About 10 years ago, Ebenezer Satyaraj’s then two-year-old daughter returned home from a playdate with a friend. Satyaraj quickly noticed something was wrong. It turned out that his daughter had spent the afternoon playing with her friend’s new cat, and a visit to the pediatrician confirmed that she was sensitive to cat allergens.
She’s not alone. Research indicates that approximately one in five people is sensitive to cat allergens. A recent study by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute shows that many of those people nonetheless love cats and would gladly have them in their households if not for their sensitivities. Others are already cat owners but have significantly changed their lifestyle in order to accommodate their pet. Those changes often include spending less time with their cat or keeping the cat away from certain parts of the house, all of which takes a toll on bonding with their pets.
But unlike most people who have to deal with allergen sensitivities in their family, Satyaraj was in a position to do something about it. He’s an immunologist who serves as the director of molecular nutrition for the pet food company Purina, and his daughter’s situation got him thinking: Most previous attempts to address the problem had involved treating the allergen-sensitive humans with medication or immunotherapy. But what if Satyaraj took a different approach? What if he could neutralize the allergen starting with the pet?
The result is Purina Pro Plan LiveClear, an innovative new dry cat food that reduces allergens within the cat hair and dander and thereby holds the potential promise of a happier life for people with allergen sensitivities.
“Our approach really changes the paradigm, because we are addressing the allergen at its source,” Satyaraj says. “It doesn’t add any additional chores for the pet owner. All they need to do is to feed the pet this diet.”
LIGHTENING YOUR ALLERGEN LOAD
Pro Plan LiveClear, which has been tested for safety and palatability, took nearly a decade to develop, but the idea behind it is surprisingly simple. Cats produce a protein, called Fel d 1, in their saliva. This protein, which is transmitted to cats’ hair and dander when they groom, is what 95% of cat-sensitive people respond to. Pro Plan LiveClear includes a specific protein derived from chicken eggs that binds to Fel d 1 and neutralizes it, and it was shown to safely reduce the allergen levels in cat hair and dander by an average of 47% beginning in the third week of daily feeding.
Forty-seven percent may not sound like much—it’s less than half, right? But for most, it’s enough to make a big difference. “Everyone has what’s called an allergen load,” Satyaraj says. “Think of it as a bucket into which you start adding more and more allergens. At some point that bucket will overflow—that’s the point where the person starts having a response. We don’t need to drain the bucket completely. We just need to keep the level of allergens below that overflow threshold.” That’s why Pro Plan LiveClear’s 47% average Fel d 1 reduction is so significant—it should help keep people’s allergen “buckets” at a manageable level.
THE SCIENCE OF KIBBLE
Purina may not be the first name that comes to mind when people think of tech- or innovation-driven brands, but the company, which was founded in 1894, has a long history of harnessing science to improve pets’ lives. “It’s often surprising to the average pet owner to hear about the amount of rigor and science that goes into the kibble that you pour into your pet’s bowl each day,” says Kurt Venator, Purina’s chief veterinary officer, who consulted on the Pro Plan LiveClear project. “But everything we do at Purina is grounded in science and in what I call evidence-based practice. That helps bring a little context into why this nutritional approach to manage cat allergens is such an innovative, first-of-its-kind breakthrough.”
“This product is a really good example of one of the mantras our researchers are tasked with, which is to imagine the impossible,” adds Lizzie Parker, head of the Purina Institute, which serves as the voice of Purina’s science endeavors. “When you have that level of freedom from a research perspective, that’s how we can deliver some of the things that we do.”
That mandate to imagine the impossible may have a warm, cuddly payoff for Satyaraj’s daughter, who’s now 12 and is urging the family to get a cat for Christmas. “That’s the unique honor—a privilege, I would say—of bringing something like this to the marketplace,” Satyaraj says. “People look at scientific success in terms of publication, and sure, that’s important. But it’s nothing compared to being able to say, ‘Hey, this has made a difference in people’s lives,’ because they’re now able to enjoy their cat even more.” Or, for people like his daughter, possibly for the first time.