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Cat Allergy More Likely If Kitty Is In Bedroom

Cat allergy

Do you love cats but are afraid you might develop a cat allergy? If adding a cat to your family is on your wish list, you might want to keep kitty out of your bedroom, according to a team of European researchers.

Here kitty, kitty

Cat ownership (or being a pet/cat parent) beats dog ownership in the United States. According to the American Pet Products Association 2011-2012 National Pet Owners Survey, there are approximately 86.4 million owned cats in the United States, compared with 78.2 million owned dogs.

Although a higher percentage of households have a dog rather than a cat (39% vs 33%), cat owners tend to have more than one cat (2.2 average) while dog owners lean toward having one (1.69 average), which explains the apparent discrepancy in the statistics.

In a new study conducted at the University of Verona in Verona, Italy, researchers evaluated data concerning cat-specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) measurements taken from participants of the European Community Respiratory Health Survey (ECRHS) from 1991 through 1993. The Survey was for asthma.

Immunoglobulin E is one of five subclasses of antibodies, which are proteins that attack antigens such as allergens. IgE antibodies are found in the lungs and are associated primarily with allergic reactions to environmental antigens such as pet dander and pollen.

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In the follow-up ECRHS II study (1999-2002), researchers measured cat-specific IgE in 6,292 participants and followed them for an average of 8.6 years for the purpose of determining the risk of new sensitization to cats related to changes in cat ownership.

Of the 6,292 volunteers, 4,468 did not have a cat before or after the study period, 473 had a cat only at the beginning of the study, 651 made a cat part of their household during the follow-up, and 700 had a cat both before and after the study period.

Overall findings of the study

The overall findings were

  • The cat was allowed in the bedroom by 94.3% of the participants who had a cat both before and after the surveys and by 92.5% of people who acquired a cat during the follow-up
  • Two-thirds of people who got rid of their cat between surveys had allowed the cat to be in the bedroom
  • A total of 231 people (3.7%) developed a sensitivity to cat dander during the follow-up period
  • Individuals who acquired a cat during the follow-up period had nearly twice the risk of developing cat allergy compared with those without a cat at both surveys
  • Presence of a pre-existing allergy to other substances increased the risk of developing a cat allergy
  • A history of nasal allergies, asthma, and eczema increased the risk of developing a cat allergy
  • Having had a cat during childhood helped protect adults from developing a cat allergy

Perhaps the most surprising finding was that none of the adults who acquired a cat but did not allow the cat in the bedroom became sensitive to cat dander during the follow-up period. However, 61 of the 1,262 (4.8%) people who let their kitty into the bedroom did become sensitive to cat dander.

Although the authors warn that their study only evaluated people at two points in time and therefore their findings regarding having a cat and developing sensitization or cat allergy are not conclusive, the results do suggest that welcoming a cat into your homewhen you are an adult may not pose an allergy problem, especially if kitty is not allowed in the bedroom.

American Pet Products Association
Olivieri M et al. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 2011; doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2011.10.044

Picture credit: Author