Thursday, December 21, 2023

The Best Cats for Allergy Sufferers

When I was a little girl I went to an allergist where a scratch test was performed. For anyone who has never been through it, the doctor puts a tiny drop of a suspected allergen on your skin, then makes a small scratch to allow the allergen to get underneath it. If the area swells up and gets red, you’re allergic to that particular thing.

In my case I was allergic to pretty much everything they tested for – dust, mold, pollen, grass...and cats. Even though I was quite young at the time I still remember the follow-up appointment when the doctor asked my mother if we still had our family cat Patch. My mother replied with a very logical answer, “She’s allergic to things like pollen and grass. Is she supposed to never step outside and expose herself to them? That would be impossible, so why should she be deprived of living with something she loves as much as cats?” The doctor never asked about Patch’s living arrangements again.

Patch was a beloved member of our family and finding a new home for him was never an option. It was never even up for discussion. Thankfully my cat allergy was mild and 40 plus years later I’ve more or less outgrown it. (I can’t say the same thing for dust and pollen though!)

Maybe it’s the cat lover in me and I’m being unfair, but I’ve always felt that a lot of people use an allergy as a good excuse to not take on the responsibility of a pet. I understand that for many allergies can be very serious, even a life or death situation, but in milder cases there are many ways to deal with a pet allergy.

There's a lot of confusion and misinformation about what exactly causes an allergic reaction to cats. Many people believe it's cat fur they are allergic to, but the real culprit is a protein (Fel-d1) in the animal’s saliva, dander, and urine. Fur collects these allergens in addition to others like dust and pollen. During the grooming process this protein is spread throughout their fur, and when a cat sheds or dander falls off them, the allergen is deposited into the environment.

Unfortunately there is no such thing as a 100% “hypoallergenic” cat (or dog, for that matter), but some breeds are widely accepted as causing fewer allergy symptoms than others, possibly because these breeds naturally have less Fel-d1.

  • The Sphynx is considered less allergenic because it’s hairless and allergens can’t get trapped in their fur, but these cats still require regular grooming to remove oil on the skin and wax in the ears.
  • How can the Siberian with its long, beautiful coat be an option for allergy sufferers? Surprisingly, they shed very little and their skin produces less Fel-d1 than most other breeds, as do Russian Blue and Balinese cats.
  • The Cornish Rex possesses only the soft down hair that makes up most cat’s undercoats, meaning they have a lot less hair than other cats and therefore shed less. The Devon Rex has a similar coat, also consisting of soft, fine down hair, and little to no top coat.
  • Like the Cornish and Devon Rex, Javanese cats have only one of the three layers of coat that most cats have. The difference is that Javanese cats have a fine top coat instead of an undercoat.
  • Oriental Shorthairs have a very short, fine coat that sheds infrequently.
  • The beautiful Bengal has a short pelt-like coat that requires considerably less maintenance than other breeds with zero to minimum shedding. Since the Bengal is a hybrid (part domestic cat and part Asian Leopard Cat), it’s believed their allergen-causing proteins may be different enough to not cause a reaction.
  • The LaPerm has a unique, curly coat which helps keep their dander from spreading around.

Regardless of breed, male cats tend to produce more Fel-d1 than females, especially intact males. Light-colored cats may produce less of the allergy-inducing protein than dark-colored cats. It’s also believed that long-haired cats release fewer allergens into their environment than short-haired cats because their long fur holds the protein against the skin better.

These are all generalizations of course, and individual cats may produce more allergens than average members of their breed, so a person with cat allergies may still suffer from symptoms when exposed to a member of a so-called “hypoallergenic” breed. No one wants to adopt a cat only to have to return them because of an allergy, so you should always spend extra time with any cat you plan to bring home to gauge your reaction to them.

Don’t let allergies stand in the way of the joy of living with a cat. There’s a purrfect match out there for most anyone, and kitty cuddles are worth the time and effort to find yours!

Do you know anyone with a cat allergy?
Have they still managed to cohabitate with a feline friend?


Lynn and Precious said...

You write a very good article this morning and it is much appreciated by me. When my angel Peepers came to live with me I did not realize I was allergic to cats. The worse it got I finally gave up and went to see a doctor and I did take shots for a while. Eventually I got sick and tired of that threw everything away and we got along just fine to this day with cat fur and a little bit of runny nose

John Holton said...

We've had a couple of Devon Rexes. In addition to being virtually hypoallergenic, they are a lot of fun...

The Florida Furkids said...

Good info. Thank COD our Mom isn't allergic.

pilch92 said...

Even if I was allergic, I would always have cats. :) Your mom was a wonderful woman. XO

Brian's Home Blog said...

That's an interesting list. I've been allergic most of my life but I've also always had cats so I just deal with it.

messymimi said...

Like you, I was allergic to a laundry list of stuff, including the cats and dogs we had in the house and the horses I so loved to ride. I took allergy shots and eventually, whether to outgrowing it or the shots working, the allergies mostly went away.

Three Chatty Cats said...

I was very allergic to cats at one point, but I'm glad I've also outgrown it.

The Menagerie Mom said...

This is such a wonderfully informative post. Amidst all of the knowledge you imparted, though, I have to say that my favorite part of this post was you sharing your mother's words to the doctor regarding your love for cats. That moment sounds like just one piece of evidence proving what an amazing mother she was and always will be to you. said...

Frodo is a Devon Rex! Merry Christmas!

Priscilla King said...

I think "allergic to everything" was a giveaway. People would test "allergic to everything" when they were actually having chemical reactions and the allergy tests were mechanical irritants. Later, they were miraculously much less "allergic" to everything on and off those tests!

There are genuine food intolerances, and it's possible for any kind of pollen or dust to choke anyone who inhales a lot of it, but sometimes I wonder whether all "allergy" rashes and hayfever are actually caused by chemicals. I had hayfever and asthma as reactions to "everything" when exposed to chlordane; a relative had poison-ivy-like rashes as reactions to other things when exposed to chlordane, and had a few life-threatening reactions to poison ivy, too. After that chemical was banned I was asthma-free and the relative's reactions, even to real poison ivy, gradually normalized too.

So, I'd say to one of The Nephews who's been told he's allergic to cats: You ARE a celiac. You are probably alcohol-intolerant, may become lactose-intolerant, and may have some issues with sugar later in life. Other than that, as long as you avoid eating wheat and IF AND WHEN YOU ARE ABLE TO AVOID GLYPHOSATE POISONING, chances are that you have NO true skin or respiratory allergies to any plant or animal God ever made.

I'd say to the whole United States: If you have a chronic condition that you developed in the 1980s or 1990s, that became much more serious between 2010 and 2015, that subsided in 2020 but is becoming more serious again--whatever it is, and whether or not there's a permanent physical basis for it, it is at least partly a glyphosate reaction. Every body reacts to this ubiquitous chemical in a different way, but almost every body (human or other) DOES react to it.