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The Truth About Cat Allergies

Ann Roberts
Allergic woman

Severe cat allergies can prevent you from having the pet you want, but many mild allergic reactions are actually manageable. Learn more about what causes pet allergies and what can be done to mitigate their effects.

Is the Cat Truly the Cause?

Many people avoid cats and some may even find it necessary to give up a beloved pet because of a pressing cat allergy, only to find out later that the true culprit was household dust, mold or an entirely different allergy.

Before you give up the family feline, it is wise to be tested by a qualified physician. An ear, nose and throat specialist can run diagnostic tests that will reveal most items the test subject is allergic to, and there's always a chance that the family cat may not be on that list. It's definitely worth the extra effort to find out.

If you don't want to incur the expense, try some simple elimination tests. Do you have allergy symptoms when staying in a hotel or in a friend's pet-free home? If so, your condition is probably not driven by your cat.

What Causes Cat Allergies?

So, why is anyone allergic to cats?

The focal allergen is a protein found in cat saliva. When cats groom themselves, the protein is distributed along their fur and dries into very fine flakes. The flakes become airborne any time your pet's fur is disturbed, whether during grooming, petting or when rubbed against people and furniture.

The dander is then inhaled and, before you know it, you are experiencing the classic watery eyes, sneezing, stuffy nose and scratchy throat that are all hallmark symptoms of cat allergies.

More serious symptoms can include skin rashes and constriction of the airways which require immediate medical attention. Severe allergies can also progress into asthma.Thus, it stands to reason that any allergic reactions should be treated seriously and steps be taken to avoid/reduce exposure to the allergen

Mitigating Your Allergic Reaction

If your allergy symptoms range from mild to moderate, you may still be able to manage the situation and keep your cat.

Many vets recommend bathing your cat periodically (weekly or monthly) to decrease the amount of saliva in their coats. If this isn't practical, you can try using a commercial "cat wipe" to swab kitty clean of allergens.

In addition to frequent bathing, you might try reducing air-borne allergens by:

  • Running a HEPA-filter air cleaner in the rooms you frequent most.
  • Vacuuming your carpet and furniture daily, again with HEPA-filtration in place.
  • Cleaning/replacing your furnace filter on a weekly basis.
  • Making your bedroom off-limits to your cat.

Introducing a salt lamp to your home environment might also provide some relief from air-borne cat dander. When the salt is heated by the bulb, it is supposed to release negative ions which attach themselves to air pollutants and drop them down to ground level. From there you can remove them completely by vacuuming or mopping. Avoid sweeping with a broom because you'll only succeed in stirring up dander into the air again.

About Cat Litter Allergies

Although it's not the same allergy as the one caused by cat saliva, some people are actually allergic to certain types of cat litter, specifically clay-based litters that produce silica dust. Pine cat litter or similar non-dusty litters may be a viable alternative for allergy sufferers.

False Allergies

Some people may claim to be allergic to cats even if they really aren't. These reasons include:

  1. They might believe they are truly allergic, but have misdiagnosed themselves.
  2. They may simply not like cats and use the allergy excuse because it sounds more socially acceptable than revealing their dislike.

If you know someone who says he or she is allergic to cats, take that person seriously, but if a close friend, family member or romantic partner insists you get rid of your cat(s), make sure that person is truly allergic by asking him or her to be tested. Once you have verifiable info in hand, you can make a decision regarding whether or not to give up your pet.

Does Fur Color Affect Allergens?

The color of a cat's fur may possibly affect how severe an allergic reaction it can produce.

The American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology presents an interesting correlation between the color of a cat's fur and an allergy sufferer's level of irritation. Dark furred cats tended to produce a higher allergic response than light or white furred cats, even as much as four times higher.

These findings are particularly interesting because hairless cat breeds still produce a reaction in people who suffer from cat allergies, just like their furry relatives. Furry or not, cats lick themselves and leave behind that pesky protein in their dried saliva.

Necessary Adjustments

To date, there is no perfect solution for cat allergies. You can try to reduce the presence of allergens in the environment, or possibly abate the worst of your symptoms with doctor prescribed medication, but until science produces a genetically-engineered, non-allergic cat, allergy sufferers will have to carry on as best they can.

The Truth About Cat Allergies