Breakthrough: New Cat Food Changes How People Manage Cat Allergies

Approximately one in five adults worldwide suffer from cat allergies. They must limit their interactions with felines, take anti-allergy medications, and in worst-case scenarios, relinquish beloved cats. A breakthrough cat food called Pro Plan LiveClear, now available on pet food shelves nationwide, may transform how people manage their cat allergies, allowing them to keep their beloved fur kids in the home.

When You Zhou of St. Louis, Missouri, met his now-fiancée Nicole Seider, she had two tortoiseshell cats named Cerra and Kayla. Despite taking daily medication, after 30 minutes in their presence, his chest felt as if it was closing up and he found himself wheezing heavily.

As their relationship blossomed, the couple discussed living together and the cats became a huge stumbling block to moving forward.

“There seemed to be no happy outcome for us. Either our relationship was doomed or we had to rehome the cats,” recalls Zhou.

After discussing this dilemma with his allergist, he was approached by a recruiter looking for people to take part in trials to test a food to combat cat allergies that Purina was researching. He jumped on the opportunity.

“Two weeks into the trial, I noticed that my symptoms were starting to improve,” Zhou says. “And the cats loved the food too, which was equally important.”

That was two years ago. Fast forward to the present. The couple are happily living together. And the food, Pro Plan LiveClear is now available nationwide.

“The cats are no longer Nicole’s cats but our cats,” he adds. “Cerra follows me everywhere and loves to sit on my lap. However, I still have to draw the line when she wants to sleep on my face!”

Fel d1: The  Cat Allergen “Culprit”

A protein called Fel d1 is the major cat allergen, accounting for up to 95 percent of human allergic sensitization to cats. It’s produced in a cat’s salivary and sebaceous (skin) glands and spread throughout the cat’s hair and skin during grooming sessions. It’s also dispersed in the environment via shed hair and dander (dried flakes of skin).

All cats produce Fel d1 regardless of breed, age, hair length, sex or body weight. There are no truly allergen-free or hypoallergenic cats. Intact male cats generally produce higher levels of Fel d1 than sterilized/neutered male cats and female cats regardless of sterilization status. And contrary to myths suggesting that cats with darker or longer hair are more likely to trigger allergies, hair color and length have no influence on allergen production.

Because cat allergies are such a huge problem, especially for people who love and live with them, a team of Purina scientists led by Ebenezer Satyaraj, Ph.D., embarked on a research project to address this issue. They discovered that cat allergens are reduced when cats eat a diet containing an egg product ingredient with antibodies. These antibodies safely bind and block Fel d 1 in feline saliva. The inactive Fel d 1 is transferred to hair when cats groom.

The safe, feline-friendly approach does not interfere with Fel d 1 production or change the cats’ overall physiology. It simply prevents the protein’s ability to trigger an allergic response in a cat allergen-sensitized individual.

During the 10-year research and food trials, this landmark study showed that 97 percent of cats fed this egg ingredient showed decreased levels of active Fel d 1 on their hair and dander. On average, a 47 percent reduction of active Fel d 1 on cats’ hair began to be seen with the third week of feeding the diet.

“This food has been such a blessing to me and my cats,” says lifelong cat lover Marion Engelhorn of St. Louis, Missouri, who has always had to limit her exposure to her three Persian cats Leo, Ginger, and Luna.

“I always felt I was missing out by not allowing them to cuddle with me. But the moment they got too close, I could feel my lungs closing,” she says.

Engelhorn’s cats were also a part of the initial food trial. She reported that about six weeks into the new diet, she was able to allow them to cuddle.

“They can now crawl on my chest and I can tolerate it. And it’s also allowed other family members with cat allergies to come and visit too,” she adds.

“The cats found the small-sized kibble easy to eat. And, this was particularly important to me because being Persian, they have typical flat noses and features. Since changing their diet, there is no question it’s enhanced our bond.  We are all having a much better life.”

Cat Allergy Symptoms

Typically, people who are allergic to cats suffer from red, itchy eyes, a runny, itchy, stuffy nose, and sneezing, coughing, and wheezing. Some even experience hives, skin redness, or a skin rash.

“Until now, most methods for managing cat allergens focused on limiting or avoiding exposure to cats or treating the symptoms,” says Dr. Satyaraj, director of molecular nutrition at Purina, who led the research project. “Now, this new cat nutrition has the potential to transform how people manage cat allergens,” he said.

Over the last 15-plus years, Purina has been researching and bringing to market foods that attempt to address behavioral and social issues facing pets and people who love them.

“The human-animal bond is the spark for many of our innovations,” says Kurt Venator, DVM, Ph.D., Purina’s chief veterinary officer. “With Pro Plan LiveClear, we’re helping cat owners get closer to the cats they love by offering a breakthrough approach to how they manage cat allergens.”

The results of this study have been shared with allergists and immunologists globally, including at the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology Congress in Lisbon, Portugal, last year.

“We have received very positive feedback, and they are excited to share this approach with their clients,” says Dr. Satyaraj.

Cats get the last word, but it’s hoped that this new science funneled into the cat food bag will help safeguard cats in their homes and allow more people to consider adopting cats and help reduce the homeless cat population.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Sandy Robins is an award-winning pet lifestyle journalist and author of For the Love of Cats, Fabulous Felines: Health and Beauty Secrets for the Pampered Cat, The Original Cat Bible, and Making the Most of All Nine Lives: The Extraordinary Life of Buffy The Cat.