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Try these tips to help with pet allergies

June 10, 2006

By Jennifer Gardner

Pet allergies are no fun. Even if you already have a pet, you can develop allergies to that animal. Some people feel they can never have indoor pets because of the misery caused by the animals’ dander.

To appeal to those who would love pets but can’t handle the allergens, a San Diego-based company called Allerca has unveiled a hypoallergenic cat.

Rather than mess with the cats’ DNA, and potentially introducing other unknown effects, the researchers at Allerca identified the code in the gene sequence that is responsible for producing proteins that cause our itchy eyes and stuffy noses. By breeding the cats that had gene sequences indicating a low level of protein production, the Allerca cat was created.

“In recent exposure trials, individuals with known feline allergies were fully exposed to the Allerca GD cats without demonstrating any allergic reactions,” reads the company’s press release on the breakthrough. “When these same individuals were subsequently exposed to non-GD cats, they had immediate allergic reactions that included swollen eyes, difficulty in breathing and hives.”

The market for hypoallergenic cats is large: Roughly 30 million Americans have allergies to cat dander. If even a small percentage of those people are willing to invest $3,950 for a hypoallergenic kitten, that’s a lot of money in Allerca’s wallet.

Yep, that’s right — almost $4,000 to own one of these designer genetic cats. Plus, it will take as long as two years to get a kitten right now (longer as more people sign up) and cost another nearly $2,000 to get priority on the list.

“This is a family pet that is ideal for us,” explains Nina Greenberg, a New York resident who was first to sign up for the waiting list.

“There is a cost associated with everything in this world and having a cat that will not make us allergic is certainly a worthwhile investment.”

Greenberg says that everyone in her family, including her two children, have allergies. But it’s not just allergy sufferers who are interested in the cats - others who have friends or family with problems are interested in having a pet that won’t keep people from visiting them.

“[It’s] surprising ... the numbers of non-cat allergic individuals who have expressed an interest in owning an Allerca GD kitten,” says Allerca CEO Megan Young. “We all know someone who suffers from cat allergies, and the benefits of owning an Allerca GD cat apply to everyone.”

For those of us who don’t have $4,000 to spend on a pet, how can allergy problems be avoided? If your irritations are minor, try these ideas:

• Bathe your pet regularly — at least every week. This goes for cats as well as dogs — cats can learn to cope with a regular bathtime. Use a soap-free shampoo that is less harsh and switch shampoos from time to time so that the skin doesn’t dry out. According to the Humane Society of the United States, this can eliminate as much as 84 percent of the allergens on your pet’s coat. Products that can be sprayed on your pet’s coat are OK for occasional use, but don’t work as well as actual baths.

• Use HEPA air filters throughout the house. These filters can be expensive but will keep the air cleaner and reduce all allergens, not just pet dander. (Many individuals who are allergic to pets also suffer from pollen, dust and other allergies.)

• Reduce the amount of dander collecting items in your home. Switch from cloth curtains to vinyl mini blinds. If you’re really serious about getting rid of allergens, remove the carpeting from your house and install wood or laminate flooring.

• Wash pet-related items in hot water regularly. You should always use blankets and beds where your pet sits, and those should be laundered at least once a week. Look for pet beds that are all one piece (no cover over a foam base, for example) and can be washed. You should also wash furniture covers, pillows, window treatments and your own bedding often.

• Keep pets out of the bedroom. You should have a “no pets” zone in your home that includes the area where you sleep. Allergen-reducing mattress and pillow covers are a good investment. Do everything possible to give your body a rest from the allergens in at least this one room.

To be positive that it’s the pet causing allergy problems, get tested by an allergy specialist. Some people are delighted to find that they are allergic to pollen or materials that get on their pet’s coat or are tracked in. You can solve these kinds of issues more easily, or even make your pet a primarily indoor animal.

Jennifer Gardner is a free-lance writer and editor and a board member at Heartland Humane Society in Corvallis. She enjoys writing about all animals but specializes in rabbits and other small pets. If you have questions or comments about this column or other pet issues, please e-mail Jennifer at jennifer@visualpeople.com or write c/o The Gazette-Times.


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