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Allergic to your cat?

Splish splash, give your cat a bath. That's the advice researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are extending to legions of cat owners who are allergic to their pets but refuse to part with them.

When it comes to relieving allergic reactions to cats, a monthly bath may be far more effective -- and certainly less expensive -- than the drugs and injections upon which most cat-sensitive patients currently must rely, says allergist H. James Weder, M.D., associate professor of medicine at Washington University.

A monthly 10-minute washing in lukewarm, distilled water markedly reduced the production of Fel D1, the major allergen in cats, the researchers reported.

"The ideal treatment for cat-sensitive patients who experience symptoms of allergic rhinoconjunctivitis, asthma or dermatologic reactions is to remove cats from their environment," Wedner explains. "Unfortunately, may patients suffer continual symptoms either because they are unwilling or unable to eliminate cats from their homes."

These patients can receive pharmacotherapy in the form of antihistamines, decongestants and asthma medications, or immunotherapy, meaning allergy shots, Wedner notes. However, the presence of cats in the home compromises the effectiveness of both forms of treatment.

"This procedure of monthly bathing may provide a simple method to reduce the allergenicity of cats for people who can't or won't remove cats from their environment," he says.

The Washington University team didn't set out to study the effects of bathing on cats. Rather, the study began as an evaluation of two drugs, Accutane and Etretinate, for their ability to decrease the production of cat allergen. Neither of the two retinoic acid derivatives helped. However, in analyzing the bath water for Fel D1 values, the researchers notice a significant decrease associated with the washing procedure itself.

Dander Up, Up And Away

In a study of ten cats, the team found a consistent decrease in Fel D1 production beginning in one cat after three washes and in all 10 cats after seven washes. The amount of Fel D1 each cat produced varied, but the average decreased from 3031 milliunits per cat at wash one to 400 milliunits per cat at wash nine.

At the final wash, three cats produced less than 10 milliunits and five others produced less than 375 milliunits. Two cats produced more than 1,000 milliunits of Fel D1 after nine washes, but that still represented a significant decrease from their initial values.

Fel D1, a protein produced by the salivary and sebaceous glands, is deposited on the skin and hair either as the hair passes through the sebaceous gland or as the cat preens. It is a major component of the cat dander that is always present in cat owners' homes.

Feline Facts

Cats are currently the most popular pet in the United States, and cat ownership seems to be on the upswing, reports the Washington, D.C.-based Pet Food Institute. Cats reside in 30 percent of the 92.5 million homes in this country, the institute notes. According to its figures, that translates to 57.9 million felines.

"You always hear that cats take care of themselves, but I've been hearing more and more about people who do wash their cats," says Sharon Curtis of the American Veterinarian Associates. As far as the actual bath, reactions will vary depending on the age of the cats -- the younger they are, the easier they adapt. Curtis recommends consulting a veterinarian for advice about shampoos, if they are to be used, since cats can be allergic to certain chemicals.

"In our study, cat washes were performed under light anesthesia," Wedner says. "Cats can, however, be trained to accept bathing as a standard procedure, and this is particularly easy to accomplish in kittens. Bathing is not harmful to them and, in fact, show cats and some exotic breeds require frequent bathing."
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Author:Bernardo, Debra
Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Date:Sep 22, 1991
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