Cat allergy facts
- Between 10-20% of the world’s population is allergic to household pets.
- A large proportion of cats surrendered to shelters are from allergic pet owners.
- Up to 25% of Rex cats that are in need of assistance from rescue organisations are there because their new owners cannot cope with their allergic reaction to their Rex cat. Cats bought because of their so-called hypoallergenic nature.
- Many allergic people report more or less allergic reactions to individual cats.
- Considerable allergen variation exists between cats and at differing times the same cat.
- Allergic Symptoms may not occur until there have been several days or weeks of continuous exposure to the cat.
- There have been reports of both, reductions or an increase in symptoms after long-term exposure to cats.
- An asthma study by Thomas Platts-Mills, MD, PhD and his colleagues showed that high exposure to cat allergen appears to be protective for some children and a risk factor for others.
- The prefix hypo means less than and thus the word hypoallergenic tells the kitten/cat buyer that the breeder believes the cat to produce fewer allergens than other cats. How is this measured or regulated – well it isn’t. There are no legal regulations defining allergens (let alone allergens in cats), nor are there any guidelines. So the world “hypoallergenic” has very little meaning.
- Male cats produce more allergen than female cats and neutered males produce less than non-neutered males (but not always).
- Kittens produce less allergen than adult cats.
- A study of 321 patients with allergies showed that dark-coloured cats were 4 times more likely to cause more sneezing, wheezing and overall allergy-symptom than light-coloured cats did.
- Another study showed cat allergen levels in domestic living rooms are not related to cat colour or hair length.
- Woollen sweaters retain more cat allergens than cotton tops even after washing.
What causes cat allergies?
The primary cause of allergic reactions to cats is caused by allergens found in the cat sebaceous glands in the cat’s skin, such as the allergenic glycoprotein called Fel D1 (short for Felis domesticus), it is also secreted via saliva in lesser quantities. When cats lick themselves, they spread this protein, which is rather sticky, and glues itself onto dust particles, the home, your clothing and their fur; whether it’s long, short, straight, curly, or absent. As all cats have sebaceous glands, all cat breeds can potentially cause allergies. Allergic allergens are also found in the faeces, serum, urine, mucous, dander, and hair roots of the cat.
Fel D1 in the environment
Cat allergen is incredibly pervasive and even after the cat has been removed, the cat allergen can remain throughout the home for up to 6 months and up to 4 years in the cat’s bedding. The allergen has been found in almost 1/3 of non-cat owner’s homes and on the clothing of co-workers who don’t own any cats, and in doctor’s surgeries and schools. And yes, they even found cat allergen in the Antarctic (where no cat has ever been). Cat allergen is about 10 times smaller than pollen or dust particles it is so small that it easily penetrates the bronchial membranes.
It is also very important to note that up to 50% of people who are allergic to cats will not get any immediate symptoms. So always check with your Dr first via skin prick tests and have multiple visits to catteries, over a period of months to test your reaction to particular breeds.
And remember before you blame the cat for your itchy and watery eyes, constant sneezing or a runny nose, go and get allergy tested, as the cat may not be to blame after all.
Why can some people who are allergic to cats tolerate rex cats?
Image Anna Stina-Takana, Flickr
In truth, a rex cat is no different from any other cat and produces allergen like all other cats*. They are not hypoallergenic by any means, as claimed by some. Then why do some people seem to have no allergic reaction to rex cats? There is no simple answer to this question at this time, and more research is required to get the answers needed. One possible hypothesis is that as rex cats have less hair to shed, they simply deposit less allergen-laced hair around the home. But, whatever the reasons some allergic people seem to tolerate them.
From personal studies and observations by Margaret Lawrence in the UK, she found that around 10% of people allergic to cats tolerate rex cats. Please, before you race out and look for a rex cat, remember you should always test your allergies by visiting home or catteries that only own rex cats, and test continuously over several weeks or months. As you don’t want the poor little kitten to be re-homed if you find out you are allergic to him or her. Don’t let your new cat become another statistic at a shelter.
Ways to reduce allergens in the home and on the cat
- Washing your cat 2 times a week has shown to help reduce the allergen levels. Ensuring that you wash and rinse it well. Studies have shown that the accumulation of Fel d1 on the skin is restored within two days.
- Fel d 1 levels on the skin of the cat are dramatically higher in the facial area than the chest. Make sure you wash that face well.
- The use of allergy wipes such as Allerpet has proved effective in reduces cat allergens on the cat and thus your home (studies showed that it was effective for around 80% of its users).
- Ensure your cat is spayed or neutered.
- Wash your hands after handling your cat and refrain from touching your face or eyes.
- Wash clothes frequently and wear more cotton and less wool.
- Keep the house as clean as possible by washing floors and bed linen often with hot water to eliminate the allergens.
- Wash clothes and bed linen using detergent solutions at 25°C (77°F) for at least 5 minutes – to extract cat allergen from bedding and clothing.
- Use dusting sprays whilst dusting to minimise dust spread.
- Carpet is more likely to hold allergens – so if you can remove it in favour of wood, vinyl or tile floors.
- Avoid heavy drapes that trap the allergens and dust.
- Keep the cat out of your bedroom and laundry (keep it off your clean clothes) and provide it with its own bed.
- Minimise other allergens in the house such as smoke, dust, moulds, scented candles, chemicals and pollens etc. Multiple allergens are linked to the development of more severe allergic reactions and asthma.
- Create outdoor enclosures for your cat so it can spend some time outside and not confined to an enclosed house and you get some fresh air in your home.
- Keep the cat litter in a well-ventilated area and dip rather than pour when you empty it and use litter that is as dust free as possible.
- Use high-efficiency air cleaners, either central or portable.
- Check with your allergist for any anti-inflammatory therapy or possibly desensitisation (immunotherapy) options.
- Hope they finish working on a vaccine.
Article written by Tonia Marsh.