Allergy to Cats, Cat Hair – What is the cause?

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Does cat hair cause my allergy?

It is commonly thought that cat hair causes an allergy to cats but this is not true. The allergen responsible for the cat allergy is a protein which is found in the dander (dried flakes of skin), saliva and urine of cats. The cat allergens become airborne as microscopic particles and these are breathed in by the allergy sufferer. These cat allergen particles are very small and can remain airborne for long periods of time.

Scientists have named the protein in the feline saliva FEL D-1

What is an Allergen?

An Allergen is a particle of foreign material such as cat dander, pollen grain, dust particles and enzymes from dust mite droppings. Allergic people often have a sensitivity to more than one substance.

Allergic reactions are determined by the amount of allergens in the environment and the person’s individual sensitivity to those allergens.

What is Dander on a cat?

Dander is minute flakes of dried skin.

These skin cells contain oils (sebum) which are made by the cat’s sebaceous glands and aid in keeping the cat’s skin and coat in good condition. These skin cell particles become airborne and can be breathed in and also will adhere to most things including carpets, curtains and furnishings. It also adheres to clothing and can be spread on people’s clothing to areas where no cat exists.

What are the Symptoms of Cat Allergy?

  • Asthma
  • Hay Fever. Sneezing, the most common, may be accompanied by a runny or clogged nose
  • Itching eyes, nose, and throat
  • Contact Urticaria (itchy skin)
  • Watering eyes
  • Conjunctivitis

Is there a hypoallergenic cat breed?

Hypo means ‘less than’ not ‘none’ indicating that some breeds of cats may produce fewer allergens which cause an allergy to cats in humans.
All cats have skin and all cats groom themselves with cat saliva.

Is there any breed of cat less likely to cause allergies?

See also: Hypoallergenic Cat Breeds with Pictures

Cornish Rex, Devon Rex and Sphinx are claimed to be hypoallergenic and some people with cat allergies can tolerate them

The two Rex breeds have very fine, short, wavy hair. Sphinx have almost no hair

For a reason not fully understood, some people with a cat allergy can tolerate the rex breed of cat although this is not the case for all cat allergy sufferers.

It is a theory that the Devon Rex, Cornish Rex and Sphinx coats do not hold as much saliva as other cat breeds. It is also a theory that less hair in the air means less saliva and dander allergens.

It is generally believed that the Rex breed of cat (Devon Rex and Cornish Rex) do not shed hair. However this is not entirely true. Some moult so gradually as to be virtually unnoticeable others shed their coats all at once and go through a period of temporary baldness until their new coat emerges in the autumn.

Are Siberian Cats Hypoallergenic?

There are claims that the Siberian Cat produces less allergens than other breeds. The claim is that the Siberian has less of the FEL D1 protein. As with the Rexes some people with allergies can tolerate the Siberian breed but that does not apply to every cat allergy sufferer.

At right, a Siberian Cat. Siberian Cat Breed Profile

See also: Hypoallergenic Cat Breeds with Pictures

Should I visit a Devon or Cornish Rex Breeder to test if I am allergic to these cats?

One visit to a rex cattery is not always sufficient to test if you will have an allergic reaction to these cats. Often it can take months or years for an allergy to build up. Several exposures are often necessary. Allergies are cumulative. In other words, they build up. Every allergic person has a tolerance level above which an acute reaction takes place.

Should I try handling a kitten to see if I’m allergic to it?

Often handling a kitten will not trigger an allergy. The kitten’s skin is more supple than an older cat and produces less oils (sebum). As the kitten ages it will produce more sebum and therefore more allergens.

People can acquire a new kitten and not experience any allergy symptoms until much later. It can take anywhere from a few months to a number of years for a person to build up the antibodies which cause allergies.

How can I reduce cat allergens?

  • Interestingly a spayed or neutered cat produces less allergens. Male cats produce more allergens than female cats. It has been found that the sebum produced by a cat is highest in unaltered males and lowest in neutered males.
  • Have your cat neutered or spayed.
  • Washing your cat in plain water can be useful to remove the Fel d-1 from the cat’s coat.
  • Consult your veterinarian about products that you can bathe your cat in to help reduce the allergens
  • Ensure your cat does not have fleas as this causes the cat to scratch and to throw more dander into the air.
  • Limit your cat to certain areas of the house. Do NOT allow it in bedrooms.
  • Keep your cat outside for part of the time. A cat enclosure can be built to keep your cat safe outside
  • An air filtration system will reduce the amount of allergens circulated.
  • Ventilate your house. Opening windows and using exhaust fans can help increase air exchange and decrease air borne allergens.
  • Vacuum carpets with a HEPA equipped vacuum cleaner. This will reduce the allergens. Cat dander settles onto carpets and soft furnishings, which act as a reservoir for the allergen, releasing it back into the air when touched. Remove the carpeting, if possible
  • Wool attracts allergens. Try to avoid wearing it.
  • Reduce your other allergies. Few individuals are allergic only to cats
  • Keep the litter tray in a well-ventilated area.

I’m having terrible cat allergy symptoms. Should I re-home my cat?

Before taking the drastic measure of re-homing your cat first make sure that it is a cat allergy that you are suffering from. Your doctor can perform an allergy test to determine which allergens affect you.

Also, remember that allergens from a cat can remain in your home for a long period of time after the cat has been removed and you may still suffer from symptoms.

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