Tag: cat allergies

Keep The Cat, Ditch The Boyfriend

If subreddits, advice columns and social media are any indication, a disturbing number of people ask or demand their would-be significant others to ditch their cats before their relationships can progress.

But even by the standards of the demanding, heartless boyfriends and girlfriends who insist the cat has to go in a relationship, this one’s a doozy. A woman writes to the Washington Post’s Carolyn Hax for advice on what to do with her boyfriend, who has some very strange ideas about cats:

Hi Carolyn: I’ve had my cat since college (almost 10 years). I’ve been dating my boyfriend for two years, I love him more than I’ve ever loved anyone, and we’d like to move in together.

My boyfriend hates cats. Hates them. He isn’t allergic (though he used to say he was, until I insisted on a test). He does have a strong aversion to them, probably from his family, who have some kind of belief that they’re evil or unclean. I’ve sought to understand it but could never get a coherent explanation out of any of them.

He jumps when the cat is in the room. And my cat is extremely affectionate, so doesn’t understand why he can’t come sit with us and be friends.

My boyfriend is offended I won’t give up the cat so he can move in. I’ve suggested compromises such as keeping the cat to just one part of the apartment, but he insists he needs the cat out.

I feel the cat was here first so this is an unreasonable ask. My boyfriend feels if I really love him then nothing should take precedence over his moving in, and he now says my hesitance is causing him to question the foundation of the entire relationship.

I cannot imagine rehoming my cat. I also can’t imagine ending my relationship. Am I being unreasonable or is he?

Hax goes beyond the usual “demanding significant others are major red flags” advice and points out that the boyfriend isn’t just placing his own emotional wellbeing above the letter-writer’s, he’s also trying to prune her life of things he doesn’t like or want as a precondition for moving forward in a relationship.

The cat, she points out, “is a hairy decoy, distracting you from the serious mistake you’re poised to make: thinking about your relationship in terms of what you owe the other person. All you owe anyone is to be yourself. … It’s on him to ask his own questions about living with that real you. It’s on him to assume the work of living with his own answers.”

That’s good advice for anyone who finds themselves in that sort of situation, but I do think the red flag aspect reinforces Hax’s good counsel. If the guy lied about being allergic to get his girlfriend to ditch her cat, he’s more manipulative than she may be willing to admit and he’s calculating about it, trying to disguise something he wants as a medical necessity.

But he goes even further than that with the “if you really love me, you’ll do this” emotional ploy, and by claiming his girlfriend’s loyalty to her cat is causing him to “question the foundation of the entire relationship.”

The foundation’s rotten, pal. You’re the reason.

Of course, all the human drama obscures the third individual involved in this mess: the cat. The letter writer has had the little guy for 10 years, which means they’ve long since bonded, he loves her, and he literally can’t imagine living in another place with another person.

Surrendering him to a shelter would be incredibly cruel. It would be a life-shattering betrayal of trust and cause incredible anguish to the poor cat in addition to putting him in real danger of being euthanized. And all for a jerk who fakes an allergy to get his girlfriend to dump the kitty she’s loved for a decade? Hell no.

I hope she finds a guy who loves cats. He’ll most definitely make a better boyfriend than this weirdo.

Why Creating ‘Hypoallergenic Cats’ With Gene Editing Is A Bad Idea

On paper, the promise of “hypoallergenic cats” sounds great.

For the first time, people who love cats but are allergic to the furry little guys would be able to open up their homes to them. More cat lovers and more homes for cats is always a good thing, right?

Maybe not in this case.

The quest to create cats who do not trigger allergies depends on CRISPR gene editing, a method that allows scientists to edit, delete and replace sections of the genome. In this case, Virginia-based biotech company InBio wants to edit the genome of domestic felines to block Fel d 1 (Felis domesticus allergen I), a protein produced in cat saliva and in tiny subdermal exocrine glands, which secrete the protein via the same ducts that allow a cat’s fur to grow out from its skin.

Since cats are fastidious neat freaks and groom themselves constantly, the Fel d 1-carrying saliva is applied to their coats several times a day. When it dries, it contaminates a cat’s living space by flaking off the fur as dander or by shedding.

That’s why people who are allergic to cats can suffer symptoms like sneezing, itching and watery eyes not only from petting them, but also from spending time in homes where cats live.

What does Fel d 1 do, and why do cats need it?

The problem is that no one knows why cats produce Fel d 1 and what purpose it serves. Other proteins, like Fel d 4 found in pheromones and Fel d 2, help cats communicate by scent and prevent certain fluids from leaving the bloodstream, respectively.

Take a look at this quote from Nicole Brackett, a geneticist at InBio: (The emphasis on certain words is ours)

“The gene sequences don’t appear to be that well conserved over the course of evolution, which suggest things about whether or not the gene is essential,” Brackett told BioSpace, a life sciences publication. “An essential gene, one that would be required for survival or viability, generally doesn’t change much over evolution, and we’re seeing change between the exotic and domestic cat that suggests that maybe those sequences are not conserved, and maybe the protein is not essential.”

While we understand scientists have to be circumspect, especially regarding research that breaks new ground, that’s a lot of hedging and a lot of uncertainty. (It’s also not clear if Brackett is comparing domestic feline Fel d 1 levels to wild cats — felis sylvestris and lybica — wild felids in general, or hybrids like Bengals and Savannah cats, which are more commonly called exotics.)

cute cat lying on pillow
Credit: cottonbro/Pexels

The team members developing the allergen gene edit assume Fel d 1 doesn’t have a critical function because individual domestic cats and other species of felids may produce different quantities of the protein.

But that’s a huge assumption, and it’s also presumptuous to assume we humans would know whether the gene edits have a major impact on felines. After all, we still don’t always know when cats are in pain or the reasons for many of their behaviors, and we don’t know what sort of cascade effect can be triggered by shutting down the production of a protein.

The race to make cats hypoallergenic

Companies see a huge opportunity for profit in the cat allergy alleviation market. Last year, Purina announced to much fanfare the availability of a new kind of cat food the company claimed would drastically reduce allergens after about three weeks of putting kitties on the new grub.

The claims haven’t been independently verified, and most press coverage is either credulous or consists of marketing masquerading as news coverage, like this advertisement from Purina that is presented like a news story in USA Today.

Back when a company called HypoCat announced it had conducted successful trials of a “vaccine” that would “neutralize’ Fel d 1, we spoke with immunologist Kamal Tirumalai, who pointed out that humans making such profound changes to companion animals for the sake of human convenience “passes neither the scientific nor the moral smell test.”

Like others, Tirumalai said she worried about unintended consequences.

“A vaccine given to cats to reduce their allergenicity for humans burdens them unnecessarily when human allergy to cats is primarily a human problem and should have a human solution in the form of reducing people’s cat allergies,” Tirumalai told PITB at the time. “Cats are perfect as they are. Why should they be the ones forced to change in order to be accommodated by a human whose immune system happens to have a problem with one of their proteins? This solution just doesn’t pass the moral smell test.”

HypoCat uses an injection to “induce anti-Fel d 1 antibodies in the cat,” while the CRISPR technique would snip the relevant DNA out entirely.

Buddy
“Come now, let us not be absurd. Do you really think a designer kitten could be as handsome as I am?” Credit: Big Buddy

So far, Brackett and her colleagues have deleted one of two cat cells that produce Fel d 1 in samples in a petri dish, and have not made any changes to live animals. The experiments yielded a “55 percent knockout rate” for the Fel d 1 allergen, Brackett said, “which we were really happy with.”

Designer kittens: Gattaca for cats

If subsequent attempts are successful and the company sees commercial promise in editing feline genes, the process could be used to create “designer kittens” or to alter the genomes of existing cats. Brackett told Smithsonian magazine that the goal is to accomplish the latter.

But if it turns out the edits don’t work for existing cats, or the designer kitten trend becomes a thing, there’s another major moral concern similar to the objections to cat cloning. If people buy designer kittens, they’re not opening their homes to the millions of cats who need them.

Manipulating feline DNA isn’t a novel idea. A decade ago, a research team spliced genes from jellyfish using a different method to create cats who glow in UV light as part of a study into feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).

Ultimately it comes down to what we’re willing to do for the sake of our own convenience. At a time when declawing has finally been outlawed in two states and dozens of cities, and people are more conscientious than ever with regard to their pets, do we want to risk their health so we don’t have to pop a few Benadryl?

Happy Thanksturkey from Buddy the Cat!

Dear Readers,

Today is a most wonderful day! Sadly I am NOT invited to my family’s Thanksgiving festivities, since there are dogs there, and Big Buddy’s relatives are worried that I would intimidate those canine snowflakes with my sleek feline musculature and imposing presence. Also, one of them claims to be “allergic” to me, which I find curious. What is this person “allergic” to, charm, wit and handsomeness?

Despite my unfair exile during the day, I try to look on the bright side, because I know Big Buddy will come home with thick slices of delicious home-cooked turkey, just for me! Then he cuts it into little Buddy-size pieces! Then I eat it!

Big Buddy, as you may know, stopped eating meat in 2015 not long after adopting me, because he saw how I wear my emotions on my paw and realized I’m, like, super duper smart. So he stopped eating animals, even though sometimes he threatens to sell me to Szechuan Garden for $15 when I don’t let him sleep. So there’s never any meat in the house besides my food. But on Thanksturkey Day I get more turkey than at any other time of year, and it’s glorious, fresh turkey! Mmmmmm mmmmm!

I love turkey. Have I told you guys that before?

roasted turkey on wooden tray
Credit: Monstera/Pexels

Anyway, I hope all of you enjoy your Turkey Days with your own families, and I hope you aren’t cruel like Big Buddy’s extended family and exclude your cats from the festivities in favor of dogs. Although to be honest it’s not that bad, because I get to nap all day and dream of turkey, and then I wake up to turkey.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Your friend,

Buddy the Cat

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Do You Let Your Cat Sleep In Your Bed?

Here’s a question for cat servants: Do you “allow” your feline overlord to sleep in your bed?

I was surprised to learn there’s some controversy about this subject, because truthfully I didn’t think we have an option as dedicated cat servants.

The question becomes a little more difficult if your cat wanders outside all day. Outdoor cats can introduce fleas, ticks and dirt to your home and bed. (The Budster is an indoor-only cat, and on PITB we advocate indoor living for the simple reason that domesticated kitties live, on average, a whopping 13 years longer as indoor pets.)

When I adopted Buddy I had a sort of vague plan to restrict him to his own bed and the floor, but I was disabused of that notion in less than an hour after the little dude came striding out of his carrier and began laying claim to everything in his sight like a tiny, furry Genghis Khan.

Buddy didn’t want to use his fluffy new cat bed. He invited himself onto my bed and that was that.

Buddy on a table
“I set the rules here, servant!”

One of the first few nights after I brought him home, I awoke to find him contentedly snoozing with all four paws wrapped around my right arm, holding it tight like a stuffed bear or a security blanket. In the five years since, he’s established a consistent habit: Either he sleeps on top of me or burrowed in next to me.

“Let me in!”

Of course there have been times when I’ve crashed without checking to make sure he’s in the bedroom, or simply didn’t realize he was somewhere else. When that happens, I will be dragged out of bed again by his persistent, insistent, high-decibel meowing and door-scratching. Little dude is not subtle when it comes to letting me know he needs to be let in.

I’ve read about new cat servants who take a new kitten or cat home and lock the little one out of the bedroom at night. That’s not cool, especially with kittens. They’re babies! They need comfort. You’re their replacement for their mom and litter mates. (Just be careful about rolling over.)

If you shoo your kitty off the bed or lock her out of the room at night, you’re not only creating stress for your new family member, you’re missing out on a way to bond.

And if you don’t want your cat directly on your bed, say for allergy reasons, you can find a happy medium: Elevate the cat bed on a table or chair so your cat can snooze next or near to you without sleeping directly on your sheets.

If you’re having a difficult time motivating your feline friend, buy one of those nifty heating pads and watch as your furred one is drawn to it like a heat-seeking missile.

What’s the situation in your house? Do you allow your cats to sleep on your bed?

Buddy Being Handsome
“Being the benevolent overlord that I am, I allow my human to sleep on the bed, and to enjoy the great honor of being my mattress.”

That Cat Allergy Vaccine Isn’t Such A Good Idea After All

Last month when news headlines trumpeted the successful testing of a cat allergy vaccine, we spun it as a victory for all cats: Finally, allergies would no longer be an excuse for humans to avoid cats, and kitties could conquer the remaining holdouts, those homes that still aren’t occupied by America’s favorite pet.

Cats will be everywhere! Huzzah!

We were wrong.

Reader Kamala Tirumalai is not only an animal lover, caretaker of a feisty guinea pig and all-around awesome person, she’s also an immunologist with a PhD in microbiology. In other words, this is her area of expertise.

So we asked Dr. Kamala about the vaccine — which would be administered to cats, not people — and she was kind enough to give it some thought and explain why she doesn’t think it’s a good idea.

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How HypoCat works

First, a refresher: HypoCat, a European company, created what it calls a “virus-like particle vaccine” “to induce neutralizing antibodies against Fel d 1, the major feline allergen in human subjects.” The vaccine was intended to “bind and neutralize the Fel d 1 allergen.”

In layman’s terms, the vaccine is designed to shut off the protein that triggers allergic reactions and symptoms like itchy skin, watery eyes and sneezing in humans. Contrary to what many people believe, the offending protein doesn’t come from cat hair, it’s produced in cat saliva and dander. But because cats are fastidious groomers, the allergen is passed from saliva to fur.

Vaccine administered to cats, not humans

HypoCat stops the protein, but there’s a catch: The vaccine is administered to cats, not humans, which means instead of inoculating people from the protein’s effects, it’s changing the way Fel d 1 operates in a cat’s system.

The problem, as Kamala points out, is that “Fel d 1’s function is still unknown.”

“Yet the fact that so many cat glands secrete it all the time implies it must have some function in and for cats,” she explained. “What if that’s a function important for their health? What’ll happen then to cats vaccinated against Fel d 1? That’s currently an unknown.”

By “neutralizing” Fel d 1 — in other words, making it non-functional — HypoCat could trigger an autoimmune response in cats not unlike human autoimmune diseases in which the body’s defensive systems turn on itself.

Tinkering with an unknown

In a paper published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, the Swiss-based company’s researchers acknowledge the unknowns surrounding Fel d 1’s function, noting while “some function in pheromone binding and pelt conditioning has been suggested, the biological function of Fel d 1 remains uncertain.”

More than 50 cats from labs in New York and Ireland were used in the study. The study’s authors say they split the subjects into different groups to analyze immunogenicity (whether the vaccine produced an immune response) and tolerability, but there is no long-term data on how HypoCat might affect house cats.

Then there’s the moral and ethical aspect. HypoCat makes a potentially dangerous alteration to cats for the convenience of humans.

 

Feline humor, news and stories about the ongoing adventures of Buddy the Cat.