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Does Coat Color or Any Trait Predict Allergen Level?

Posted on April 14, 2012 at 5:40 AM

One of the adoption questions we are asked a lot is about predicting allergy levels  in Siberian cats. Folks would like to know if there is any relationship between coat color and allergen level. The short answer is "no." Folks would like to know if there is any relationship between sex and allergen level. The short answer is "sort of." Folks would like to know if there is any way to predict allergen level in a litter if both Siberian parents are tested low allergen. The short answer is "statistically, yes; for a given, kitten, no"


So, let's talk more about allergen levels in Siberian cats. First, it is important to remember that there is actual published research that documents that some Siberian cats inherit one of a few mutations that results in a lower production of fel d 1, the protein all cats make that some people are allergic to.This research was conducted at University of California Davis Veterinary School by Dr Leslie Lyons.


Second, it is also important to note that not one other breed of cat,  including domestic cats ("moggies"), have the genetic mutation that some Siberians have that results in a lower level of fel d 1 production. Not sphynxes, not rexes, not ragdolls, not any of the breeds that some breeders claim are "hypoallergenic." Not one breed other than the Siberian Cat.


Now that we know there is a scientific basis for some Siberian cats to cause little  or no allergic reactions in some people, let's look at other research that purported to connect a cat trait to lower (or higher) allergen levels.The biggy is coat colour.


At least weekly we get questions about coat colour and allegen levels: "We read that white cats have lower (higher) levels of fel d 1." "We read that dark cats have lower (higher) levels of fel d 1." "What colour cat has the lowest level allergen?"


Unfortunately there is no good science to indicate any correlation between coat color and allergen production level in any cats.

No, light colored cats are not less allergenic.

No, dark colored cats are not less allergenic.

No, silver cats are not more allergenic.

No, black cats are not more allergenic.


Causing this confusion are two situations. One is a set of now debunked research claiming a connections between coat colour and allergen level. The first is a much quoted (and very wrong) study that: light coloured cats were less allergenic AND a second study that indicated that dark coloured cats were less allergenic.


Both of these studies researched allergen levels in mixed breed (stray / domestic) cats. None of the cats tested had genetic mutations (like about 50- 60 % of the Siberians do), resulting in a  lower production of fel d 1 for those cats. However, all cats have differing levels of fel d 1 production, and these different levels also carry according to time of year, diet, and sexual maturation of the cat.


The other contributing confusion to the coat colour and allergen level association is that light haired cats who are related to the Siamese tend to have higher allergen levels, as the Siamese breed over all does. The Siamese cats have a light coat, as do many of the breeds derived from them, so the light colour became associated with a higher allergen level. This can be seen in the Neva - or "colourpointed Siberian" who was created by planned matings between the original Siberians and both Ragdolls (a Siamese x breed) and Himalyans (another Siamese x breed). Until there were enough matings between the breeds to pass on the Siberian low allergen mutations, Neva cats tended to be high allergen.


Like coat color, there is no connection between the Siberian cat's genetic mutation and sex of the cat. With regular domestic cats, a male cat who is not desexed typically produces top levels of allergen, while a desexed female typically produces the least amount allergen.


Before laboratory testing for fel d 1 level became available, we woudl recommend females be adopted to allergic and asthmatic families based on the odds of a desexed female having a lower allergen level than a desexed male. Now that the research has been done at University of California Davis Veterinary School, we know that the lower alelrgen production in some Siberian cats is caused by one of several possible genetic mutations (there are severalin the Siberian breed) and furthermore that the protein production levels are individual to each cat - not related to the sex of the cat.


While allergen level testing is now available for Siberian kittens, it is extremely expensive and the kittens must wait to be adopted until they are older.  ForestWind does provide this option to adoptive families, but most of our families decide to adopt successfully by implementing several of the anti-allergy, anti-asthma strategies we recommend - from air filtration to bathing to feeding guidelines. To date, we have only rehomed three our of Siberians due to allergies. The most recent rehoming was this winter, 2012, and in that situation a family member became cat allergic several years after adopting, and no one had been allergic prior to the adoption taking place.


As a cat allergic and asthmatic family ourselves, we are well aware of the needs and interests of the allergic family and work closely with you to ensure your successful adoption.


 

Categories: Allergies, Genetics, Problem Solving