Cats are widely blamed for allergic reactions and the source of the problem, in most cases, is a glycoprotein called Fel d 1.
Specific to cats, this protein is found in their saliva, urine, blood, mucus and hair roots and it sticks to almost everything - fur, furniture,
carpets and clothing, etc. The protein's remarkable persistence means that it can trigger asthma or allergies even when the cat is absent. And it seems to get everywhere. One recent US survey revealed that, even though fewer than half of American homes contain a cat, 99.9% of homes contain cat allergen!
Fel d 1 is also one of the most potent allergens on the planet and can impair lung function in asthmatics for up to 22 hours after exposure. Its extra-fine particles penetrate deep into the small airways of the lungs, which are difficult to reach with conventional inhalers. Even a completely hairless cat still produces this problem protein.
In spite of this, cats are one of the most popular pets and one third of those who are allergic to felines ignore medical advice and keep at least one in their home, even if this means living on asthma medications and antihistamines.
Now, however, an enterprising US company believes it has found the perfect, non-drug solution to this problem - the hypoallergenic cat! Some cats are very low allergen producers and one out of every 50,000 cats produces very little or no Fel d 1 protein because of a lack of the gene which makes this.
Allerca, a company in California, tested thousands of cats to identify sufficient allergen-free animals to mount a breeding programme and then simply bred litters of 'hypoallergenic' kittens. No genetic modification was involved - just the exploitation of a natural genetic difference by means of basic breeding practice.
The cats have been tested by a Los Angeles-based allergist (whose study was not funded by Allerca) and found to produce no symptoms in individuals with clinically-diagnosed feline allergies, while these same subjects suffered swollen eyes, asthmatic symptoms, and hives when later exposed to ordinary cats.
There are, however, some very sensitive individuals for whom the Allerca genetically divergent (GD) cat may not be suitable, and about 10% of people with cat allergies react to cat albumin, a protein released in increasing amounts in the cat's urine as it ages.
To prevent a mismatch, Allerca send a test kit to prospective customers to make sure that they will not react to the new breed. However, there is always the possibility that an owner may develop a new allergy to the Allerca variety over time.
Allerca began using short-haired cats, though they say that the current breeding stock is closer to the ‘Ragamuffin’ breed and individual cats are available in several coat colours and patterns. The coat is described as ‘medium long with low maintenance and minimal shedding’.
Shipped at 12 weeks old, the cats are fully mature at three years and said to have a long life expectancy but, even though these felines cost £2,104, there is already a two-year waiting list and Allerca is now selling franchises in an attempt to meet the huge demand.
The company expects to be breeding 10,000 of the GD cats every year by 2009 and is now working on producing different, exotic breeds of cats as well as other hypoallergenic 'lifestyle pets' such as dogs and rabbits.
First published in July 2007
NOTA BENE – December 2009
According to the San Diego Union Tribune, as from the end of the year, Allerca will be taking no more orders for allergen-free cats.
'Allerca has never provided public evidence of a hypoallergenic cat or dog, and it has faced lawsuits and allegations of fraud....
Owner, Simon Brodie, when launcing the business, claimed that scientists, whom he wouldn’t identify, had worked for years to create a cat without the protein Fed d 1, a major allergen among humans. The company, then based in Brodie’s condo in downtown San Diego, quickly garnered international attention. Time magazine named the hypoallergenic cat one of the best inventions of 2006. But Allerca’s invention spurred skepticism as well — and dissatisfied clients. Allerca asserted that its animals had been scientifically tested, citing a company-funded study by Dr. Sheldon Spector, an allergy expert at the University of California Los Angeles and in private practice. The research was never published.“At the time, we wanted to protect our intellectual property. It was a work in progress,” said Brodie, who has no formal training or education in medicine, genetics or molecular biology. “There’s no law that says you have to publish your findings or research.” At the time of the study, Spector cautioned that its methodology was inconclusive. He didn’t respond to recent interview requests.'
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