Cat Allergies – What Causes Them & How To Treat Your Symptoms

Russell Jonathon

Russell Jonathon

Living with cat allergies can be difficult, I know. Even if you don’t own any cats, your friends or co-workers might. Going over to their house can be a problem, even if they put the cat away, you find yourself sneezing uncontrollably and you don’t know why.

Maybe you long to bring a cat into your home. Nothing beats curling up with a warm, soft, and purring cat. But if you have allergies, it can be a sneezy, sniffly, wheezy nightmare.

Fortunately, there are now ways to help manage your cat allergies. No longer will you have to avoid that friend or colleague, or live without feline comfort.

In this article, we’ll first go over a few details regarding cat allergies, including causes and symptoms. Then we’ll dig in and discuss ways to reduce those symptoms and treat your allergies.

So What Causes Cat Allergies?

close up of tabby with a cute face

Most people don’t realize, cat’s fur alone doesn’t make people suffer from allergies, it’s also a protein (called Fel d 1) that cat’s bodies produce. That’s then expelled through saliva, urine, and dander (the flakes of dead skin).

Our bodies have a natural immune system that’s designed to fight off nasty viruses or bacteria. People with allergies to cats tend to have an overactive immune system. It treats the protein that cats give off as a dangerous invader and attacks it as such.

This is why when you’re around cats or anything that’s touched a cat, you may experience the same symptoms as a cold or flu.

Therefore, even hairless Sphynx cats may not be the answer, because it’s not only cat hair that makes you allergic, it’s their dander or saliva also.

That said, someone with only mild allergies might be okay with the Sphynx or any other cat listed as “hypoallergenic” because although they still produce dander, they produce much less than the average cat.

However, if you have severe reactions to cat dander, getting a cat that produces less dander is not going to help you.

Cat Allergies & Symptoms

Of the 10% of people that are allergic to household pets, allergies to cats account for twice as many allergies to dogs. That makes cat allergies the most common pet allergy, and more and more people are either born allergic, or develop it over time.

As mentioned, symptoms of cat allergies mimic many symptoms you get when you’re fighting off a cold or flu, minus the fever, nausea, chills, or vomiting.

If you’re allergic to cats, you may find your self experiencing some, or all of these symptoms when you come in contact with a cat (directly or indirectly):

  • Redness around the eyes
  • Eyes itch
  • Stuffy and runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Hives or redness around your chest and face
  • Redness where you came in contact with the cat

Severe allergic reactions can trigger an asthma attack. Some people may develop anaphylaxis, which can lead to low blood pressure. Anyone experiencing an asthma attack or anaphylaxis after contact with a cat should seek emergency health care.

Other minor symptoms include fatigue, as well as an ongoing cough from postnasal drip. Both are usually so minor that they often go unreported as being connected to cat allergies.

How To Get Rid Of Cat Allergies

Obviously, the best way to avoid allergic reactions is to avoid cats altogether, but as we established in the beginning, that’s not always an easy thing to do. Still, there are a few things you can do to get rid of cat allergies or at least reduce the symptoms.

Don’t sleep with your cat.

close up of sleeping kitten

Yes, I know. Your cat is cuddly, warm, and gives you a peaceful feeling when they purr. However, sleeping with them in your bed can wreak havoc on your allergies and may cause breathing problems while you sleep.

Additionally, it might be a good idea to not let them into your bedroom at all, simply because dander lingers everywhere a cat has been.

Install HEPA air filters in your home.

Having a good quality air filter in your home can go a long way in clearing out some of the nasty cat dander. Just make sure you change your air filter on a regular basis so you’re always breathing free. They even make portable ones, which can come in handy whenever you go to that friend’s house where cats are present.

Buy a vacuum with a built-in HEPA filter.

Even if you have a mild allergy, vacuuming up after them can release a strong concentration of the cat protein into the air and cause a flare up of your allergies or asthma. Getting a vacuum with a built-in HEPA filter can help eliminate that.

Install non-carpeted flooring in your home.

Carpets hold an amazing number of allergens, and not all of them are pet related. Simply removing the carpet in your home and replacing it with wood or tile flooring could be just what you need to handle your cat allergies.

Delegate dusting, vacuuming, and cat box cleaning duties.

If all the above fails, or just isn’t feasible for any reason, the only thing left to do is delegate cleaning duties to someone who’s not allergic. Offer up a trade, if you need to. While they’re vacuuming and cleaning the litter box, you can be handling some other chore that doesn’t affect your allergies.

Cat Allergies & Treatments

macro focus of ginger cat

Aside from making changes to your home and surroundings, there are also medical treatments that can help you manage your symptoms. They can also save your life should you have an asthma attack or go into anaphylactic shock.

Take an antihistamine.

People who suffer from other allergies regularly take antihistamines to protect their body should they ever encounter allergens that trigger their symptoms. Antihistamines can also help those allergic to cat dander.

Ask your doctor for an inhaler.

If wheezing and coughing is a common symptom for you, having an inhaler on hand is a good idea. Even if you don’t have asthma, they can help you breathe a lot easier if cat dander makes it difficult.

Keep an epinephrine pen on hand.

For the more severe suffers, pet dander can be potentially life threatening. If that’s you, no amount of avoidance is going to help you. Keep a doctor prescribed epi pen on hand just in case.

Cat Allergy Test

An allergy test can be a great way to find out for sure if you are allergic to cats or cat dander. It will alert you to any other allergies you suffer, such as being allergic to grass seeds.

Tests are performed by allergy specialists, they can perform the test via a blood test, a skin test or eliminating certain foods from your diet. Your body will react to certain test resulting in a positive test, for example, pollen can cause some people to have a runny nose or itch and break out in a rash.

Getting an allergy test is a quick identifiable way to know for sure if you are indeed allergic to cats.

Conclusion

Cat allergies symptoms are never ideal but, being allergic to cats doesn’t have to be the end of the world. You should be able to visit that friend or bring home a cuddly kitten without becoming a sniffling mess.

Some of the best ways to prevent serious reactions is to avoid contact with cats (if possible), install HEPA filters in your home or vacuum, or appoint someone who isn’t allergic to do the cat cleaning chores.

For more severe cases, you can take allergy medications or inhalers to help battle or lessen your symptoms. Or, in the case of anaphylaxis, carry an epi pen in your purse.

It is possible to live a normal life and not be ruled by the symptoms your cat allergies cause you. Just as many people with seasonal allergies often learn to cope, so can you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: If cat hair isn’t what causes allergies, why do I seem to sneeze more around long-haired cats?

When a cat grooms him or herself, the dander sloughs off their skin and onto the ends of the fur. Unless brushed regularly, that dander then gets left anywhere a cat sleeps or brushes up against.

Q: If I’m allergic to cats, will I be allergic to dogs as well?

Not necessarily. The allergen that cats produce is the protein Fel d 1, which has been found to be a much stronger allergen than the Can f 1 protein in dogs. You could be allergic to both dogs and cats, but being allergic to cats doesn’t predispose you to other allergies.

Q: What’s the best hypoallergenic cat to get?

While there is no one cat breed that’s free of dander or the problematic Fel d 1 protein, there are some breeds that seem to produce much less of it. Breeds found to be the best options are Balinese, Oriental Shorthair, Javanese, Devon Rex, Cornish Rex, Sphynx, and Siberian.