Caturday felid trifecta: Ways to deal with cat allergies; paranormal cat toy debunked; a kitten-brooding duck; and lagniappe

January 14, 2023 • 9:00 am

This article from last October’s Atlantic (click below to read) recounts the disappearance of cat allergies in author Katherine Wu. She was strongly allergic to cats until her early twenties, and poof!—the allergy disappeared. (This happens with some allergies: I used to get covered with poison ivy pustules when I was a kid, even if I so much as looked at the stuff, but now I can walk through groves of it without a reaction.)

From her article:

What I went through is, technically speaking, “completely weird,” says Kimberly Blumenthal, an allergist and immunologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. Some allergies do naturally fade with time, but short of allergy shots, which don’t always work, “we think of cat allergy as a permanent diagnosis,” Blumenthal told me. One solution that’s often proposed? “Get rid of your cat.”

My case is an anomaly, but its oddness is not. Although experts have a broad sense of how allergies play out in the body, far less is known about what causes them to come and go—an enigma that’s becoming more worrying as rates of allergy continue to climb. Nailing down how, when, and why these chronic conditions vanish could help researchers engineer those circumstances more often for allergy sufferers—in ways that are actually under our control, and not just by chance.

She describes the immune reaction, with involves producing the antiboy IgE:

People whose bodies make less IgE over time can become less sensitive to allergens. The same seems to be true for those who start producing more of another antibody, called IgG4, that can counteract IgE. Some people also dispatch a molecule known as IL-10 that can tell immune cells to cool their heels even in the midst of IgE’s perpetual scream.

All this and more can eventually persuade a body to lose its phobia of an allergen, a phenomenon known as tolerance. But because there is not a single way in which allergy manifests, it stands to reason that there won’t be a single way in which it disappears. “We don’t fully understand how these things go away,” says Zachary Rubin, a pediatrician at Oak Brook Allergists, in Illinois.

. . . Other allergies are more likely to be lifers without dedicated intervention—among them, issues with peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, pollen, and pets. Part of the reason may be that some of these allergens are super tough to neutralize or purge. The main cat allergen, a protein called “Fel d 1” that’s found in feline saliva, urine, and gland secretions, can linger for six months after a cat vacates the premises. It can get airborne, and glom on to surfaces; it’s been found in schools and churches and buses and hospitals, “even in space,” Blumenthal told me.

Wu describes various treatments, like exposure to small amounts of cat antigens, which have mixed success. Or you can get one of the cat breeds that is hypoallergenic. But now, as Smithsonian reports, researchers are trying to genetically engineer cats to be even less allergy-provoking:

InBio, a United States biotech company, has found a way to block genes responsible for a major cat allergen using CRISPR, a genetic engineering technique that allows scientists to add or remove bits of DNA at a specific location in an organism’s genome. Gizmodo’s Ed Cara reports the find is the first step toward hypoallergenic cats as healthy as felines with unedited genes. Details on the project called CRISPR Cat were published this month in The CRISPR Journal.

This involves removing two genes that, in cat saliva, cause allergies in humans:

The two genes that code for Fel d 1 are CH1 and CH2. Researchers at InBio are working on using CRISPR to create cats that produce little-to-no Fel d 1. After analyzing the DNA of 50 domestic cats, researchers identified regions along the two genes that the team could cut and edit with CRISPR, per GizmodoCRISPR technology uses an enzyme called Cas9 to cut the two strands of DNA at a target site on the genome so that sections of DNA can be inserted or deleted.

When the team compared the genes of the domestic cats with eight wild cat species, the researchers found variation between the groups, suggesting that Fel d 1 is not a needed gene for the cats to survive and removing it may not cause any health risks, Gizmodo reports.

Three issues here. First, they’d really need to do long-term studies of the genetically edited cats. Proteins are usually there for a reason, and there may be long-term risks to simply removing these genes. Second, if the editing removes the genes from the body but not the germ cells, the cats wouldn’t be able to pass on the edited DNA, and the next generation of cats would have Fel d1. That means you couldn’t breed a line of such cats, but would have to buy them from the company each generation. (And of course no company is going to sell germ-line-edited hypoallergenic cats, as they’d put themselves out of business!)  Finally, these cats would, given the technology needed to make them, be insanely expensive.

My suggestion: if you’re a true ailurophile, live with the allergy or get a hypoallergenic cat.

****************

 

This article, from Skeptical Inquirer (click to read) describes how a cat toy was being repackaged and sold at a higher price to be used as a device to contact spirits. The people who complained about this were, bizarrely, people who believe in spiritualism and the paranormal. Click to read.

x

Click to read:

The latest rebranded device first came to my attention by way of Earthbound Voices Paranormal, a husband-and-wife paranormal team from the Kansas City area (with several more teams also contacting me later). They were concerned that a light-up cat toy, sold by Ethical Products Inc., was being repackaged as a new paranormal device—and at a higher price (which is often the case). After some conversation, I was asked if I would investigate this particular device. I was supplied links to both the paranormal device and the cat toy suspected of rebranding. It wasn’t hard to see how similar the two products were, so I decided to take a closer look and ordered both products (several of each, so I could test them).

The gadget in question is called The Vibration Activated Light Sphere from Des-Tech Paranormal Research Equipment. Des-Tech is run by Cody Ray DesBiens, a ghost hunter from the Boston, Massachusetts, area involved with two ghost hunting groups based out of Rhode Island: the Rhode Island Society for the Examination of Unusual Phenomena and The Atlantic Paranormal Society (known for their TV series Ghost Hunters). On his Facebook page, he states he “specializes in audio and investigation technology with knowledge in electronics and physics.”

Looking closer at the Vibration Sphere device, it is described on the package as “the easiest device for spirit communication!” The device resembles a clear, plastic golf ball measuring one and a half inches in diameter. Inside the ball, we find a circuit board with three LEDs, a push-button on/off switch, three AG3 batteries, and a tilt sensor. When the switched is turned on, three LEDs blink sporadically for five seconds whenever the ball is disturbed.

Here’s the “toy”/paranormal device:

The author took apart both devices and also field-tested them. They are virtually identical except for one slight difference, and are made in exactly the same way. Only one component differs. The way these things work is that they light up when the cat bats them in a certain way, but one can also pretend that they light up when you’ve contacted a spirit.  They have different sensitivities to movement, that’s all:

After receiving both the Light Sphere paranormal devices and Ethical Products’ cat toys, I disassembled both devices to get a better look at the internal components. It was obvious these devices came from the same supplier, as they used the same parts with only the circuit board being a slightly different style; most likely this was due to a different production run or a supplier switching manufacturers.

The field test:

Now that I knew where these products came from and confirmed that they were indeed cheap cat toys, I wanted to test them side-by-side. DesBiens and the packaging of his version make conflicting claims; in his initial response to me, DesBiens states a new accelerometer—which isn’t actually present—was used to “make it more efficient and not as sensitive for an investigation environment.” However, the front packaging of his device states “Sensitive to even the slightest movement.” I set out to see if there was a difference between the two versions and if so, which was the more sensitive.

I set up three of the balls I purchased from Ethical Product, Inc. alongside two from Des-Tech, on the floor in my living room. All balls were marked according to where I purchased them, and I set a video camera on them for the next few hours. I allowed this simple test to run throughout the day; amid the daily routine of a family consisting of two adults, one teenager, and a small dog; walking, going up and down the stairs, chasing toys—the dog, not me—and even sitting still while delivery trucks came down the street. Initial results showed the Des-Tech version was triggered a lot more than the other. However, once I changed the orientation of the balls—and hence the angle of the internal tilt sensor—I found the results became random; both versions were set off by different actions. Activation of the balls really depended on how the tilt sensor was situated. Even the act of shifting my body while in a seated position on the floor would cause the ball to light up in some positions, while not in a different position.

The conclusion: the spirit finder is just a cat toy with a different sensitivity to motion. It doesn’t detect spirits. And sold as a paranormal device, it costs about four times what it costs as a cat toy:

So, what’s the point of investigating this? Well, people from the hobby of ghost hunting were curious about someone upselling a cheap toy and reached out asking for help. That’s usually good enough for me. This is the sort of thing I like digging into. For example, in the contest video I mentioned earlier, DesBiens specifically states “We’ve had our manufacturer install … ” (Des-Tech 2019), giving the viewer the impression that he came up with this device himself, when he obviously did not. On March 1, 2019, the Des-Tech Paranormal Research Equipment Facebook page posted: “In 2018 Cody founded Des-Tech Paranormal Research Equipment, a company devoted to the creation and distribution of new technology for paranormal research.” The only device available for sale, as of this writing, is the Vibration Activated Light Sphere; something he did not create and is certainly not new technology.

Something else that bothered me was the simple fact this is a cheap cat toy, which can be purchased online for as little as $3.49 (Chewy.com), while the rebranded version is being sold for $11.04. I purchased a three-pack (for testing) from Amazon for $13. If you really want to play with a light-up ball, you can find similar balls at toy stores, pet stores, and even drug stores; I found a large bin of them at Rite Aid for $1.50 each.

Read the article if you want to see the enormous trouble that author Biddle went to, repeatedly contacting the manufacturer and sellers, to take the mickey out of this toy.

***************

We Love Cats and kitten has a very short report on a duck that takes care of kittens,

This has to be one of the most heart warming videos I have ever seen.

The people that run Lucky Duck Rescue came across five kittens all alone, they had obviously been abandoned.

They weren’t sure what to do with them but were anxious to keep them warm, so they put them in the dog bed that belonged to Harry, one of the resident ducks.

But what Harry did next was something completely unexpected to everyone.

He took these tiny newborn babies under his wing and nurtured them as if they were his own children.

It seems animals are teaching us lessons all the time.

They learn quickly how to interact with different species with love.

Meanwhile, humans still keep on living with the illusion that only humans are important.

It is so sweet and shows us that it doesn’t matter what species you are, it’s love that makes a family.

Umm. . . . what about the lesson that a duck doesn’t have the ability to lactate and feed the kittens?  That isn’t even mentioned in this story. I presume there was an alternative to feed the moggies. But none of the commenters even mention this problem!

Here’s the video, which is cute. The music starts 42 seconds in. But WHO FED THE KITTENS? Watching for two or three minutes will give you the idea. The lesson from this is that ducks are awesome, but are no substitute for a mother cat!

*************

Lagniappe: A cat saves his d*g friend by chasing away another d*g attacking it.

h/t: Ginger K.

5 thoughts on “Caturday felid trifecta: Ways to deal with cat allergies; paranormal cat toy debunked; a kitten-brooding duck; and lagniappe

  1. Cat allergens are found in saliva, which builds up on fur as the cat licks itself. Wash your cat! As an owner of many cats over the years, I learned that when my eyes became red and itchy it was time to bathe the cats.

    1. Bathe the cats? Yikes! I think I’d rather have red. Itchy eyes than red, bleedy hands, arms, legs, and face…

      Actually, I’m lucky in that of all the things I have been allergic to (I used to get monthly shots as a child for my severe reactions to grass, mold, feathers, and who knows what else), my pets don’t seem to be an issue. Mold and what I assume are dust mites that build up in my wool sweaters are my biggest issue.

      1. We had a two person system that worked even for water-maniac cats. Put towels all over the floor.  Fill a bucket with clean water and put it next to sink. Fill sink with not very soapy water to a height that will come about chest level on the cat. Put cat into the water, one person holding its back tightly, other person washing.  Keep holding the cat, leaving it in the sink, drain water and pour in clean water from bucket.  Rinse cat. Drain water, still holding cat in the sink.  Throw a towel over the wet cat and use that to lift the cat out of sink and onto the towels on the floor.  Dry it as much as possible before letting it loose onto the towels.

  2. I’m annoyed by people finding a baby animals- be they kittens, puppies, or buffalo calves- without a mother, then assume they are abandoned. How do they think the mother gets food, ordering in from Uber Eats?

Leave a Reply