Ask Dr. Rob: Love/Hate and Spit

From Amanda, I got the fascinating question:

Why do I insist on having three cats even though I\’m allergic to the wee beasties?

\"rose,w_cat_people1942\" Thanks for the thoughtful question. I am always happy to do whatever I can to mend fences between species. Clearly you have a love/hate relationship with the feline type. Your reference to them as "beasties" betrays an ambivalence that probably runs quite deep. I would suggest a visit to either Dr. Deb or to Shrink Rap – two psychiatry blogs – to sort out these issues. They may help you discover your "inner cat."

But what of this insatiable desire to be with them, and what of the allergies? You would be interested to know that it is actually not the wee of these beasties you are allergic to, it is the spit. Yes, cat allergy is actually from an allergen present in their saliva. Since cats are fastidious about grooming themselves by licking their fur, the antigen is transferred to the hair and dander, and then shed out for all to enjoy.

So why have cats developed spit with antigens? To understand this, we must first explain the subject of allergies.

Your body likes to pick a fight with things, and rightly so because there are many things that would love to take over and make you their personal incubator. Viruses and bacteria are constantly trying to find places to reproduce and spread their DNA throughout the world, and the warm cozy environment of your body fits the bill quite well.

\"Jackie So at the annual virus convention, they try to decide just where the next convention will happen and so send scouts to check out different venues. A virus comes to your body and gets checked in at the front desk. When they get in a room (cells of your body) and start acting like a classic Rock \’n Roll band, throwing couches out the window and disturbing other guests, the hotel security (White Blood Cell) is called. Security does its best to throw out the unruly guest, but generally causes damage as apprehending the virus often involves a chase and fight scene like something out of a Jackie Chan movie. Many of the symptoms you get from a virus or bacteria is actually caused by the spin-kick stunts of the white blood cells as it tries to rid your body of the unruly guests.

The next time a virus tries to check in at the front desk, the front desk staff (or Antibodies) recognizes the virus as the same one that caused the fourth floor to be closed for several weeks and so calls security again. This way, the virus gets escorted off before it can cause any serious problems.

\"7391660\"Now, for some reason, some people\’s bodies are really bothered by antigens from cat spit. Even though the dander from cats acts as a very good guest in the hotel, the front desk gets really upset and calls in security, causing all sorts of damage.

Scientists are unsure why cat spit became "public enemy number one" for some people. One theory is that our ancestors were simply grossed out by cat spit and demanded an immune response. Others postulate that the ancestors of the modern-day cat could spit very long distances, much like spitting cobras. Support for this latter theory comes from the existence of a small sect of "cat charmers" in southern Pakistan. The theory goes that the current "hiss" that cats make when they were angry was accompanied by a spit that would cause its victim to have the sudden urge to chase after strings and small shiny things.

So why, despite your immunological aversion to cats (and psychological, as previously discussed) do you continue to surround yourself with them? There are a few questions I must first ask you:

  1. Are you nuts?
  2. Do you surround yourself with trained assassins, bent on killing you at first opportunity?
  3. Do you collect Precious Moments figurines?
  4. Have you ever gone to the musical "Cats?"
  5. Do you often play music from the group "ABBA?"


It seems to me that you are the type of person who says: "I deserve all of the bad things that happen to me." Just the fact that you are a regular reader of this blog makes that point painfully obvious. You have it in for yourself, and regularly engage in activities that make your life harder.

My suggestion? Get a goat. They are very soothing (just ask any feisty race horse) and can scare away any "beasties" that come your way.

Thanks for the question.

I am starting to run out of questions to answer, so please send your interesting questions to me at