Are you allergic to cats? If so, you are part of the 15 to 30% of the world’s population with an allergy to pets, and more people are sensitive to cats than dogs. Allergy symptoms can range from slight irritation to life-threatening anaphylaxis caused by an overreaction of your immune system to proteins in a cat’s saliva, skin, and hair.
If you have a cat allergy and would still like to adopt one, you may have heard that calico cats are hypoallergenic. The truth is that no cats have been found hypoallergenic because they all create the same proteins, even hairless cats. The good news is that if your allergy to cats is mild, there are some steps you can take to minimize your symptoms, and adopting a cat may still be a possibility.
All Cats Produce Allergens
Almost all known allergens are proteins, even the allergens commonly found in foods, plants, insects, and medications. The proteins created by animals that cause the most trouble for allergy sufferers are found in their saliva, skin, and hair, although proteins are also present in the materials they leave behind.
Why do these proteins cause a problem for some people and not others? Those with immune systems that are overly sensitive to the particular proteins created by cats will suffer a reaction when they come in contact with them. Your immune system may mistake the cat proteins for something dangerous and try to fight it off, although, in reality, the proteins are harmless.
Allergens produced by cats are small compared to pollen, mold, and dust mites that might also be present in your home. According to Dr. Dana Wallace of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology, this small size means that cat dander can stay airborne for much longer and increase your exposure to it.
Cat Allergy Symptoms
What is an allergy? It’s a reaction to something that would typically be harmless to the body, but the body mistakes it for something dangerous and attacks it. The reaction can range from mild to severe, depending on the allergen you encounter and your body’s sensitivity to it.
The most common cat allergy symptoms include:
- Runny, itchy nose
- Coughing and wheezing
- Red, itchy eyes
- Dry, itchy skin
- Redness, hives, or a rash on the chest/face
- Swelling or a rash when licked or scratched
More severe allergic reactions to cats may need medical attention, such as an asthma flare-up or anaphylactic shock. These rare but serious allergies typically occur quickly after being exposed to cat allergens, while mild symptoms could take hours or days to appear.
How to Minimize Symptoms
You may notice that you have fewer symptoms around particular cats, but this is not due to their breed or even the length of their hair. The number of allergens produced can vary significantly between individual cats despite these things, but there are other ways you can reduce your cat allergy symptoms.
- Spay or neuter your cat: Some male cats produce fewer allergens after they’ve been neutered. This is just one of the benefits of having your cat spayed or neutered.
- Limit the number of cats in your home: It’s safe to assume that the number of cats you have will affect the number of allergens produced.
- Groom your cats regularly: Routine baths can help cut down on airborne allergens. Giving a cat a bath may be tricky at first, but it should get easier with practice.
- Restrict access to certain rooms: Keeping cats out of bedrooms can reduce allergy symptoms by giving you a break from them at night while sleeping.
- Have someone else do the housework: Vacuuming and dusting will disrupt the dander that has settled but is necessary for removing as much of it as possible.
- Install a HEPA filter: A high-efficiency particulate air filter, or HEPA filter, can be installed as part of your HVAC system, or you can purchase a separate air purifier to help remove airborne allergens like cat dander.
While calico cats are not hypoallergenic, and no cat truly is, there are ways to minimize mild cat allergy symptoms to live more comfortably with your fur-baby or feel more confident in adopting one. If your symptoms are more severe, you may need to speak with your doctor about medical treatments for cat allergies, such as antihistamines or decongestants.
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