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Edinburgh Evening News


PAIN: Cats with allergies to their owners often chew their fur

Human touch gives pets the itch


NORMALLY it’s the human who suffers the misery of itchy flaky skin and the sneezes but new research has revealed that cats and dogs are suffering the same fate as thousands of humans - because they are allergic to their owners.

Edinburgh University veterinary scientists have revealed that as many as one in 20 pets are developed an aversion to their owners.

And a leading city vet has said one of the treatments available is desensitisation to increase the tolerance of animals to their human owners.

The scientists say as many as 75,000 domestic cats and dogs suffer from the condition - caused either by a direct physical aversion to human skin or by a reaction to the excreta of dust mites that feed on dead human skin cells.

Pets who are allergic to humans suffer from sneezing fits or skin irritation which can lead to them scratching themselves until they bleed.

The findings follow research at the Hospital for Small Animals at the Royal School of Veterinary Studies in Edinburgh, which carries out allergy tests on more than 160 cats and dogs a year.

Staff estimate that up to five per cent of pets are allergic to humans.

It’s estimated that 26 per cent of the human population suffer from a pet allergy - approximately 14 million people.

Pet allergy sufferers experience breathing difficulties, wheezing and coughing, streaming, puffy eyes, hives and skin irritations and asthma and eczema. Any animal with fur or feathers can cause a reaction, but cats tend to evoke the most severe response.

Aileen Brown, veterinary surgeon at the Cat Clinic, Blackford Avenue, said allergies to humans in cats was difficult to confirm but the surgery was seeing more cases.

She said: "Tests in dogs and humans are more reliable and tend to be a bit more difficult in cats but there are a large percentage of cats and dogs coming in with allergies."

She said it was perfectly acceptable for humans to be allergic to their pets and added that no-one would ever think it would be the other way round.

The vet said desensitisation, where an injection of the substance causing the allergy is injected into the sufferer to increase their tolerance, was available as a treatment.

"But I’ve never had to desensitise a cat against a human before so I’m not sure how that would work," she added.

The researchers found that the majority of pets are allergic to the dust mites that feed on dead human skin cells and a small percentage suffer reactions to human skin scale.

Another leading specialist in allergies Animal Health Trust, Dr Steve Shaw said: "Symptoms include itchiness on the face, feet and hairless areas for the dog. Cats will lick and chew their fur out."

Pet allergies are becoming so common that the British Allergy Association is setting up a separate Pet Allergy Association after being inundated with calls from distraught owners.

Monday, 18th June 2001
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The Scotsman Publications Ltd