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Do Hypoallergenic Cats Exist?

Siberian Cats continued...

Jen Van Horn Jeffers of New Hampshire suffered the classic symptoms for years. Picking up most cats left her with hives, shortness of breath, itchy, watery eyes, and a scratchy throat. But surrounded by about 20 Siberian cats at a breeder's home, her symptoms were gone.

"I couldn't believe it," says Jeffers, 37, who recently purchased her second Siberian. "I love cats. When you've never been able to have one, it's like 'Wow, this is so cool.'"

Siberian breeders have submitted samples to Chapman's company and found relatively low levels of the offending protein in their saliva. But Chapman cautioned against generalizing, in part because the lab didn't test samples from breeders of other cats to compare.

Other Breeds

The short-haired Devon Rex and Cornish Rex cats are thought to be less allergenic because they have less hair to shed, resulting in fewer saliva-coated particles in the air.

Some people with allergies can also tolerate the hairless Sphynx. That's likely because the cat needs to be bathed or wiped down frequently, which reduces its allergen-carrying dander, says Lorraine Jarboe, DVM, president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners.

Making a Hypoallergenic Cat

In 2006, a company called Allerca made headlines when it announced that it had bred the world's first hypoallergenic cat. Now known as Lifestyle Pets, the company says its cats -- which cost $8,000 to $27,000 -- naturally produce a modified protein that doesn't trigger most allergies.

Founder Simon Brodie says he has sold cats to more than 350 clients. However, the company has also faced allegations of fraud by customers who said they forked over the money and never got a cat -- or a refund.

Scientists want Brodie to let them independently verify his claims. Brodie says the satisfied customers speak for themselves.

Judy Smith, 37, of Westwood, Mass., who suffers from asthma and severe cat allergies, bought her first cat from Brodie in 2007 for about $7,000. She recently got a second.

Smith says they're not 100% hypoallergenic; she occasionally gets itchy eyes if she touches her face after hugging them. But it's nothing like the symptoms that flare up around other people's cats.

"They sit on my lap and sleep with us in bed and lick my face and I play with them all the time," Smith says. "It's really worth every penny because otherwise I wouldn't be able to even have one cat, let alone two in my house."

Another company, Felix Pets, claims to be engineering a hypoallergenic cat by removing the gene that makes the major cat allergen.

But Zuckerman, who is not involved with either company, says, "It's a difficult task to eliminate a gene from an animal." Plus, Zuckerman notes that scientists also don't know why the cat produces the protein, so it's unclear how removing the gene would affect the cat.

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