Is there really a pet food that can reduce human allergies to cats? How would it work if there is? And is it available? That’s what a reader wanted to know; here’s my response.
Q: I heard about a new food for cats that will reduce human allergies to them. Is that really available?
A: The short answer is that a product like that is in the works and may be available within the year. That’s huge for people who love cats but are allergic to them, as well as for cats in shelters who need homes.
Cats are the most common cause of animal-origin allergies in humans. What causes the allergy is a protein called Fel d1 that’s produced by cats and found in their saliva; anal and sebaceous glands; skin; and fur. It’s often said that certain cat breeds are hypoallergenic, but the truth is that all cats produce Fel d1 to varying degrees. The amount they produce depends on hormonal status and has nothing to do with breed or fur color or length.
The Purina Institute sought to find ways to manage cat allergens and reduce the numbers of cats given up to shelters by allergic people. Researchers didn’t want to knock out Fel d1 because right now, its purpose is unknown. It could turn out to be important to feline health.
Instead, they looked at ways to prevent the allergen from interacting with Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies produced by the human immune system when it reacts to an allergen. The solution was an antibody in food that would bind Fel d1 in cat saliva and neutralize the allergen at the source.
The product has been tested for safety in cats and efficacy in humans in double-blinded crossover studies with good results.
Most people with allergies are allergic to multiple things. Even if the food doesn’t completely eliminate their allergy to cats, it may reduce it enough to help them stay below the threshold that causes their allergies to flare.
There’s more in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.