Unfortunately for 10 percent of allergy sufferers, the only option to avoid sneezing and scratching is to avoid furry felines altogether. A promising new tactic takes a unique approach—could it be the ultimate fix?

By Dan Nosowitz
August 15, 2019

Cats, dogs, and even small, furry companions are fun to have in the family—most of the time. Roughly ten percent of allergy sufferers are allergic to pets, with symptoms ranging from mild sniffles to severe allergic reactions that can require hospitalization. This is, of course, a major medical problem, because cats are great and everyone deserves the chance to pet a nice cat.

Current treatments for allergies to cats do alleviate symptoms, but the relief is often temporary (the main options are antihistamines and small doses of the allergen to build up immunization). But a team from Switzerland is working on a new solution called HypoCat, and it takes a totally different approach.

Some new results from studies involving HypoCat were published in the scientific Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. The most important allergen produced by cats is called “Fel d 1,” which shows up mostly in cat saliva, though it’s also produced by the cat’s skin. It doesn’t seem to serve a vital purpose in modern housecats; some breeds, like the Balinese and Javanese, have naturally low production of this allergen, leading to them being described as “hypoallergenic.” 

So if cats don’t seem to need this allergen, is there a way to simply get them to produce much less of it? That’s what HypoCat is trying to do. Essentially, it’s a shot that contains a very low-level virus that trains the cat’s immune system to attack the Fel d 1 allergen. The researchers, in this new study, injected 50 young cats with the vaccine. Those cats showed no negative effects from their shot, but they did produce far less Fel d 1.

Related: Yes, Your Cat Really Is Ignoring You, According to a New Study

Even better, the scientists exposed saliva from these treated cats to the blood of people with cat allergies and found that the reaction between the two was much lower. That indicates that those with cat allergies would experience much fewer, less severe symptoms from being around treated cats.

It’s important to note that this is a very early study; there will have to be a lot of tests done, short-term and long-term, to ensure that the treatment is safe for both cats and humans, and that it actually does lessen allergy symptoms. But it’s an unusual and promising possibility, a salve to those unfortunate enough not to be able to cuddle a kitten.

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