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Genetically Engineered Cats & Dogs
(or not)

Are they truly hypoallergenic?

 

Felix Pets

Visit the company's website at Felix Pets (Transgenic Pets). Felix Pets wants to produce hypoallergenic cats through transgenetics (genetical modifying).

More info:

 

Allerca Cats

The major allergen in cats is the glycoprotein Fel d1 that is secreted by the sebaceous glands. This allergen is found in the fur, saliva, urine, mucous, salivary glands, and hair roots of the cat. This protein is produced by the Fel d1 gene. The Allerca company (Lifestyle Pets) in California says they have developed a cat breed that produces a different version of the Fel d1 protein. According to Allerca, these cats no longer trigger the autoimmune system of people allergic to cats. The Allerca cats have been available since 2006.

The New York Times writes: "At first, Allerca scientists sought a method to delete or disable the gene. But in testing to see whether the gene had been effectively silenced, they made a fortuitous discovery: A very small number of cats carry a mutant gene that produces a modified protein, far less likely to induce allergies. At that point, the research shifted course. Allerca screened thousands of cats to identify a population with the modified gene and then set those cats to breeding. Because the mutant gene is dominant, the breeding cats could be mated with normal cats to produce hypoallergenic kittens." (Oct 2006)

These cats are very expensive. The cost of the spayed/neutered cats varies from $5,950 to $28,000 depending on the breed. Currently, only the Allerca Gd kittens (Shorthair) are available. They come in many colors (solid, mixed, tabby) and cost $5,950. According to the company's website, two new breeds, Chakan Gd (Siamese) and Ashera Gd (Ashera), will be available in late 2008.

2008 Update: Prices for 2008 have gone up. These cats now cost $5,950 - $35,000.

More info:

  • Allergy News - Article: "Tale of a Hypoallergenic Cat and Standby Antihistamines", Quote: "One of the unanswered questions, though, is whether the modified protein expression by the mutated gene is sufficiently dissimilar or causes low enough Fel d 1 expression to prevent allergic rhinitis, asthma and other symptoms. Even if they reduced it by 50% or 40% or 80%, it doesn't mean somebody with cat allergy is going to have fewer symptoms or need less medication." (Jan 2007)
  • Allergy News - Article: "Allergy-proof cats, again", Quote: "Brodie -- who insists his mutant-gened cats are not from Siberian stock -- says he has been inundated with e-mails from Siberian lovers who accuse Allerca of being a high-priced copycat." (Nov 2006)
  • Everyday Health - Article: "Are Dander-Free Cats Legitimate?", Quote: "Allergic people have a remarkable ability to form allergies to a wide variety of things. I would not be surprised if, over time, a person with an Allerca cat starts to develop allergies to other proteins." (Aug 2007)
  • Messy Beast - Article: "The Murky background of the Allerca and Ashera"
  • New Scientist - Article: "More doubts over plan for allergen-free cats", RNA induced gene silencing (Oct 2004)
  • PetSmart - Article: "Allergy Sufferers Shed Tears of Joy?!", Quote: "These cats are not bio-engineered in any way; the gene that is present in hypoallergenic cats is detected through DNA testing, which requires a simple cheek swab. ... The truly fortunate aspect of this gene is that it is dominant, so the gene does not have to be carried by both parents in order for offspring to express the hypoallergenic trait. This means that the breeding line for Allerca's cats can be kept open, avoiding the numerous health risks of frequent inbreeding."
  • The Scientist - Article: "Felis Enigmaticus - A company's shady past and questionable science raise doubts on their promises of a $4,000 hypoallergenic cat", Quote: "There's a lot of skepticism in the academic community about whether or not these cats are hypoallergenic. ... We've not come across any documented scientific study that this is a real phenomenon." (Jan 2007)
  • The Scientist - Blog: "Cat-astrophe averted?" (Jun 2007)
  • SignOnSanDiego.com - Article: "Designer pet founder guilty in British scheme" (Oct 2006)
  • Wikipedia - article about the Allerca company, with many links for more info, Quote: "the alleged mutant cats are actually quite likely to exist, but their hypoallergenicity cannot be considered proven for the time being"

 

Genetically engineered dogs?

Allerca Dogs

According to the Lifestyle Pets website, a genetically engineered dog breed, Jabari Gd, will be available in 2009. This small hypoallergenic dog will cost $15,000. In the photo on their website, the dog looks like a West Highland White Terrier (Westie) puppy.

Update: Message on the company's FAQ page: "Because there are many more allergy causing proteins that are associated with dogs than with cats, we do not have any plans at this time to breed hypoallergenic dogs (puppies)."

Update 2008: FAQ posted 5-15-08 on their website says: "We began deliveries of our Jabari Gd dog in early 2008 to great sucess." The new photos of the Jabari Gd dog show a different looking dog (brown with floppy ears). The price for a spayed/neutered dog is listed as $15,000-$21,000.

 

See also - Siberian cats

Here are a few links to Siberian cat sites to get you started.

 

Other "allergy friendly" cats

Other possible "allergy friendly" cat breeds are Russian Blue, Sphynx, Peterbald (St Petersburg Hairless), Devon Rex, Donskoy (Don Sphynx), and Cornish Rex.

 

This page was last updated in 2008. Search the web for more current articles about the Lifestyle Pets controversy. There are many.

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