Cat lovers who are allergic to cats wait patiently for a true hypoallergenic cat

I had hoped to write that the wait might be over for cat lovers who seek a truly hypoallergenic cat. But not so, I am afraid. But this Utopian world is on the horizon. It will happen because there is lots of money to be made ๐Ÿ˜Ž. Cat lovers who are allergic to cats may have noticed that there’s been a flurry of work on making cats hypoallergenic. Around 10% of the population is allergic to a protein in cat saliva called Fel D1. The symptoms of the allergy can prevent cat lovers adopting a cat. Although, that said, there are a significant number of cat owners who are allergic to cats. They find a way around the problem but it can’t be easy.

Purina Live Clear
Purina Live Clear. Image: Purina’s video on LIVE CLEAR.

The word “hypoallergenic” does not mean that a cat is completely free of the allergen that causes an immune reaction in some people. It means that there is less of a reaction. There are two projects to achieve the hypoallergenic cat, one of which is complete and on the shelves at the moment and the other which is still work in progress.

RELATED: Cat Allergen Fel D1

Food which suppresses the Fel D1 protein

The former project resulted in Purina’s PRO PLAN LIVE CLEAR, a cat food which is claimed to reduce the allergens in cat hair and dander by an average of 47% in the third week of feeding. The video below explains how it works. As I recall the food results in the Fel D1 being coated which prevents it taking effect and causing an allergic reaction.

Gene-editing

A more dramatic and long-awaited goal is to create a domestic cat which does not produce this irritating protein in their saliva. There have been previous attempts at this. You may remember Allerca cats (2004). They were claimed to be hypoallergenic. The project fizzled out and failed. But times have moved on and science today is more sophisticated.

Scientists can actually edit out the Fel D1 gene which creates this protein causing an allergic reaction. In other words, it is believed that it is currently possible to create cats which are truly hypoallergenic because they will not create the allergen.

In fact, on February 1, 2020, a scientific paper was published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology which reported that the gene editing process called CRISPR-Cas9 successfully deleted from cats Fel D1 cells. The conclusion was that the process “is a viable tool for deleting the major cat allergen, Fel D1, from cat cells”. And they believed that the results of the test suggested that CRISPR “will serve as a viable approach for gene editing Fel D1 in cats”. They believed that it may “enable cat allergic patients to have cats while alleviating allergic symptoms”.

RELATED: Some individual cats are hypoallergenic for Fel d1

An important finding is that in knocking out these cells the cat is unharmed. There must have been a question mark on the outcome as to whether cats would be harmed. However, because there is a large variation in the Fel D1 gene they decided that the gene may not be that important to cats. This in turn means that when they remove the gene there will be no detrimental effect upon a genetically modified cat.

The goal is to create a gene-editing drug which a veterinarian can inject into a cat to delete the Fel D1-producing gene. This is the Holy Grail of hypoallergenic cats. Unfortunately, I think it will be a few years before we arrive at that Utopian place.

Biological function of this allergen

An interesting aspect of this research is that the scientists don’t know why cats have this allergen in their saliva. What benefit is it to cats? Scientists and cat owners know that domestic cats make the allergen in great quantities and spread it over their fur when they groom themselves. But we don’t know how spreading the allergen over their fur benefits them. What does it do for cats?

How did this gene evolve? Is it some kind of defensive measure? It appears not. It is not clear from my research whether the wild cat species also create this allergen. It’s important to know. Can it be argued that only domestic cats produce the Fel D1 allergen? And if so, is it some kind of deliberate barrier between the domestic cat and humans?

It appears that the gene that creates this allergen is different in lions and other big cats. We don’t know much more so one wonders whether this is a domestic cat evolutionary process and if so, why should the domestic cat produce an allergen which is detrimental to millions of people and the human-to-cat relationship?

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European settlers: the world’s greatest invasive species (not feral cats)?

The feral cat is regarded by a section of humankind as a particularly destructive invasive species on the continents of North America and Australia. These are the two places where the war on feral cats predominantly takes place.

No animal is more vilified than the feral cat on these continents. Australia’s administrators are completely myopic, however. They conveniently forget that they are descended from European settlers who are the world’s greatest invasive species. It is they who brought to Australia cats, rabbits and foxes. The three animals that are probably the most destructive of native species in Australia. Rabbits head the list apparently. Foxes were introduced into Australia for sporting purposes in 1855 with most releases being around Melbourne.

Bio-engineering
Bio-engineering. The idea now is to control feral cats by altering their genes to make offspring sterile. Image: Pixabay.

The domestic cat was brought to Australia with the early European settlers. They were allowed to roam freely and were abandoned; the feral cat evolved and now there are an estimated 2.1-6.3 million on the continent. The descendants of the people who created the head-banging ‘feral cat problem’ in Australia now scratch their heads, and have done so for a very long time, trying to figure out a way to eradicate them. Yes, they want to completely kill them off in any way possible. The latest ruse is to bio-engineer them so that they die out.

RELATED: Attitude of Australian state governments towards feral cats indirectly promotes cat cruelty as evidenced in Perth

They’ve suggested various methods of genetic biocontrol. The ones available are: sterile-release, YY Males, Trojan Female Technique, and gene drive. The ‘Trojan female technique’ is one where females pass on genes that make male offspring infertile. Ultimately it will lead to the extinction of feral cats. How long will it take? Could it be done? Would it be effective? Would it affect free-roaming domestic cats?

It’s never been tried on such a large number of animals as far as I know. And Australia is only slightly smaller than America. They are looking at a huge area. And Australians don’t know how many feral cats there are and therefore they estimate their impact on native species. They refer to statistics as if they are hard fact but they are estimates. They might be wrong.

Another suggested method to control Australia’s invasive species (other than people) is to introduce genes that make a pest more susceptible to disease. That sounds dangerous to me. I would think that a lot of people consider meddling with genetics – people playing God – as having unforeseen consequences which would be detrimental to nature and to humans themselves at the end of the day.

Humans referring to feral cats, rabbits and foxes as invasive species pests, is the pot calling the kettle black. The most invasive species in Australia are the Australians themselves who I’m told slaughter over 4.9 billion animals annually for food including millions of kangaroos and sea turtles. The shoot kangaroos at night in the hundreds of thousands. It is kangaroo Armageddon. They chuck poisoned sausages laced with 1080, a poison that is widely regarded as causing an extremely painful death from helicopters to kill cats (and other animals?). Aussies have become barbaric in their zealous mission to kill ‘invasive species’.

And Australia’s biggest invasive species, the human, digs up coal in the billions of tons and sells it to China (when they can) thereby fuelling climate change because China refuses to phase out their coal-fired power stations and thereby are the world’s biggest contributors to global warming other than America. It’s interesting that: the two worst countries in terms of emitting carbon dioxide causing global warming are China and America. The two countries where they consistently moan about feral cats. Passing the buck, I call that. Pulling the wool over their own eyes. Climate change is the world’s biggest threat to all life on the planet and it is killing native species. Remember the devastating forest fires of Australia which killed billions of native species?

It’s worth reminding ourselves of just two examples of how European settlers impacted nature in America. They almost caused the extinction of the Buffalo due to negligent hunting practices. They also caused the total extinction of the passenger pigeon as they were perceived as a threat to agriculture and as Europeans migrated across North America they thinned out and eliminated the large forests that the pigeon depended upon. They completely extinguished them from the planet by 1914! The disease of humankind spreading across North America. European settlers; the world’s greatest invasive species.

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A non-hunting hypoallergenic domestic cat

The domestic cat is a brilliant companion animal for millions. However, the relationship is imperfect. There are two aspects of domestic cats which return in discussion forums like bad pennies over and over again: allergies to cats and bringing in dead or alive mice and birds.

DNA
Photo: Pixabay.

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About ten percent of humans are allergic to cats. The entrepreneurs have been looking at ways to create an hypoallergenic domestic cat for ages. Someone got quite a long way into this project with Allerca cats. Remember them? The top model was a F1 Savannah cat (labelled the Ashera GD) because the theory is that F1 Savannahs are more likely to be hypoallergenic.

About 100 percent of the cat owning public don’t like it when their cat brings in dying mice and flapping birds. Hunting is the reason for living for most domestic cats even despite 10,000 years of being fed and cossetted by humans.

It is firmly embedded in their DNA and rightly so but wouldn’t it be nice if domestic cats never wanted to hunt? No more looking for that mouse that escaped in the living room and crawled under the sideboard. No more blood on the floor to clean up. No more slaughter of the innocents inside your home.

There would be a spin-off in behaviour from a cat who had no desire to hunt: they would stop playing as well because all cat play is based on their desire to hunt. That would be good and bad. Good in that you would no longer need to play with your cat and bad in that he’d put on weight.

Well, if you agree that these feline traits would be better eliminated, it might be possible in the near future with genetic engineering. There is a market for genetically engineered pets (Larisa Rudink – Guidance for Industry USA: Center for veterinary medicine).

There is talk about genetically engineering feral cats to stop them procreating. It is a long term project both in terms of getting it off the ground and the time it will take to be effective but I believe it will happen one day. It would resolve the ‘feral cat problem’ humanely provided they were cared for during their gradual decline in numbers to zero: the statistical Holy Grail of feral cat population.

Livestock has been genetically engineered to improve food production and salmon have been genetically engineered to grow year-round instead of during spring and summer.

The science is advancing rapidly. The only issue – a major issue – is the avoidance of animal cruelty in developing this science. If science demands that cats are the subject of animal experiments to develop genetic engineering I would be firmly against it.

For me it is impossible to justify animal experimentation for any purpose that improves human life. It is only justifiable if it improves the lives of animals and even then it is doubtful because why should humans have the right to decide that some animals must die for the benefit of others?

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