Yes, domestic cats can cause asthma in people. It seems that asthma is often caused by an allergic reaction to cats and about 10% of people are allergic to cats and studies suggest up to 40% of children with asthma develop symptoms when exposed to cats. So, my reading of this is that allergic reactions and asthma overlap and can be part and parcel of the same health issue.

The allergic reaction is caused by the allergen in a domestic cat’s saliva called Fel d1. A lot has been written about it. Clearly, some families do not keep a cat because their child has asthma but apparently 25% of families choose to keep their cat. Families can do lots of things to minimise an allergic reaction to a cat.

An allergy to cats brings on symptoms which are pretty generic and therefore it can be tricky to know what caused them. Illustration: PoC.

Relevant study on peanut allergy

I don’t want to rehearse all the usual cat allergen stories but make a point about densensitising kids to allergens. There is an interesting story on a slightly different but linked subject in the Saturday’s edition of The Times newspaper. It concerns children with a nut allergy; a potentially very dangerous health issue of great concern to their parents.

A study has been conducted which was published in Lancet Child and Adolescent Health. The study entailed the gradual desensitisation of children to a peanut allergen over a period of 2.5 years. They found that 58% of participants given peanut protein could tolerate at least 3 to 4 peanuts compared with 2% of those given a placebo. In other words, these kids were desensitised by gradually giving them peanuts in very small stages.

This begs another question which is that rates of peanut allergies have soared in recent decades. Apparently our grandparents are mystified by the phenomenon of kids being allergic to peanuts. We read about it on the media often. It is suggested that the reason why, in the modern era, kids are allergic to peanuts is because they’ve not been exposed to peanuts as babies.

People with severe allergies either to peanuts or any other allergen identify the protein allergen as an invader and the immune system overreacts resulting in it attacking the body itself. This causes the symptoms of the allergy, such as in the case of an allergy to cats which are a runny nose, itchy eyes et cetera. In the case of a peanut allergy the reaction can be so severe it can kill the child.

Some studies have found that if the baby sleeps with a cat it can help desensitise the baby to the feline allergen. It’s about exposure to the allergen at a young age, as I understand it.

In respect of an allergy to the peanut protein, if the child’s mother does not eat peanuts in pregnancy and avoids peanuts as a first weaning food it increases the chances of their child’s first encounter with peanuts being via the skin rather than the gut. A child’s gut is primed to tolerate new proteins but the skin is not. Therefore under the circumstances described the child may develop an allergy to peanuts which may treaten their life.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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