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Irresponsible Publications Cost Cat Lives

On December 12th, 2011, The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology published online a study titled “Risk factors for new-onset cat sensitization among adults“. It didn’t take long for Reuters to pick up the story and turn it into an article “Getting a Cat Ups Allergy Risk in Adults”.


From there, the so-called “news” caught like fire. Here are some headlines picked by Google News' search engine, out of the 121 results found for this news item -


“Getting Your First Cat? Be Prepared to Sneeze”


“Caution! Keeping Feline Pets Can Inspire Allergies”


“Even Adopting A Cat Can Be Hazardous To Your Health”


“Study warns against pet cats”


“Want a pet cat? Think again”


“Study: Cats Could Be Bad For Your Health, If You Let Them In Your Bedroom”


“Allergies? Give the cat back, study says”


“Don't get a cat if you have any allergies”


“Want a pet cat? Rethink for your health!”


“Fancy a pet cat? Think again... moggies 'double the risk' of developing allergies”

Seriously? May I offer some alternative headlines for this fiasco? How about “Heedless reporters cause cats to lose loving homes”? or “Shelter cats euthanized due to irresponsible headlines”?

Going back to the original research for a minute. It’s bad enough, actually. Apparently, researchers can be just as irresponsible in their conclusions as journalists -

 

Quote:
Our data supports that acquiring a cat in adulthood nearly doubles the risk of developing cat sensitization. Hence, cat avoidance should be considered in adults, especially in those sensitized to other allergens and reporting a history of allergic diseases.

 

I’m ok with the first sentence there. If you’re prone to cat allergy, getting a cat would increase your chances of actually developing it. Never be exposed to cats, and you may never know you’re prone to cat allergy. May is the key word here. Even without acquiring a cat, three percent of participants developed cat allergies (compared with five percent among those who did).

The next sentence is more problematic, but at least they worded it cautiously. Perhaps individuals with severe allergies should consider carefully if, how and what kind of a cat they’d like to introduce into their lives. By the way, the same research also showed that “cat ownership in childhood was a significant protective factor”. Children do not own cats. Their parents do. That means adults raising children should definitely consider adopting a cat, to boost their children’s immune system. In fact, that’s just about the only useful bit of information there, as far as I can see. That does not coincide with the offhand suggestion for “cat avoidance”.

My real beef is with the media though. Taking that one bit of research and applying scare tactics is simply irresponsible. I can only imagine how many people skimmed through those articles, or maybe just the headlines, and came away convinced that cats are dangerous for one’s health. Yes, cats can cause an allergic reaction in some people, but turning that into “Getting Your First Cat? Be Prepared to Sneeze”, or “Want a pet cat? Rethink for your health!” completely ignores the many proven Health Benefits of Cats while making an unsubstantiated blanket statement that will, alas, stick in people’s minds.

As always, those paying the price are cats. Who knows how many cats have lost their homes due to these harebrained articles. Who knows how many potential adopters decided to keep cats out of their home. This really makes me sad.

Comments (6)

When I am at the shelter and people talk about being allergic to cats, I give them as much info as I can about how to minimize allergies IF they happen. I happen to be extremely sensitive(a step below allergic) to a number of known allergens, so these articles would suggest I am allergic to cats too. I AM NOT. I have had kitties for 23 years and not developed the first sniffle caused by them. Mold and grass, on the other hand, HAVE developed in that period. Should I move somewhere there's no grass? That would be difficult, if not impossible. (Fortunately it is not ALL grass.) Totally irresponsible of the media to suggest these things.
I completely agree that journalists are frequently irresponsible in how they present information. They seem more interested in attention getting headlines than in informing the public. Unfortunately that is equally true of people in general. I can't tell you how many times I have seen the contents of a scientific paper misrepresented in the forums on this site. And your point that others might just take the headline at face value and just skim the actual information is spot on. We can say that everyone should be careful about being unduly influenced by the conclusions of others but we might as well say people shouldn't be people.
Some journalists are quite non-eduated about cats. It is not the cat itself which is allergic - its what they carry on their fur! Hello! In hayfever season my cat goes outside and gets pollen on her fur, but I dont really give a heck because I love her anyway. Maybe those reporters whom downgraded our furry babies should get one of those cats which have no fur (I dont know the breed though). Then come back and tell us what they thought.
Most of these allergies are a load of BOLLOCKS. Take an Allergex & get over yourself. Journalists only write about what gets them in the news & it's not always the hard,cold truth that gets them there, it's sensationalist titles that do the trick.
This is irresponsible of the media to say the least. I definately agree with that statement to take Allergex and get over yourself. My cats don't contribute to any sneezing that I do one bit. And furthermore I agree that there are several health health benefits to having cats that can be found here:
http://mritechnicianschools.net/2010/17-health-benefits-of-owning-a-cat/
Not only that but I have seen how cats are braught into hospitals to visit with the patients there as what is called Animal Therapy. They are good for people.
Exactly!! Another excellent point made XX
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