Controversy Surrounds Hypoallergenic Cat Claims

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Hairless cats May Produce Fewer Allergens

Some breeds of cat may produce fewer allergens. Photo Credit: Tomi Tapio

Looking for pet that won’t trigger your allergies? So far it doesn’t exist. There are no scientifically proven hypoallergenic dog breeds, although some breeds may cause a reduced reaction in some people. And, despite claims to the contrary, the same is true for cats.

With cat allergies twice as common as dog allergies, according to the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America, there is an obvious market for hypoallergenic cats. A company called Allerca has been working hard to corner that market, but to date has failed to prove the existence of a hypoallergenic cat.

Hypoallergenic Cats: Allerca’s Claims

In 2006, Allerca announced that it had altered the Fel D1 gene, which is linked to human allergic reactions, and produced the world’s first hypoallergenic cat. According to a laboratory report from Microbac, which can be downloaded from the Allerca website, there is a difference in the genetic makeup of the Allerca cats.

The Microbac report states:

“When compared to the NCBi database, all protein sequences matched to the Fel D1 major cat allergen and support the data that Allerca cats are different from standard cats in the Fel D1 region of their genome.”

At no point, however, does Microbac state that this change makes the cats hypoallergenic.

The only other study mentioned on the Allerca website has never been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. A basic literature search by this author was also unable to find any papers confirming Allerca’s claims.

Lack of Hard Science Behind Hypoallergenic Cat Claims

Dr. Spector, the Allergy and Immunology board certified MD who led the trial, states that it appears initially that there is hypoallergenicity to ‘this cat.’  But Dr. Spector did not publish his work, as the initial study only involved only one cat and nine volunteers; too small a sample size to draw any conclusions. Allerca was unwilling to participate in a follow up study using more cats and people, so there is still no evidence for the existence of a hypoallergenic cat.

Longhaired cats do not necessarily produce the highest levels of allergens. Photo Credit: Magnus Brath

Yet, surprisingly, even those who should know better continue to state that hypoallergenic cats are available. As recently as March 2010,  the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign published a Pet Column wherein Dr. Domenico Santoro, a dermatology resident, stated that there are “currently only “hypoallergenic” cats available that have been genetically modified to not produce the protein that humans may react to.”

It is theoretically possible to produce hypoallergenic cats but, as work by Felix Pets has shown, it is not easy. After more than eight years, they have not yet succeeded in producing a hypoallergenic feline, but their work continues, without hype or pseudo-scientific claims. Given the credibility problem that Allerca has created, if Felix Pets succeeds, they will need to have plenty of solid science to prove their achievements.

Hypoallergenic Cats Have Not Been Proven to Exist

No scientific evidence for hypoallergenic cats. Photo Credit: Wapiko

Not All Bad News for Cat-Loving Allergy Sufferers

In the meantime, will allergy sufferers have to avoid cat ownership, or suffer the agony of allergic attacks? Not necessarily. Allergic reactions differ from person to person, and the level of allergen Fel D1 produces varies from cat to cat, even those not chosen for that genetic trait. So it is not surprising that some people who test low on the allergy-to-cats scale are able to have a cat that causes no health problems. But, as with ‘hypoallergenic dogs,’ allergy sufferers should spend some time finding a cat that does not provoke a reaction.

 

Resources:

Brooks, R.  Microbac Laboratory Report. Abstract of Analysis for the Feline Gene Fel D1. Accessed Sept. 7, 2011.

Allergy and Asthma Foundation. Pet Allergies. Accessed Sept. 5, 2011.

Mitek, A. A  Hypoallergenic Dog-Really?, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, College of Veterinary Medicine. (2010) Accessed Sept. 4, 2011.

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