My entire life, I've found the question of "are you a dog person or a cat person" particularly loaded and difficult to answer, because I know my answer is "dog person," but there's an explanation that goes with that. I love cats, they're so cute and they seem so fun to snuggle, but whenever I get near one, my eyes well up and my nose starts itching.
Thanks to my cat allergy, I've only every lived with dogs, so naturally, I've grown into more of a dog person. However, it's not that I don't want a cat, and I've often dreamed of being a cat person. I just don't want to sniffle and sneeze all the way through it.
And I know I'm not alone. Approximately 10% of the population is allergic to cats and dogs, and an allergy to felines is about twice as common as an allergy to dogs. But there are still plenty of those allergy sufferers who can't live without a sweet kitty, so they go shopping for the kinds of cats that are "hypoallergenic." Whether it's a specific kind of hair, or a lack of hair, when you search "hypoallergenic cats" you'll find breed results like the Sphynx Cat, Cornish Rex, and the Devon Rex on the top of the list, promising allergy sufferers a way to have a cat without the side effects. However, most of these labels misunderstand what exactly causes cat allergies to begin with.
Unfortunately, the hard truth is that there truly is no single type of cat that is 100% hypoallergenic, so for those with allergies, living with a kitty will mean making a few sacrifices.
What exactly makes us allergic to cats?
The commonly accepted reason for pet allergies is pet hair or pet dander, and that's why cat's with unusual hair, like the curl of the Cornish Rex or the lack of hair on the Sphynx Cat lead some to believe that those cats are less likely to cause allergies. However, that isn't the whole story.
What most people are actually allergic to in cats is a protein called Fe d 1. This protein can be found in a cat's skin, urine, and saliva. And as you probably know, no matter what the breed, all cats have skin, urine, and saliva. When cats clean themselves by licking their hair, they get the protein from their saliva onto their hair, which can then spread around the house and environment and tickle a vulnerable human's allergies. Humans can also spread a cat's allergens by petting the cat, and since cats love to own the entire house, there are typically very few parts of the home that would stay unaffected by the Fe d 1 protein.
The reason cats with less hair or that are less prone to shedding may appear more hypoallergenic is because they may spread less allergens throughout the house. However, they still carry some amount of Fe d 1, and they may till affect those with an allergy.
Don't worry, because there are some cats with lower amounts of Fe d 1.
The discussion about cat owners with allergies isn't actually about finding a 100% hypoallergenic cat, but finding cats with lower amounts of Fe d 1 that might be more compatible for humans with an allergy. According to a 2017 study, the Siberian Cat may actually produce less of the Fe d 1 protein, making it less allergenic (but again, not fully hypoallergenic) compared to some other breeds.
A cat's Fe d 1 levels also seem to vary depending on the cat, so some cats may have more than others. Not many people would be in a position to try out their allergies on specific cats, but if you are an allergy sufferer and you have the option to spend time with a kitty before bringing it home, you may find that your allergies may respond differently based on the cat.
How to live with a cat when you have allergies
Obviously, many many people live with cats that trigger some allergic reaction, because the benefits of having a kitty far outweigh the annoyance of allergies. To make your life easier, there are some steps you can take to minimize your discomfort while maximizing your time with your cat.
- Try to clear out any additional allergens. You may not just be allergic to cats, so clearing out other allergens can help lessen the load on your system.
- Maintain a pet-free space. Limit your cat's reign over your house, so you have some spaces that you know are allergen free. One of the best options is your bedroom, so that allergies don't interfere with your sleep.
- Clean the air with a HEPA filter. Keep an air filtration system running to minimize airborne allergens.
- Clean the house regularly. You'll have to be more vigilant than average if you want to keep allergens at bay, so make sure to vacuum, dust, and clean regularly to keep the space from triggering your allergies.
- Keep your hands clean. Nobody wants to give up on their kitty snuggles, but after handling your cat or their stuff, wash your hands immediately to avoid spreading allergens.
With these steps, and maybe an occasional allergy pill, living with a cat allergy doesn't have to prevent you from becoming a happy and sniffle-free cat person.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.