Cat allergies are complex. You may suffer from an allergic reaction to some cats, but not others. This does not mean that you are only allergic to certain cats. It just means that you are not noticing the reaction in your body.
Cat allergies are not caused by the mere presence of a feline. The cat’s dander is to blame. Dander contains a glycoprotein called fel d 1. This is what sparks an allergic reaction. Some cats have more fel d 1 than others, which is why they provoke stronger reactions. Unneutered males are the biggest risk.
Cat allergies do not mean that you must avoid all cats. Equally, you will not necessarily be able to judge a reaction based solely on breed. It is best to take measures to protect yourself around all felines. This is comparatively simple, once you understand how.
Table of Contents:
- 1 Am I Allergic to Cats?
- 1.1 What Causes Cat Allergies?
- 1.2 Why Does Cat Dander Cause Allergies?
- 1.3 Why Am I Only Allergic to Some Cats?
- 1.4 Can I Become Immune to My Cat Allergy?
- 1.5 How To Reduce Cat Allergies
Am I Allergic to Cats?
According to Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Research, around 10% of people are allergic to domesticated animals. Cat allergies are twice as common as sensitivity to dogs. Symptoms of an allergy to cats include:
- Uncontrollable sneezing, coughing, or wheezing
- Itchiness around the eyes
- Runny nose and stuffiness
- Hives and rashes around the face and chest
- Redness and inflammation on the skin that touched the cat
If you exhibit these symptoms when approached by a cat, an allergy is likely. This can grow confusing, though. Some cats will spark an immediate reaction, while others will appear to have no effect. In rare cases, you may experience a delayed response.
If you have a feline allergy, you are allergic to all cats. Unique characteristics found in the cat dictate how severe the allergic reaction is. You may be having a reaction, but it’s minor enough not to notice. Your body may also be building a resistance to the allergy.
What Causes Cat Allergies?
It is a common misconception that any exposure to cat fur will trigger an allergic reaction. The fur itself is not the problem. Rather, it is the dander that the cat releases when it sheds.
Cat dander is made up of dead skin cells, dry urine, and saliva. All cats seasonally shed their fur, which releases dander into the atmosphere. If you have a cat allergy, your body will react to this dander.
Why Does Cat Dander Cause Allergies?
Cat dander contains a glycoprotein called fel d 1. It is fel d 1 that provokes a cat allergy.
Fel d 1 is measured in nanograms (ng). The American Review of Respiratory Disease ran a study on cat allergies. A cat’s presence in a room increased fel d 1 levels by up to 90ng/m. This will be enough to provoke a reaction in somebody with a cat allergy.
Fel d 1 can becomes trapped in the air in an enclosed space. This means that reactions still occur after a cat leaves the territory. The protein also lives on in carpet fibers and soft furnishings. This is why entering a cat’s home can cause allergies, regardless of whether the feline is present.
Why Am I Only Allergic to Some Cats?
An allergy to one cat equals an allergy to all cats. In theory, less fur and shedding means a reduced likelihood of noticeable allergic reactions. This is not actually the case.
Longhaired cats actually release less dander, not more. This is because longhaired cats hold proteins against their skin better. A Maine Coon, for example, will shed more fur than a Chartreux. This does not necessarily make it likelier to provoke allergies.
In addition, female cats typically release less Fel d 1 than males. Unfixed males, in particular, release sizable amounts of dander. The presence of testosterone increases the potency of glandular secretions.
It was previously believed that cats with lighter fur release less fel d 1 than darker cats. Later studies have disputed this claim. You may have anecdotal evidence of your own to confirm or deny this theory.
This all suggests that a female Persian with white fur is less likely to provoke allergies. A black, male American Shorthair, meanwhile, may be more of an issue. Just remember, this is not an exact science. Anybody living with a cat allergy should err on the side of caution.
Are There Hypoallergenic Cat Breeds?
Some cat breeds are considered hypoallergenic, meaning that they should not provoke allergies. Unfortunately, there is no science to bear out this theory. All cats will cause a reaction on some level. The best an allergy sufferer can hope for is a mild response that goes unnoticed.
The following cat breeds are considered hypoallergenic. This means they should not provoke ferocious allergic reactions. They should still be approached with caution by allergy sufferers, though.
- Devon or Cornish Rex
- Oriental or Colorpoint Shorthair
- Russian Blue
The closest thing to a truly hypoallergenic cat is the Sphinx breed. As these cats are hairless, they have no fur to shed. These cats still shed dead skin cells, though. Traces of urine from the litter tray and saliva from grooming will also remain. Fel d 1 is found in these sources.
There is also the possibility of being licked or scratched by the cat. These actions will spark an allergic reaction without fail. The cat is directly applying saliva to your skin. This will lead to redness and swelling, alongside other potential symptoms.
Can I Become Immune to My Cat Allergy?
You may feel that you are not allergic to your own cat, but others spark reactions. You may find a similar experience with other cats that you spend more time with. Those of neighbors or family members, for example.
In these cases, your body has likely built a degree of resistance to the cat’s dander. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology explains how Fel d 1 is used as a treatment for cat allergies.
The glycoprotein is injected in small doses, steadily building immunity. After around a year of this therapy, immunity will be vastly improved. The allergy will still exist, but it will not cause such a reaction.
The American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine explains how exposure therapy is especially effective for children. Fewer young people exposed to cats develop asthma, even if there is a family history of the concern.
Deciding if exposure therapy is a safe way to manage cat allergies is a personal choice. It depends on how serious your allergy is. Just remember, the allergy will not go away. Tolerance to some cats does not equal immunity from all felines.
Can I Get a Shot for Cat Allergies?
Immunotherapy shots can offer relief from cat allergies. Discuss this option with your physician. Alternatively, hold on and wait a while longer. A Swiss pharmaceutical company named HypoPet AG is working on an allergy vaccine, dubbed HypoCat.
As explained by the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, this shot is actually for cats. It will require three doses over nine weeks. A booster will follow six months later. No side effects for the cat are anticipated.
The shot will fill a cat’s body with antibodies that neutralize the effect of fel d 1. This will make dander completely harmless. As a result, the cat will not impact humans, regardless of allergies.
Obviously this will not assist everybody. Pet owners will need to actively arrange for the treatment. If it becomes commonplace, cat allergies may one day become a thing of the past.
How To Reduce Cat Allergies
If you are a cat lover, allergies can be frustrating. This irritation will be magnified if you are only allergic to certain cats. The good news is that this suggests that your allergy is not too serious.
If you have allergies sparked by some cats but not others, take steps to protect yourself. An allergy does not mean you can never approach cats again. You will not need to rehome a family cat either. You’ll just need to be careful.
While you are waiting for HypoCat, you can minimize the effect of cat allergies. Use this methodology with every feline you encounter. You never know how you will react to a cat until the allergic reaction takes hold.
Prepare to Be Approached
A curious quirk of feline behavior dictates that cats will often approach somebody with an allergy. This will obviously provoke feelings of consternation. The cat is not acting with malice. It is just curious.
As explained by Animal Behavior and Welfare, cats understand human facial expressions. This means a cat will recognize the smile of a cat lover. Experience teaches the cat that petting and handling will quickly follow.
Some cats will welcome this, but most will proceed with caution. Until a bond of trust has been forged, the cat will be wary of human contact. The cat wishes to call the shots and transfer its scent onto a new human.
This why cats are attracted to those with allergies. Such a person is unlikely to touch the cat. If anything, it will keep its distance. In the cat’s mind, this makes the person safe to approach. The cat will rub itself on the person’s legs, claiming this non-intrusive human as their own.
Protect yourself from these advances. Position yourself in a shielded position and explain the situation to others. Ask somebody to quickly reposition the cat. Eventually, it will lose interest in you.
Handle with Care
If you must handle a cat, do so very carefully. Ideally, avoid any kind of on-skin contact. Wear long sleeves, and even gloves if necessary.
While handling the cat, be delicate. Don’t be tempted to shoo the cat or use a loud voice to frighten it off. You will succeed, which will be dangerous for you. A scared cat will often bite or swipe with claws.
As fel d 1 lives in saliva, this is especially dangerous. A bite could cause significant damage to somebody with a cat allergy. Clawing is not much safer. You run the risk of infection, or worse.
While handling a cat, hold it as far from your face as possible. Try not to breathe too deeply. Be gentle and put the cat down at your first convenience.
Above all, stay calm. If the cat senses that you are distressed, it will panic. The cat will assume that it is in danger. This, again, will lead to bites and scratches.
Purify the Air
Fel d 1 most prominently lives in the air. This means that you must keep air flowing if you have a cat allergy. Once feline dander enters the air, it takes one deep breath to cause an allergic reaction.
If you have an allergy but live with a cat, get an air purifier. This will keep fresh air circulating around the home. If this is not an option, keep some windows open. The most important thing is that you are not enclosed with the dander.
Keep the Home Clean
Fel d 1 does not just live in the air. If you have a cat allergy, ensure that your home is regularly dusted. Doing this yourself may result in sneezing or other allergy symptoms. Consider hiring a cleaner or using an electronic device to suck up dust.
You will also need to be mindful of carpets and soft furnishings. Dander can gather in these locations. This means that you will be surrounded by fel d 1 at all times. Regularly wash your carpets and vacuum daily. Use a pet-specific hoover that will capture all dander.
Do not focus too much on the cat itself. Bathing a cat rarely reduces dander and shedding. Regular grooming is essential though. If you brush your cat’s fur, you can control shedding. This, in turn, minimizes dander in the air and on the floor.
Allergies can be hard to manage. Being allergic to some cats but not others has long confused animal lovers. Knowing which cats are likeliest to cause a serious allergic reaction will help keep everybody safe.