Paws for Thought

Caution: Allergic reaction may be caused by licking or by being licked by one of these animals.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Janice Mitchell is a veterinarian with Island Animal Hospital and Little Current Veterinary Services, and a beekeeper too!

Kitty allergy? 

A new hope

by Dr. Janice Mitchell

It’s a new year, and as always, we look to it with hope and an anticipation of positive things to come. There were many ideas I had filtering in my brain from the mention of a veterinary anti-parasitic drug, Ivermectin, as a possible treatment for COVID, to the use and caution of essential oils with our pets.  However, a recent article that came across an informative vet education site caught my eye and thought it might be interesting to share with you. For those of you who have allergies to cats, or know someone who does, this article will be of relevance to you.

It is estimated that worldwide, one in five adults suffer from sensitivities to cats. It is the most common animal origin allergy in humans. As a result, it is a common reason for families to relinquish their beloved feline or to not considering adopting a cat. For those that continue to tolerate snotty noses whilst petting Felix, it often means poor quality sleeps, reduced alertness and fatigue, often as a result of the side effects of antihistamines that one takes to stop incessantly rubbing their eyes and/or nose.

So what is the biological weapon in cats that can cause such a profound reaction? Well, it has to do with a protein in the cat’s saliva. In particular, it is called Fel D1. Up to 95 percent of cat allergic individuals are sensitive to Fel D1. Fel D1 protein is produced in the cat’s salivary glands and is transferred to the fur during grooming. It is produced by all cats regardless of breeds, age, sex, weight and hair. There are no truly hypoallergenic cats (sorry Canadian sphynxes, you lose that claim). The Fel D1 protein easily spreads to the household environment with the shedding fur and dander, and thus becomes airborne in dust. It is very sticky and sticks to clothing and upholstery, and can hang around six to eight months. 

Now I know there are some of you who have found that certain cats you may have owned have caused more of a sniffly reaction than other cats. Researchers have indeed discovered that Fel D1 production can vary widely between cats, and also can vary widely in the same cat throughout the year. However, all cats never stop producing this protein daily. 

In a sensitized individual, the Fel D1 protein binds to the receptors on special immune cells called mast cells, and unlocks the door to these cells to release a plethora of histamines which causes all the lovely allergic symptoms of itch, inflammation and mucus. For those who are severely affected by allergies, current management has consisted of some difficult choices. These include a constant cleaning of the environment and the use of HEPA filters; allergy shots (immunotherapy); bucket loads of antihistamines; blocking the incriminating cat from being in certain rooms; the risky task of bathing the cat; and finally, the saddest decision of all, rehoming the cat. 

The hopelessness of some of these solutions has thus made the recent release of a product by the Purina Institute of Nutritional Science so exciting and promising. For the past 10 years, researchers at Purina’s institute have discovered a way to neutralize the Fel D1 protein through the help of chicken egg antibodies. By feeding a cat a diet that was coated with an egg product containing anti-Fel D1 protein antibodies, the cat’s saliva became neutralized and thus no longer recognizable as an allergen when released into the environment. They also studied the long-term safety effects of feeding the anti-Fel D1 antibody to a large population of cats and discovered that there was no clinical difference between those that were fed the diet and those that weren’t. Remember, this was a 10-year project before publicly releasing this product. They found on average that it would take three weeks for the Fel D1 protein levels to drop after commencing the diet, and discovered that it reduced the Fel D1 protein levels by approximately 50 percent. 

Is this product available in Canada? I was curious myself after watching this video. A quick check on our veterinary purchasing site revealed the affirmative. It is available as a kibbled food called Live Clear, aptly named. I would be most curious indeed to try this product out and hear feedback from those who suffer from allergies. Here’s hoping there is no more “achoo” while your kitties “chew” on the new! Mew!