodies against Fel d 1, the major feline allergen in human subjects” seeks to create a vaccine that binds Fel d1 to another substance in the cat’s body so it isn’t present in their saliva. The study by a Swiss pharmaceutical company showed that the vaccine was effective and had no adverse effects on the cats in the study. You can read the full text of the study here.
“Anti-Fel d1 immunoglobulin Y antibody-containing egg ingredient lowers allergen levels in cat saliva” seeks to bind and reduce Fel d1 distribution by an additive to the cat’s diet. This study from the Purina Institute significantly reduced Fel d1 within three weeks of beginning the diet, but it’s at the beginning of study and more testing needs to be done. You can read the abstract here.
If reading studies makes your head spin, you can read a simpler review first from PetMD, “Scientists May Have Found Out How to Get Rid of Cat Allergies”.
Removing this barrier to cat adoptions and retention would make a huge difference in the number of cat owners who find they are allergic but are willing to work with the situation, and potential adopters who are known to be allergic but also willing to give either of these possibilities a try when studies are finished.
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