Allergy-Free Cats: Fact or Fiction?

Paul Williams of Florida also was denied a cat because of his allergy test. Brodie told him that he could get a refund or "keep his place in the waiting list" for the next generation of kittens (which would presumably be more hypoallergenic).

"This is an emotional thing for a lot of people," Williams said. "If anyone is crazy enough to spend $5,000 on a cat, they are crazy enough to wait another year…[Brodie] could let it go for years…he doesn't actually have to deliver any cats."

Slippery Science

Meanwhile, the scientific community is waiting to see proof. Dr. Sheldon Spector, a clinical professor at the UCLA school of medicine, is the only unaffiliated scientist to have tested Allerca cats. Spector said he wanted to follow up on the study with more cats (he tested only one) and more cat-allergic people (there were nine), but that Allerca wasn't interested.

Leslie Lyons, a geneticist and associate professor at the University of California at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, believes Allerca's claims are feasible.

"There probably are some cats that naturally create a lower allergy response," she said. "In order to prove it, they certainly need some type of human trial."

Dr. Robert Wood, director of pediatric allergy and immunology at Johns Hopkins University, agreed that hypoallergenic cats are possible but not yet proven.

"There's some reality to it, but they have not been studied in a way that we could tell a patient that it would protect them from allergic reactions," he said.

He also noted that the placebo affect can play a large role in allergies, especially if a premium price is involved. "If you've dropped $31,000 on a cat, odds are you're going to think it's good for your allergies," Wood said.

If Allerca makes you wary, there are alternatives.

Lundberg, who breeds Siberian cats, said roughly half of his animals in Oregon produce "little to no reactions" in allergic visitors and adopters.

Cliff Reuter, also of Oregon, said he had cat allergies for years, but wasn't bothered by Lundberg's cats.

"[Tom] held the cat up and I rubbed my face in it," Reuter said. "I had no hives, just the littlest bit of itchy eyes."

Alice Fredericks of California also had success with Lundberg's Siberians. "These cats are really nothing on my allergy radar," she said.

Still, Siberians are expensive, with prices ranging from $650 to $1,200. And they don't work for everyone.

After Allerca's rejection, Butler and her husband in New Jersey tried Siberians with no luck. Finally, they fostered shelter cats until they found one that didn't bother his allergies.

"The truth is, there's incredible range," Butler said. "My husband is very allergic to some cats, allergic to most cats, but only slightly to some. I don't doubt that you'll be able to find individual pairs of cats and people."

Johns Hopkins' Wood confirmed that there can be up to a thousand-fold difference in cat allergen levels from one household to another.

Allergic feline lovers may have to wait for hypoallergenic cats to become a reliable reality. And those who can't wait might want to just sniff one out the old-fashioned way.

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