Background: Several pets, such as cats, dogs, and rodents, are known to produce allergens. Despite the clinical and laboratory evidence that exposure to pets can cause bronchoconstriction in sensitized subjects, the results of population studies have been contradictory.
Objectives: The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between cat ownership and the prevalence of asthma, asthma-like symptoms, and bronchitic symptoms among subjects 20 to 44 years of age in Vancouver, Canada and to determine whether sensitization is responsible for such an association.
Methods: Two thousand nine hundred ninety-nine (88%) randomly selected subjects responded to a mail questionnaire. Of these, 504 participated in laboratory examination, including allergy skin testing.
Results: One thousand nineteen study responders (34%) were pet owners at the time of the study (current owners). Current pet owners were found to have a higher prevalence of current asthma, asthma-like symptoms, and bronchitic symptoms compared with those without pets. Cat owners had significantly higher risk of having current asthma and asthma-like symptoms. In the subset who had allergic skin tests, we found that those who were allergic to cat dander had a significantly higher risk of current asthma than those not allergic to cat dander and not owning a cat.
Conclusion: This study provides evidence that sensitization to cat dander is a more important risk factor for current asthma and asthma-like symptoms than cat ownership itself.