Nearly 20 percent of people in the United States have moderate to severe allergic reactions to cats. Cats put off as many as five different allergens that trigger allergic reactions, but the most common is the protein Fel D 4, which is found in the cat’s saliva. When the cat grooms itself, it puts the protein on the fur, which allows it to spread and become airborn, thus triggering reactions including itchy eyes, skin rashes, hives, sneezing, coughing, nasal discharge and asthma attacks.

Savannah Tobin, a 17-year-old girl from Oregon, is a high school senior that volunteers at a local animal shelter. Both her and her mother love cats, but are allergic. After doing research, Tobin discovered a way to identify hypoallergenic cats. She developed a swab test that can analyze a cat’s saliva to determine if it produces the Fel D 4 protein.

The test works so well that Tobin won the Intel bio-chemistry award, and landed herself a spot at the University of California-Davis this fall. While the test is not widely used yet, she hopes that the test will attract more potential adopters, that like her, are allergic to, but want to own, a furry companion.

Ramie A Tritt, MD, President, Atlanta ENT