What causes humans to have an allergic reaction to cats?
The primary cause of allergies to cats is a glycoprotein known as Fel D1 which is produced by the sebaceous glands under the skin, and to a lesser degree is present in the cat's saliva.
A cat is constantly shedding minute particles of dander (skin flakes) into the environment, and when he grooms, he transfers saliva on to the coat, which is then shed around the home producing allergies in those susceptible.
What are the symptoms of allergies to cats?
Symptoms vary depending on the severity of the allergy but may include:
- Itchy, red, watery eyes
- Runny nose
- Chest tightness
If you are not sure that you are suffering from an allergy to cats, you can request an allergy test. This involves either a skin patch test or a blood test.
As we discussed in our previous article hypoallergenic cats do they exist?, there are no true hypoallergenic breeds of cat, there are however some breeds of cat who are believed to have less of an allergic reaction in people.
So, what breeds are better for allergy sufferers?
Why is it that these breeds may be less likely to cause a reaction in allergy sufferers?
Well, the Rex and Sphynx cats have less fur (yes, Sphynx cats do have a peach-like fuzz) and therefore less is shed into the environment. It should be noted however that while Rex and Sphynx cats shed less fur into the environment, they still shed dander (skin flakes) which contain the Fel d1 protein.
The other breeds are believed to produce less Fel d1 than other breeds of cat. This has yet to be proven, however, many cat owners and breeders substantiate this claim.
Most cats shed all year around, with a heavier shed around spring time. I recently spoke to a Siberian cat breeder who said that Siberian cats tend to shed less year around, but instead shed heavily twice a year. She reported that in her experience, the breed has been good for allergy sufferers. *
Are some coat colours less likely to cause allergies?
While not proven, it is speculated that darker coated cats produce more Fel d1 than light coloured cats.
Male vs female cat:
Entire male cats produce more Fel d1 than female cats (either entire or spayed).
* Unfortunately there really are no guarantees if you suffer from an allergy to cats. A leading cause of Rex cats being surrendered is that they were purchased with the belief they would be "allergy free" and the new owners still suffered from cat allergies. You can do your best to reduce your chances by adopting from the list of cats LESS LIKELY to cause allergies, choosing a lighter coated cat, a desexed male or female, but even with all of this, they still may trigger problems.
Go to cat shows and chat to cat breeders, ask them for their opinion on their chosen breed. If they claim their breed is hypoallergenic. See for yourself by spending time with the breed(s). It needs to be noted though that even if you visit a cat show or a cat breeder and experience no problems with allergies to a certain breed, sometimes you can have exposure to a cat for weeks or months before allergies become a problem.
If allergies do become a problem, speak to your doctor. There are many ways to relieve symptoms and ways you can reduce exposure to allergens within the home. We will cover this in more detail in our next article.