Are adults acquiring a cat at risk for cat sensitization?

Published Online: December 12, 2011

Exposure to allergens can elicit different effects in the life span. Studies in early life give contradictory results as to whether  keeping a cat may lead to a higher risk of developing cat sensitisation in childhood. Data on the effects of cat exposure during adulthood are sparse. These problems are particularly important in the Western world where a large proportion of households have cats.

In a paper published on The Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology (JACI), Olivieri et al evaluated whether acquiring a cat can lead to new onset cat sensitisation in adults. The researchers used data collected on adults participating in the multicenter European Community Respiratory Health Survey II. Specific sensitization to cat, house dust mite, timothy grass and mould (Cladosporium) was assessed by measuring serum specific IgE at baseline and 9 years later. Of 6,292 subjects who were not sensitized to cat at baseline, 651 (10.3%) acquired a cat during the follow-up and 231 (3.7%) became sensitized to cat.

The authors found that 5.4% of people acquiring a cat became sensitized to cat, while new-onset cat sensitization occurred only in 3.3% of people not keeping a cat. The risk of developing cat sensitization was also increased in subjects who were already sensitized to other allergens at baseline or who had reported a history of asthma, nasal allergies or eczema. On the contrary, having had a cat during childhood protected against cat sensitization.

The authors’ findings suggest that cat exposure in adulthood can nearly double the risk of developing cat sensitisation, especially in individuals reporting a history of allergic diseases or sensitized to other allergens. Adults should be aware that acquiring a cat might increase their risk for cat sensitisation.


The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JACI) is the official scientific journal of the AAAAI, and is the most-cited journal in the field of allergy and clinical immunology.

AAAAI - American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology