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Cat allergen or cat dander testing: this article discusses methods to check a building for animal allergens (cat, dog, etc) using as an example, Cat Dander: how to inspect and test a building for past or current presence of cats, cat hair, cat dander, and cat allergens.
We give in-depth information about indoor air quality problems: causes of respiratory illness, asthma, or other symptoms such as neurological or psychological problems, air quality investigation methods, and remediation procedures such as mold cleanup, handling toxic mold contamination, and building or mechanical system repairs.
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The following question from a reader about testing for cat allergens in a home prompted our advice on what to do about cats and cat allergens which follows the cat question itself.
I am wondering if you know of or could perform a test in our home to determine the level of cat dander present. We are renting our home to tenants until next summer, but we have been told that the tenants may be keeping/hiding an indoor-only cat for their daughter (although our lease does not allow any pets).
Our daughter and I both have severe cat allergies and I do not know
There are several approaches I suggest to look for evidence of a cat (and cat allergens) in a building. A similar approach can be used to test for the presence of other animals: dogs, birds, and invading squirrels, mice, rats, raccoons, etc.
Reader Question: Cat dander test kits? My downstairs neighbor's cat is driving me crazy. Could the cat dander travel up and in my unit like smells and odors? If
My new neighbor directly downstairs from me has a cat and I am afraid that it is making me sick. I live in a modern cement building however smells really travel between units through the windows due to airflow patterns.
So... Can cat dander travel up through one neighbors window and into another neighbors unit - even with screens on? I have not had allergy issues like ever and I am having severe allergic symptoms now and I have lived here for some time. Thanks - [Anon]
Reply: Cat dander particles are much larger than the smallest mold spores and more likely move through a building by mechanical means. Suggestions for reducing the level of cat dander in your apartment
A competent onsite inspection by an expert usually finds additional clues that help accurately diagnose a problem with indoor air quality and building-related health complaints such as evidence of animal allergens or other problem particles, odors, or gases. Advice on how to decide whether or not you need a professional inspection and perhaps building testing for indoor air quality problems, their cause and cure, see MOLD EXPERT, WHEN TO HIRE
That said, here are some things to consider:
It is unlikely that a meaningful level of cat dander nor other similarly-sized particles would travel from a neighbor's window into another nearby apartment.
Certainly odors and gases from a nearby building or apartment might indeed be more noticeable, including perfume, cooking odors, MVOCs from a nearby mold contamination, and even odors from animals or animal urine if the problem reservoir is large and nearby and if the wind and air movement directions happen to move as needed.
An experienced analyst can express an opinion regarding the frequency of appearance of cat hair in a building dust or debris sample. Of course cat hair may have been visible and thick in a building.
Here we are discussing the presence of hair fragments in a sample where perhaps cat hair was not visually obvious at the building site.
What do you "get" if you vacuum a cat? Most cats will not volunteer to be vacuumed, though we've met a few who didn't mind. What you get, according to our field and lab tests, if you vacuum a (willing) cat includes: cat hair, cat dander, and typically some pollen, a few dust mite fecals, and common house dust particles.
We have found by field and lab testing that cat dander is present (albeit at low levels) even in buildings where no cats live. The allergenic component of cat dander is Feline D-1 or Fel-D1, a glycoprotein that combines with cat dander (cat skin flakes).
When a cat grooms her/himself and when cat saliva (from grooming, and which contains Fel-D1) combines with additional Fel-D1 produced by cats' sebaceous glands. Fel-D1 is also written Fel d-1 and Fel D 1).
But put more simply, a glycoprotein found on cat skin flakes or cat dander, is a bothersome allergen to some people.
These cat dander particles, which is basically cat skin flakes, are often "hooked" or sharply irregular in shape, helping these particles to travel from building to building on people and their possessions, from cat-areas to non-cat areas.
While reducing the level of cat dander in the space to be occupied by the cat-allergic person (your daughter) will be helpful, it's tough to predict how she'll react in the home.
We have encountered individuals who were sensitive to very low levels of specific particles in buildings, including animal dander as well as mold and other allergens.
If we find that there is evidence of a high level of cat dander or other problem allergens in the building dust, we could design a cleaning regimen that can substantially reduce those levels, ranging from discard of materials to HEPA vacuuming to washing certain surfaces. As this can get costly I wouldn't do so unless needed.
We might also suggest some special measures for more ordinary house cleaning such as buying a HEPA-rated house vacuum cleaner, reduction or elimination of wall to wall carpeting, and a regular cleaning schedule.
If there appear to be building related health or allergy complaints after cleaning we can suggest additional measures to reduce the allergen level indoors, and perhaps, (let's hope it's not needed) recommend a more thorough building investigation for other problem sources.
For details on how to remove or clean up cat allergens see CAT DANDER REMOVAL - separate article
Indeed there are some particles such as very small mold spores (as small as 1-2 microns) produced by Aspergillus sp. or Penicillium sp. that are so tiny that they can move through a building like a gas, riding thermal air currents (warm air usually rises through buildings), and even passing from areas such as a moldy crawl space or basement up into the living area through very tiny openings, cracks, etc.
But larger, heavier airborne particles such as many pollen grains and animal dander do not move like gases through the building. Cat dander, in particular, is a particle that we find ubiquitous in homes and even in many office buildings, even when cats are not themselves present in the building. In my experience and based on both field and lab examinations of indoor particles from several thousand buildings, it is apparent that these particles are very widespread where both humans and cats are present in a community.
If you examine cat dander under the microscope (red arrow in our photograph just above) you'll see that cat dander particles are comparatively large, in some cases in width about the same as a cat hair, and certainly these particles are 10-50 times larger than the smallest (1-3 micron) mold spores.
You'll also see in our cat dander photograph that cat dander particles are curved or hooked (unlike dog dander). I speculate that the size and shape of these particles mean that they are readily attached to clothing and other objects and thus are readily transported not only from one room in a building to another, but even between buildings.
What these cat dander findings mean, in a practical sense, is that in a home where one or more occupants has a cat allergy, you may reduce the level of cat dander in the allergic-person's bedroom, say, by keeping cats out of the room, but by no means will cat dander be eliminated from that space, since those particles seem to be readily tracked or carried into the room from other areas in the home.
In conclusion, while we have not found that cat dander travels as an airborne or aerobiological particle riding warm air currents as might gases or very small (1-3 micron) mold spores, cat dander does travel widely through a building from areas of a concentrated source, apparently by mechanical means such as becoming attached to clothing or other objects that are moved between building rooms.
Even if you tested your apartment for the presence of cat dander or other allergens the result can't be assured to cause your neighbor to abandon her cats - at least some of whom are sure to be, for her, members of her family.
Besides, even if all of the downstairs neighbor's cats moved out tomorrow, that space would continue to be a reservoir of cat dander unless it were very extensively cleaned. All is not lost, however. You should be able to improve the comfort level in your own home by reducing the level of irritating particles by minimizing the level of house dust in your own home, and in particular, by regularly using a HEPA-rated vacuum cleaner to dust and clean the surfaces in your space, and perhaps, by limiting visits with your catty neighbor to visits outside your own apartment.
The question of whether or not you can or should ask your neighbor not to have cats in her own home is one that you and she will have to work out between yourselves.
Details about methods to reduce the level of cat dander in buildings are found at this companion article: CAT DANDER CLEANUP, PREVENTION
At ALLERGENS in buildings, RECOGNIZING we discuss and provide photos of common indoor allergenic particles found in homes and in the work place. At ALLERGEN TESTS for buildings we discuss testing buildings for the presence of animal allergens or other allergens such as insect fragments or fecals. Also see ANIMAL or URINE ODOR SOURCE DETECTION for suggestions about removal of pet odors.
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