NPR logo

A High-Tech Alternative for Cat Lovers with Allergies

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
A High-Tech Alternative for Cat Lovers with Allergies

Your Health

A High-Tech Alternative for Cat Lovers with Allergies

A High-Tech Alternative for Cat Lovers with Allergies

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

If you love cats but are allergic to them, there is a scientific solution. A biotech firm has bred a cat that does not produce the dust that causes allergy. The downside: they cost $4,000. Madeleine Brand talks about the new breed with Yale Medical School professor and Slate medical columnist Dr. Sydney Spiesel.


A biotech company has come up with a solution for people who suffer from cat allergies but still want a cat: bioengineered cats. The U.S. company Allerca has bred a cat that does not produce the stuff that makes people sneeze and tear up. Dr. Sydney Spiesel of the Yale Medical School is our expert on all things medical, and he writes for the online magazine Slate. And welcome back to the program, Syd.

Dr. SYDNEY SPIESEL (Yale Medical School): Thanks. Nice to be here.

BRAND: Well, you know, I've always heard it's not the fur but the dander in the cats that makes people sneeze. Is that true?

Dr. SPIESEL: Well, it's not the fur, that's true, but it's also generally not the dander. It's something else, which is just slightly disgusting, and that's cat spit.


Dr. SPIESEL: Almost all cats have a protein in their saliva called Fel d 1. And you know how cats are always licking themselves?

BRAND: Uh-huh.

Dr. SPIESEL: Well, they lick themselves, and this saliva dries on their fur and it turns into dust, very fine particles of dust. And it's inhaling those particles of cat spit, of dried cat spit, that cause the allergies.

BRAND: So since we can't train cats to be less fastidious, we have to actually create a new kind of cat. So tell us about this cat.

Dr. SPIESEL: This company knew that there was a huge market. There are people who, you know, adore cats but can't tolerate the allergies. So they sampled cats, looking for the very few cats that don't produce this material, Fel d 1, this protein. It turns out that it's about one in 50,000 of them, and they bred them so that they wound up with a collection of cats that just, for genetic reasons, they lack the ability to produce Fel d 1 and therefore are not allergenic.

BRAND: How much is such a cat?

Dr. SPIESEL: Well, it's a little on the steep side. It's $3,950 a cat.

BRAND: That's a lot for - for a cat.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. SPIESEL: I think so too.

BRAND: Well, what if you don't have the cash or you don't want to spend that kind of money on a cat, and you - but you really want a cat, and you're allergic? What would you suggest?

Dr. SPIESEL: There are a number of suggestions that are in the medical literature. One of the suggestions, for example, is to wash the cat regularly. Now that...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. SPIESEL: I don't know...

BRAND: That's a dangerous proposition.

Dr. SPIESEL: I've had cats, and I find it hard to imagine washing a cat. In fact, there was a very elaborate paper in the medical literature describing methods of washing cats.

BRAND: Have someone else do it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. SPIESEL: Have somebody else do it. It should be done about weekly. It should be done just by dumping water, just plain water without detergent or soap, on the cat.

BRAND: What else can you do if you're not really into washing your cat?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. SPIESEL: Well, even if you are, there are re-circulating HEPA filters that strain these particles out of the air, and that's another solution that helps keep the stuff down.

BRAND: And you're a pediatrician. When it comes to children, I have heard that it's good to expose them when they're very young to cats so they'll develop an immunity to the allergens. Is that true?

Dr. SPIESEL: At least in one study. If you have children who come from a family that have a low level of allergy, where the mother, for example, is not really allergic to things, then those kids who are exposed to cats are less likely to be allergic later on. If, however, you have a family where there's a high level of allergy and you expose them, those kids are likely to have more allergies, except kids who have very high levels of exposure are sometimes protected. Kids with very low levels of exposure are sometimes protected. Kids in the middle may have a higher rate of allergy.

BRAND: Opinion from Dr. Sydney Spiesel. Syd's a practicing pediatrician in Connecticut and a contributor to Thank you, Syd.

Dr. SPIESEL: Thank you.

BRAND: And if you have a medical question for Dr. Sydney Spiesel, write to us at our Web site, Click on the contact us link at the top of the page. Select DAY TO DAY and put, Syd, that's S-Y-D, in the subject line.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Related NPR Stories