Are you allergic to cats but want one anyway? Wary to move in with a new roommate because you might have a reaction to her furry friend? Keep reading to get all the information you will ever need about cat allergies – including their causes, tips for dealing with them, and more.
Nearly 10% of people suffer from some type of pet allergy. Of all the different types of pet allergies, cat allergies are one of the most common, so…
What Causes Cat Allergies in Humans?
You may be surprised to learn that cat allergies in humans are not actually caused by cat fur. They are typically caused by two different proteins that cats produce naturally: fel d 1 and fel d 4. The primary allergen is the fel d 1 glycoprotein, which is produced in your cat’s sebaceous glands (small glands on the skin that excrete oil – like those on your face) and saliva. The fel d 4 lipocalin is a secondary allergen, produced in your cat’s saliva.
How Do You Know if You Are Allergic to Cats?
The most common signs and symptoms of cat allergies are swollen, red, itchy, and watery eyes; nasal congestion; itchy nose; sneezing; hives; or a rash. These reactions can be minimized with antihistamines and by following the tips at the bottom of this guide. You will know after snuggling a friend’s cat for a while if you have this kind of allergy – typically they are more of a nuisance than anything else. However, if you have asthma, these may be more problematic.
Anaphylaxis from cats is rare, but possible. An anaphylactic reaction is a medical emergency.
If you suspect that you may have cat allergies (e.g. if one of your family members does), you should be tested by a physician. While your reaction is likely to be more annoying than dangerous, you do not want to take any risk when it comes to anaphylaxis.
Can You Get a Pet Cat if You Have Allergies?
Assuming you are not one of the few people with severe cat allergies (anaphylaxis)… you can probably still get a cat, if you are willing to put up with a bit of discomfort.
If you experience cat allergies, there are a few points you might want to consider when picking out the perfect kitten.
- There is some evidence that female cats produce less of the proteins that most commonly trigger cat allergies. Similarly, a neutered male should produce less problematic proteins than unneutered males.
- One study showed that cats with light-colored coats may be less allergenic than cats with dark-colored coats. Another study was unable to replicate this result, so your mileage may vary.
- Despite the fact that cat allergies are caused by proteins, not fur, a short-haired kitty may cause less problems for you than a long-haired one. This is because when your cat licks himself, the saliva – which contains the allergens – will get in his coat. A shorter coat will be easier to clean, making the saliva less likely to give you problems.
If you do choose to go ahead and get one, make sure to check out some the tips and tricks for dealing with allergies below.
Can you Cure Cat Allergies?
The short answer to this question is: maybe.
The long answer is that there is some evidence that allergen immunotherapy may desensitize some people to various kinds of allergies. This is a medical procedure where a medical professional injects the patient under their skin with a small amount of the relevant allergen. In theory, this should change the patient’s immune system reaction to an organic exposure.
While there is some debate as to the effectiveness of this procedure, it might be worth a shot if you have severe allergies. However, this treatment can be very expensive and may not be covered by insurance.
Luckily, there are several well-proven, effective ways to minimize cat allergies.
Tips for Dealing with Cat Allergies
1. Keep your house clean.
Regular vacuuming is the easiest way to minimize symptoms of cat allergies.
Did you know that there are vacuums designed especially for dealing with pet hair? Investing in one of these is key for allergy sufferers who don’t want to give up their dream of having a furry friend.
My personal recommendation is the Bissell 1650A Pet Hair Eraser Vacuum. The tangle-free brush roll prevents fur / hair from getting stuck in the brush (we’ve all dealt with trying to yank out cat hair from a regular vacuum cleaner… it’s not fun). It’s also designed with a special SmartSeal system which keeps in allergens and eliminates odors.
Vaccuming at least once a week will help minimize cat allergies. A higher frequency may be necessary for homes with lots of carpeted surfaces.
2. Keep your cat well-groomed.
This one is kind of a no-brainer. By brushing your cat’s fur regularly, you will decrease the amount of shedding she does.
This is especially important for long-haired cats.
You can find my full guide on cat grooming – including the products I use – over here. The focus of that piece is on preventing hairballs, but the same rules apply.
3. Keep yourself clean.
If you are allergic to cats, make sure to wash your hands carefully after petting one. If your allergy is mild to moderate, this should prevent a lot of the more unpleasant symptoms.
And make sure not to rub your eyes before washing up!
4. Make your bedroom a cat-free zone.
As cozy and heart-warming as it is to snuggle your cat throughout the night, this is not ideal for allergy sufferers. Especially if you also have asthma.
By ensuring that your kitty stays in rooms that aren’t your own bedroom, you’ll have a space for respite if you have a particularly bad flare-up of allergic symptoms. Plus, you’ll have one less room to vacuum regularly.
5. Remove soft surfaces that attract cat hair.
Cat hair to carpet is like bees to honey. Reducing the amount of carpeting in your house will do wonders for your allergies.
Of course, it’s not easy to just remove carpeted flooring, but you can make a difference by at least not purchasing any additional, heavily carpeted pieces of furniture. Unfortunately, this includes most cat trees.
Luckily, though, a few cat trees aren’t carpeted. And honestly, I think these ones look better anyways.
I personally have the V-High Base in Walnut from Vesper Cat Furniture. It’s a beautiful, modern looking cat tree that doesn’t trigger any allergies in me. The only soft surfaces on them are the removable cushions – which can either be vacuumed or thrown in the wash. You can check out my full review here.
6. Invest in a HEPA filter.
High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters are designed to stop very fine (small) particles effectively.
At least one study has shown that an active HEPA filter significantly reduces the presence of airborne Fel d 1. Of course, your mileage may vary, and it’s an expensive experiment to try.
But it’s certainly more palatable than having to rehome your kitty.
Amazon stocks HEPA filters made specifically for people suffering from pet allergies. I’ve hand-picked the top-rated options just for you, check them out below:
Cat allergies are a bummer, but they don’t have to ruin your life. There are many ways to minimize their impact so you can live a happy, zen life alongside your kitty.
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