Is cat dander bad for babies? My answer based on careful research is that it is probably or possibly good for babies. However, we are currently (2022) unsure. Please read on. It is helpful to ask: “What is cat dander?” Cat dander describes very small particles about five microns (µm) in diameter. It becomes airborne very easily because of its tiny size. For comparison, the human hair is 75 µm across and a red blood cell is 5 µm across.
Brief description of cat dander
Cat dander is a mixture of dried saliva, dried sebaceous oils, bits of hair and bits of skin. It’s on the cat because the allergen that causes an allergic reaction in people, Fel D1, as in the oils produced by the sebaceous glands and the saliva produced in the mouth and deposited on the cat when they self-groom. Incidentally, Fel D1 is the main cat allergen. There are others. It is a glycoprotein of about 35–38 kDa (a unit of mass). For the technically minded glycoproteins are “are proteins which contain oligosaccharide chains covalently attached to amino acid side-chains”. It is believed to protect the cat’s skin.
Dander flies off around the home when it is dried and when the cat grooms himself again. Or the cat dander will be released from the cat when the cat moves around the home. Remarkably cat dander is in 99.8% of American homes. It is found in dust on sofas, carpets and beds in homes with cats and also in homes without a cat or cats. Cat dander is also found in classrooms, in offices, and shopping centres and in cars.
It is ubiquitous in America (I’m referring to a study conducted in America) and is probably very commonplace in other countries where the domestic cat is popular. Dander is carried from homes where there are cat to other places on people who travel from place to place.
Because it is such a fine particle, it is inhaled by people living in the home including babies. There is a difference of opinion or there was a difference of opinion about whether cat dander is bad for babies and other people.
Good or bad for babies?
My reference study tells me that when a baby or child is heavily exposed to cat dander, they have a lower risk of developing a cat allergy. Another opinion is that the presence of a cat in childhood is a risk factor for sensitisation and for the development of asthma. This is the opposite opinion.
A large scientific study found that if a child within the first year of his or her life is in contact with a cat it “could be protective against allergic diseases”.
Other studies have supported this conclusion. More recent studies found that cat ownership during pregnancy was linked with a reduced risk of being sensitive to allergens in the air. Children were protected from wheezing and atopic asthma at the age of seven. “Atopic” means sensitivity to allergens.
However, one study found that there was no increase or decrease in sensitivity to allergens in children between the ages of 6-10 years due to the presence of a cat in the home.
And in a French study they found that when a cat entered a baby’s room in early life the baby became sensitised to allergens in the air. That means they became more sensitive. On this study therefore exposure to Fel D1 in cat dander is detrimental to babies.
The study that I am reading suggest that this variation and the contradictory conclusions might be due to the microbiota of the gut because of different diets. I am going to interpret that to mean that the mother’s diet and her gut microbiota is passed on to her baby and that this has an impact upon how they respond to the presence of cat dander in the air.
The conclusion that I have gleaned from my research is that we currently don’t know for sure whether cat dander is bad or good for babies. The research, on my assessment, leans towards the latter namely that cat dander helps to protect babies from allergic responses in their future life.
Some more on Fel D1
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