Scientists may have found a way to combat cat allergies. They’ve discovered an antibody that neutralises an allergy-causing protein called Fel d1. Produced in their saliva glands, cats transfer the Fel d1 protein to their hair when grooming. Humans then become exposed when they come into close contact with kitty. But a new study has found that, after feeding 105 cats the antibody for 10 weeks, the amount of Fel d1 in the cats’ hair fell, on average, by almost 50%. And in another — albeit smaller study — when people allergic to cats came into contact with hair from those felines fed the antibody, they experienced far fewer allergic symptoms than when exposed to hair from cats that were fed a normal diet.
The company behind the research is pet food manufacturer Nestlé Purina. Ebenezer Satyaraj, head of cat allergen research at Purina, says when the antibody to Fel d1 is added to cat food it disables the protein in saliva “before it spreads to the cat’s hair and dander — and before a response occurs in an individual sensitised to cat allergens”. With cat allergies affecting 10–20% of people worldwide and Fel d1 the cause of 95% of reactions, the findings could prove to be life-changing for millions of people.
However, researchers stress that feeding cats an antibody diet will only help people with mild allergies. Those with severe symptoms are still likely to suffer. As well, Fel d1 is a “sticky” protein, meaning traces can still be found throughout the home. So feeding Tiddles the antibody-laced food will not eradicate Fel d1 completely. While Purina has no plans, as yet, to produce products containing the antibody, Satyaraj says further research will be conducted to determine its effectiveness at reducing cat allergens in the home.