In the US alone, around 10% of the population is allergic to household pets. You might think, when it comes to down to statistics, the actual percentage of people allergic to cats is negligible, however, the numbers tell another story.
Allergic reactions to cats are actually twice more common than to dogs and other furry pets. To make matters worse, you can become allergic to cats late in your life, having no symptoms around cats as a child or a young adult.
Symptoms: Am I allergic to cats?
If you have an uncontrollable urge to sneeze when snuggling with your cat, or your eyes water when you’re in the same room with a kitten, chances are you might be sensitive to Fel d 1, a protein commonly found on the feline skin and in their saliva.
Sometimes, if you’re interacting with an outdoor cat, you might not even be allergic to the cat itself, but rather particles of pollen or other environmental allergens they brought into the house on their paws and fur.
If you’re not sure how to tell if you’re allergic to cats, compare your symptoms to the ones from our checklist or visit a doctor for an allergy test.
Cat allergy symptoms
Some people who are hypersensitive around pets have an instant, unmistakable reaction when in contact with cats. But, for many others, their allergies don’t manifest in such a transparent way.
The signs you’re allergic to cats will appear, in most cases, when you’re petting a feline, but, in some instances, you can have symptoms even hours after you’ve been in contact with one. Here are the most common cat allergy symptoms:
- Sneezing, coughing or wheezing
- Runny nose
- Hives, rashes or breakout on body and face
- Red, watery eyes
- Redness or irritation of the parts of the skin (that was in contact with a cat)
Although some of these symptoms are common allergic reactions and some just sound like symptoms of a cold, you should be able to determine if you’re really having a reaction to a cat. If you notice any of these signs following or during contact with a kitty, or after spending some time in a feline’s space, there’s a high probability that you have a cat allergy.
Why are people allergic to cats?
The statistics indicate that people experience hypersensitivity around cats much more often than it’s the case with dogs. The reason behind it isn’t because cats shed more or that their hair has some mystic, irritating qualities.
The real culprit for some people’s overt sensitivity to cats is found in our furry friend’s saliva and secreted through their skin. The pesky allergen that causes these adverse reactions is called Fel d 1 protein, produced only by felines and borne in extra small particles.
Tinier than dust mites and dog’s dander, cat allergens are airborne and easily inhaled. Considering the convenient size of the allergen particles, as well as the fact that most cats are avid groomers, constantly licking and cleaning themselves, it’s no wonder that their allergy-inducing dandruff has the potential to travel all over the place and cause chaos with sensitive people.
Are Bengal cats hypoallergenic?
As I already mentioned, there is no such thing as a completely “allergy-free” or “non-allergenic” cat. The allergen that is to blame for both severe and mild reactions to cats is something that every single cat produces, although, with some breeds, you won’t come in contact with the allergen as much.
Having in mind that cat fur doesn’t cause allergic reactions, but rather allergens found in their dander and saliva, it might come as a surprise to learn that Bengal’s coat is the main reason why allergic people often don’t mind being around them. Their spotted, leopard-like fur isn’t similar to a wild cat’s coat in markings only, but in texture as well. The Bengal’s coat is more like pelt, their hair thick, short and compact.
With their silky, unique coat, Bengal’s don’t have the need to groom themselves excessively as most cats, which is considered to be the main reason why Bengals don’t cause an allergic reaction that often as other breeds. Granted, Bengal cats do produce the same quantities of the Fel d 1 protein as most cats, but their pelt-like coat reduces the dispersal of the allergen.
However, despite the fact that many people report they haven’t had any allergic reactions with a Bengal cat, it doesn’t have to mean you’ll have the same luck. The levels of immune system’s sensitivity to allergens differ greatly, and what works for some people allergic to cats, might not work for everyone.
The safest way to determine if a Bengal cat won’t cause your allergies to flare up is to try spending time with one before deciding to commit. Look up a breeder in your area, or visit a friend that has a Bengal, and spend an hour or two around the cats. If you don’t have any symptoms for a few hours after hanging out with a Bengal, it means you won’t be allergic to them.
List of hypoallergenic cat breeds
If you’re a cat lover, but you have irritating symptoms whenever you’re near a fluffy ball of fur, don’t despair. Allergy sufferers can enjoy feline company as well, when they decide on a cat breed for people with allergies.
Are hairless cats hypoallergenic?
Although it’s not guaranteed that a Sphynx cat won’t make you sneeze, it’s less likely to experience an allergic reaction when interacting with a hairless cat.
When licking themselves, cats transfer allergens from their saliva to the hair, which makes it more likely you’ll get in contact with it, either by petting them or because of shedding.
With bald cats, that aspect is eliminated. That said, Sphynx cats still produce the same amounts of Fel d 1 protein as cats with fur.
Unfortunately, the allergen is not secreted through hair, so the lack of coat in hairless cats only minimizes the potential for allergic reactions but doesn’t eliminate it completely.
The allergens are still present on their skin and in their saliva. Sphynx cat will need to be bathed once a week to keep their skin in optimal condition, and to keep allergies at bay.
Hypoallergenic cats with fur
There are a few different breeds that are considered hypoallergenic cats and they’re often recommended as the best cats for people with allergies. However, people often think that hypoallergenic means a total absence of allergic reactions, when, in reality, it actually means that it’s less likely for these breeds to cause a flare up. Here are some breeds that are considered hypoallergenic:
- Siberian Cat
- Cornish Rex
- Devon Rex
- Russian Blue
There are no definitive scientific studies that dispute or prove the claims that these popular breeds are suitable for allergic people, but their reputation as hypoallergenic shouldn’t be easily dismissed. A lot of people who suffered from hypersensitivity to domestic cats reported either no reaction or a much weaker one.
As the fur itself isn’t the source of allergens, it’s not surprising that breeds that are often found on lists of cats for people with allergies have lush, beautiful coats. (Some of them are even long-haired.) The common trait of all these furry felines is that each of their coats has some unique feature that prevents dandruff from sticking around in the hair, or minimizes the need for feline’s grooming, which reduces the amounts of saliva that comes in contact with their fur.
How to get rid of cat allergies?
Even if you happen to be sensitive to cat’s dander, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a way to manage your allergy. The trick is to minimize direct exposure to the Fel d 1, the allergen that causes all the problems. In theory, the safest way to do that is to stay away from cats (though nobody wants to do that), but there are simple ways to live with a cat and make your allergies bearable. In some cases, just exposure to allergens can actually make the hypersensitivity go away. However, if you’re not one of those lucky ones that get to say goodbye to their allergies by simply hanging out around cats, here are some ways you could get rid of sneezing and runny nose:
Do away with dander
The tiny, dried flakes of skin are the most responsible for your flare ups. Although cats are more than capable of keeping themselves clean, the allergens in their saliva can only make matters worse.
There’s a common misconception that frequent bathing can help you minimize the allergens in a cat’s coat. But, the fact is, bathing your cat too often actually has counterproductive effects, as it can disrupt their pH levels and cause even flakier skin.
If you’re trying to find out how to get rid of cat dandruff without risking your pet’s health, the right cat dandruff shampoo or wipes can do the trick. Shampoos like Although Allerpet Cat Dander Remover, which doesn’t have to be rinsed out, or Allersearch Laboratories Pet+™: Anti-Allergen Pet Shampoo, whose effects last for 30 days, are a great choice. If you’d rather have a solution that’s always on hand, Burt’s Bees for cats Dander Reducing Wipes and Tropiclean Allergy Relief Pet Wipes are safe for your cat and effective for removing allergens from cat’s coat.
Tidy up after your cat
Even if you’re meticulous when it comes to keeping your cat clean and allergen-free, it doesn’t mean that some amount of cat’s dander won’t end up all over your house. To make sure you’ve exterminated everything that could cause your allergic reaction, consider using one of the recommended vacuum cleaners for people with allergies or asthma, like the best sellers Dyson Cinetic Big Ball Animal Plus Allergy (corded) or Dyson V6 Motor Head Vacuum (cord-free).
People often go overboard with vacuuming, thinking that the reason they’re having an allergic reaction is because they’re not cleaning thoroughly enough, but that’s not the case. When using a regular vacuum, you’re actually blowing out most of the allergens from the environment directly into the air, which can only worsen the situation. Custom-made vacuum cleaners like these filter out the tiny particles and keep them out of your way.
Manage with medicine & natural remedies
When nothing seems to work, you can always try controlling your symptoms with medications. There are numerous over-the-counter medicines that can help you keep your allergies in check. Consult with a doctor or a pharmacist to find the best cat allergy medication for yourself. The ones that are prescribed the most, and have success with reducing symptoms are:
- Leukotriene modifiers
- Cromolyn Sodium
- Allergy shots (immunotherapy)
Depending on the severity of your allergies, a doctor might recommend a combination of medications or a specific therapy to counteract your symptoms.
When it comes to home remedies and holistic treatments for allergies, there are more than a few natural ways to alleviate symptoms. For congestion or sneezing, nasal lavage proved to be efficient. Another option is essential oils, like lavender, mint or oregano, which can provide relief and boost your immune system. In some cases, acupuncture can be used as an efficient natural allergy treatment, the improvement noticeable after a few sessions.
Remove allergens with an air purifier
Environment control is crucial if you’re planning on winning the battle against allergies. The majority of allergens are inhaled directly from the air you breathe in, so an air filtration system can significantly reduce the levels of allergen in your home. One of the reasons why cats seem to bother people with allergies more than dogs is that Fel D 1, allergen they produce, is carried in incredibly small particles, which are much easier to breathe in than most.
Scientific studies back the claims that a reliable air purifier can be of tremendous help for allergy sufferers. Although air purifiers that cover your whole home, like HVAC systems, are by far the most effective, they’re also the hardest to install and much more expensive than other available solutions. In case you’re on a budget, or don’t have the time to redo your whole ventilation system, HEPA air purifiers are a much better alternative. Although the fine mesh that traps even the smallest allergen particles in HEPA purifiers is more than efficient when it comes to cat allergies, its effects are limited to one room.
In the end, it’s important to know that living with a cat you’re allergic to is a manageable endeavor. Statistics indicate that one-third of the people allergic to cats in the US are living with a feline, which makes for about 2 million people who have successfully managed their symptoms. Not only that there are numerous solutions that could help minimize your allergic reactions and alleviate any discomfort you feel when around a cat, you might not even have an allergy to one of the hypoallergenic cat breeds.
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This post is also available in: Français (French)