Cat allergy: New treatments

Cat allergies can put a damper on feline friendships. (Courtesy Getty Images/iStockphoto/abadonian)

Are you one of the millions who suffer with cat allergy? It’s estimated that up to one-third of Americans with allergies are allergic to cats. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, cat allergy is twice as common as dog allergy and usually associated with severe symptoms of sneezing, nasal itching and congestion and itchy, watery eyes. Cat allergy can trigger asthma, resulting in coughing and wheezing. In some cat-allergic people, a lick from a cat can cause hives.

[See: Is it Healthy to Sleep With Your Pets?]

Most people with cat allergy are allergic to a protein from cats called Fel d 1. This protein is produced in the cat’s skin, tears, saliva and urine and is found on the cat’s hair as the cat licks itself during grooming. We know that male cats produce more Fel d 1 than female cats, and neutered cats produce less than unneutered cats. There are no hypoallergenic cats, as all cats produce some Fel d 1. Another characteristic of Fel d 1, which can lead to severe allergies, is that this protein is very sticky, and it can be transferred on clothing to areas where there are no cats. It’s hard to get rid of. Fel d 1 takes up to four to six months to break down, so it can accumulate over time, creating increasing levels that can cause allergy and asthma flare-ups.

Treatment of cat allergy can involve three basic steps:

— First, avoidance of cats is key. But many people just don’t want to give up their cats. Unfortunately, cat allergen can be in places even where there are no cats.

— The second step is medication to control symptoms, such as antihistamines, intranasal corticosteroids and asthma medications if wheezing and cough are part of the reaction.

— Lastly, allergen immunotherapy (allergy shots) can help build a tolerance to Fel d 1. This can be very beneficial to many sufferers. It’s a three- to five-year course and must be given in an allergist’s office.

[See: Is Your Pet Imperiling Your Health?]

Recently, there has been fascinating new research into the possibility of treating cat allergy by making the cat produce less Fel d 1. Scientists in Switzerland and the United Kingdom reported their work on the development of a vaccine to immunize a cat against their own Fel d 1. The study showed the vaccine made antibodies to neutralize the Fel d 1. More than 50 cats were vaccinated, and they all tolerated the vaccine with no toxic reactions. The researchers showed Fel d 1 levels in the cats’ tears decreased by more than a two-fold factor. Also, a test that measured the allergenic activity of the Fel d 1 in the tears following the vaccination showed it to be reduced compared to before immunization. More studies will need to be performed to show it’s safe for cats over the long term and to determine if levels of Fel d 1 can be lowered enough so people with cat allergy don’t have symptoms.

[See: 8 Surprising Facts About Asthma and Seasonal Allergies.]

Another study used a special cat food to reduce levels of Fel d 1 in the cat. This food contained an antibody to bind the Fel d 1 and reduced the amount of the allergenic protein released by the cat. The researchers showed a 47% average decrease in Fel d 1 on the cat’s hair in the 105 cats that were part of the study. The cats tolerated the new food well with no weight loss or toxicity. A separate small pilot study used 11 people with cat allergy who were exposed to blankets on which the cats were fed a regular cat food and the special cat food with antibodies to Fel d 1. When these patients were exposed to the blankets from cats given the special diet, there was a significant decrease in overall nasal symptoms and nasal congestion but not eye symptoms. Further studies are needed to see if this treatment can lead to reduced symptoms in cat allergy sufferers. Nevertheless, it’s great to see these new approaches that hopefully will allow people with cat allergy to have a feline friend.

More from U.S. News

9 Most Common Food Allergies

How to Survive Ragweed Allergy Season

8 Surprising Facts About Asthma and Seasonal Allergies

Cat Allergy: New Treatments originally appeared on

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up