Cats are the second most popular pets around the world, and some of Mankind’s best companions.
However, a large portion of the human population suffers from allergies that make it difficult to spend time with our feline friends.
Though, in most cases, these allergies can be managed through medications, home remedies, and in extreme cases, immunotherapy.
Let’s read more about allergies in cats, shall we?
Table of Contents
What Are Allergies?
There are a wide variety of allergens in the world that humans can react poorly to.
Some are worse than others: while one person may only deal with a runny nose with seasonal allergies, others may be susceptible to potentially deadly reactions if they consume certain foods.
However, there are certain things that all types of allergies have in common.
In general, allergies are defined as a chronic condition involving an abnormal reaction to an ordinarily harmless substance called an allergen.
The body’s immune system will interpret substances that are relatively harmless as harmful and overreact to their presence.
The body’s response to these allergens can range anywhere from slight discomfort to potentially life-threatening reactions, such as anaphylaxis. (1.)
When a person who is allergic to something comes in contact with that allergen, their body will produce histamines,(2.)which are in charge of removing allergens from the body.
These histamines are responsible for causing the pesky symptoms that plague those of us with allergies, such as itchy and watery eyes, runny noses, and sneezing.
The most severe allergic reactions usually accompany food allergies, such as shellfish or tree nuts.
In most cases, animal allergies are not deadly. Only in severe cases can animal allergies trigger anaphylaxis. (3.)
Most of the time, those that suffer from animal-related allergies suffer from non life-threatening discomfort.
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Why Are People Allergic To Cats?
When someone is allergic to cats, it is because their body treats the allergens that cats regularly shed as harmful substances.
These substances(4.) include things that carry the protein Fel D 1, such as saliva, urine, and dander.
Dander is generally the allergen that most people with cat allergies struggle with.
Pet dander is composed of tiny flakes of skin that fall off of most every animal that has fur or feathers. Cat dander can be extremely tiny, or even miscroscopic.
An allergy to cats is the most common animal-related allergy in the United States.
Cat allergies are about twice as common(5.) as dog allergies, despite the fact that significantly more people own dogs as pets; approximately 10% of the U.S. population has an allergy to cats.
While cats are incredibly clean animals who constantly groom themselves, this makes the dander even harder to cope with.
When a cat grooms themselves, they release high levels of saliva and dander into the air that contain Fel D 1.
Due to the fact that cats frequently groom and lick themselves, this creates an environment that is constantly riddled with irritating allergens.
Furthermore, due to Fel D 1 particle’s incredibly tiny size, they are able to stay suspended in the air for much longer periods of time.
Even if someone were to completely clean their house in order to remove allergens, the prevalence of Fel D 1 particles in the air would continue to present the constant threat of developing irritating allergy symptoms.
Despite extensive research, there is no concrete answer as to why some people develop allergies to cats.
One potential explanation(6.) is that those who are prone to allergies, when exposed to cats at a young age, tend to develop more severe allergies at an older age.
However, others hypothesize that exposure to allergens actually reduces the risk of developing allergens.
It has been shown that those who suffer from other animal allergies may be more prone to developing an allergy to cats.
If you have an allergy to dogs, pigs, horses, or cows, you may be at a higher risk of developing an allergy to cats.
Furthermore, some studies suggest that men may be more susceptible to certain allergies than women.
According to one study, over 14 million blood tests to measure the body’s sensitivity to certain allergens such as cat dander have shown that men tend to be more sensitive to allergic reactions.
This directly contradicts a slew of previous studies which suggest that women are more susceptible to allergies than men.
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Symptoms of Cat Allergies
Most of the time, allergies to cats manifest as fairly manageable symptoms. People with cat allergies usually suffer from:
- Stuffy nose
- Runny nose
- Nasal congestion
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
- Itchy, red, or watery eyes
- Rashes or hives
In most cases, cat allergies are in no way life threatening.
However, if you ever begin to experience the symptoms of a more severe allergic reaction, seek medical attention right away.
Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- Hives, itching, and flushed or pale skin
- Low blood pressure
- Constriction of the airways, resulting in difficulty breathing
- Swelling of the tongue and throat, also resulting in difficulty breathing
- Weak and rapid pulse
- Nausea or vomiting
- Dizziness or fainting
Cat Allergy Remedies
In most cases, cat allergies can be controlled with a variety of over-the-counter medications.
The most common treatment is antihistamines,(7.) which are purposely formulated to reduce and block the histamines that cause allergy symptoms.
Common antihistamines include, but are not necessarily limited to:
- Benadryl (diphenhydramine)
- Claritin (loratadine)
- Zyrtec (cetirizine)
Many antihistamines may also result in drowsiness, dry mouth, nose, and throat, and headaches.
Before taking any new medications, be sure to educate yourself on the potential side effects, as well as any potential reactions that it may have with other medications.
Decongestant sprays, such as Flonase (fluticasone) and Nasonex (mometasone), can also be used to help combat the symptoms that arise from cat allergies.
There are also a series of remedies that can be used to reduce the severity of allergy symptoms. In order to treat cat allergies at home without the help of medication, consider trying these home remedies:
- Using salt water rinses or a Neti Pot
- Using air conditioners and humidifiers
- Homeopathic remedies, such as probiotics and stinging nettle
However, the best way to avoid developing allergy symptoms is to avoid the allergen altogether.
Make sure that you know when you will be traveling somewhere that cats live and can prepare accordingly.
Bring medication with you, wash your hands thoroughly after touching any surfaces that have been in contact with pet dander, and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
If a person has a cat allergy, it is usually not breed-specific; if they are allergic to one type of cat, they will generally be allergic to all types of cats.
However, there are some cat breeds that produce significantly less allergens than other breeds, greatly reducing the risk of triggering an allergic reaction.
On the other hand, there is no breed that is completely allergen free; all cats will shed at least a minimal amount of allergens.
If you are interested in owning a cat but have a cat allergy, consider adopting one of the following breeds:
- Sphynx/Hairless Cats: These cats do not have fur, and have give off significantly less allergens than most other cat breeds. However, Hairless cats are particularly high maintenance; due to their lack of hair, they will require frequent bathing in order to remove the buildup of oils on the skin.
- Siberian Cats: While Siberian cats are a long-haired breed, they are known to have much lower levels of enzymes in their saliva which may trigger allergic reactions.
- Balinese Cats: These adorable short-haired cats have been proven to produce significantly less Fel D 1 than most cat breeds.
- Javanese Cats: Due to the fact that this breed has no undercoat, they have less fur than most cats, resulting in less allergens being shed during grooming.
Can Cat Allergies Be Cured?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for cat allergies.
However, there are certain treatments that can potentially increase your tolerance to allergens and reduce the severity of allergic reactions.
Immunotherapy(7.) offers a potential solution for those with particularly severe symptoms which otherwise cannot be controlled by over-the-counter medications.
This treatment consists of a series of shots every week over the course of 3 to 5 years.
By retraining the immune system to better tolerate cat allergens such as Fel D 1, immunotherapy reduces the severity of the immune system response that occurs when the body comes in contact with such allergens.
However, many people do not follow through with the entire treatment due to its frequency, high number of injections, and overall inconvenience.
For those who complete the entire treatment, many have attested that the effects are significant and long-lasting.
Some researchers have looked into the possibility that allergies can be controlled by targeting them at the source instead of trying to manage symptoms in humans.
Researchers have looked into cat kibble that reduces the production of allergens, vaccines that cause cats to create antibodies against Fel D 1, and gene editing that eliminates the production of allergens altogether.
However, this research is fairly new, and the long-term successes and side effects have not yet been observed.
Furthermore, these types of testing potentially raise the issue of ethics.
Some question whether or not it is appropriate to try to alter the cat’s physiology when it is the human that is the one with the medical issue.
Is it really right and ethical to try to alter our cats, when it is our problem really to begin with?
That is the ultimate question.