Hypoallergenic cats: Are they a real thing?

If you love cats but suffer from cat allergy, you may have wondered whether hypoallergenic cat breeds exist.

There is no strict scientific or legal definition of the term “hypoallergenic.” Thus, people marketing supposedly hypoallergenic products or pets use it loosely.

But for practical purposes, a cat described as hypoallergenic would be one that produces too few or none of the proteins known as allergens that trigger allergic reactions in susceptible people.

The should therefore be less likely to cause an allergic reaction to people with a known susceptibility who live with them.

How do cats spread allergens?

The allergenic proteins that trigger cat allergies abound in your pet’s body fluids, including urine, reproductive tract secretions, saliva, oil (sebaceous) glands, and sweat (yes, cats sweat, but they have fewer sweat glands than humans, and thus produce less).

Cats transfer allergens from their urine, saliva, and sweat to their skin and fur when they use their tongue to clean or groom themselves.

Allergens found on your pet’s skin and fur spread when they shed dead skin cells (dander) and fur.

Thus, although direct contact with a cat’s urine and saliva could expose you to allergens, your pet spreads allergens most effectively when they shed dander and fur.

Dander is particularly effective for spreading allergens because it is tiny and easily carried in the air (airborne) for a long time.

It also settles on furniture, carpets, and clothing and remains there until a sensitive person comes into contact.

Do Hypoallergenic cats exist?

All cats produce proteins that can trigger allergic reactions in susceptible individuals. Thus, by a strict definition, there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic cat.

However, some cat breeds produce fewer allergens than others, while others spread fewer allergens because they shed less dander and fur.

Hypoallergenicity depends on your senstivity

That means a cat breed may be hypoallergenic for one person but allergenic for another. It all depends on your sensitivity to specific allergens that trigger reactions.

While an individual with a high level of sensitivity may experience no relief living with a cat breed that produces or spreads fewer allergens, another person with lower sensitivity may experience milder or no symptoms.

In other words, some individuals may find certain breeds of cats hypoallergenic for them while others don’t.

Cats have a protein some people are sensitive to

Cats produce a unique protein, Fel d 1, that some people are sensitive to. Because the protein is unique to cats, some people are not allergic to dogs and other household pets but are allergic to cats.

Your pet’s saliva, urine, and skin contain the allergenic protein Fel d 1.

According to the Smithsonian Institution, certain breeds, such as the Siberian cat, are promoted as hypoallergenic because they produce less Fel d 1 than others.

Some studies suggest female cats produce less Fel d 1 than males. Studies also suggest that neutered male cats may produce less than non-neutered ones.

Older cats may also produce less allergenic Fel d 1 than younger ones. However, older cats shed more dander than younger ones.

Breeds of cat that produce less allergic protein or dander

Cat breeds believed to shed less dander or produce less allergenic protein than others include:

  • Sphynx
  • Bengal
  • Siberian
  • Russian Blue
  • Burmese

Others include:

  • Balinese
  • Cornish Rex
  • Devon Rex and
  • Javanese

Symptoms of cat allergy

According to the American College of of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI), cat allergy symptoms may vary from mild to severe because people have different sensitivity to cat allergens.

People highly susceptible to cat allergens develop pronounced symptoms very quickly after exposure.

The symptoms may include:

  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing,
  • Congestion of the airway
  • Coughing and chest pain
  • Rashes on the skin or hives
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