Hypoallergenic Cats - Is There Hope For Allergic People?
There are a few studies that have determined that the so-called hypoallergenic cats can present reduced levels of the protein Fel d 1 (the allergy-causing protein). So, technically, "hypoallergenic cat breeds" exist and might be a good choice for people who are allergic to cats.
When Covid hit I decided I wanted to get a cat to help me cope with the loneliness of loss and isolation. I'm allergic to cats and dogs would not suit my lifestyle as I work long hours every day at an office.
When researching through Google Scholar (btw, a great tool if you want to go beyond confirmation bias) I learned that some studies are saying that Bengal Cats are Hypoallergenic. I could not believe my eyes. I started digging deeper and I even exposed myself to several Bengal Cats to verify if it was true. This is what I learned:
The number of people with cat allergies is increasing. Studies show that approximately 15% of people are allergic to dogs or cats. This does not stop them from having pets. In America, about 2 million people with allergies live with cats anyways, about 1/3 of allergic people, who are allergic to cats live with at least one cat in their household anyway.
There is a growing demand for "hypoallergenic" cats. The notion that a particular cat or dog breed is "hypoallergenic" has the potential to become a lucrative business. As a result, the number of breeders who specialize in producing these types of cats is also on the rise.
Hypoallergenic Cats for Allergic People
Animals in the households used to be treated as furniture, just fur, and bones but today, this couldn't be further from the reality. In most families with pets in their homes dogs or cats are treated like family - even if you're allergic to them!
Getting rid of animals that caused allergies was and still is the recommendation by most allergists, but pet parents don't want to hear about it. We expect medicine or shots to get rid of the allergies so we can keep on living with our furry companions.
These solutions are expensive and can be a lot of trouble for the patient.
Hypoallergenic cats could be the solution for those families with allergic members. Are they a myth? Which cat breeds are hypoallergenic?
According to AAFA (Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America) "hypoallergenic cats and dogs don't exist"
I know you have lots of questions and I am going to try to answer them, but let's understand the basics first.
What are Cat Allergies and What Causes Them?
Allergies are caused by an overreaction of the immune system to a particular substance. Allergies are divided into 7 big groups:
- Drug Allergy: It's rare and only occurs in about 1 out 100 people who take medicines, but most side effects are not allergic because they have different properties than the medication being taken.
- Food Allergy: Types of food allergies can be divided into three categories - IgE-mediated, non-IgE mediated, and dietary intolerance. IgE-mediated (anaphylactic) allergy means there was previous exposure that caused immune system responses; these types of reactions tend not only to depend on type but dose rates also affect how severe they will get in comparison.
- Insect Allergy: The most common insects that cause allergic reactions are bees, wasps, and hornets. These stinging pests should be handled with care to prevent anaphylactic shock or other health problems because they're often alleged as well! Non-stinging species like cockroaches can also trigger allergic responses in some people.
- Latex Allergy: A latex allergy is an allergic reaction to natural rubber latex: gloves, balloons, condoms, and other natural rubber products contain latex. A latex allergy can be a serious health risk due to its extended use in medical practice.
- Mold Allergy: The fungi that cause mold and mildew are everywhere, but you can still prevent your family from experiencing an allergic reaction all year long.
- Polen Allergy: The season for allergies has finally come, and it's not just your nose that needs protecting. Pollen is one of the most common triggers which can lead to seasonal allergic rhinitis (or "hay fever") in those who are prone; experts usually refer to this as “seasonal AR."
- Pet Allergy: The allergies to pets with fur are common, especially among people who have other asthma or allergy. Cat allergies are about twice as common as dog allergies.
In the case of cat allergies, the offending protein is fel d1. Fel d 1 is a thermostable protein found in the saliva, anal glands, sebaceous glands, skin, and fur of cats. Being the sebaceous glands the main production site, not saliva as most people think.
When cat allergens come into contact with the mucous membranes of an allergic person, they trigger a release of histamines, which leads to symptoms such as sneezing, itching, and watery eyes.
The percentage of people with cat allergies is increasing, and it is estimated that around 10% of the population is affected by this condition.
Many factors determine how much Fel d 1 a cat produces. For example, studies have shown that:
- Males produce more of the allergen than females
- Castrated male cats produce less Fel d 1 than non-castrated males
- After cleaning the air, the level of Fel d 1 is restored in only 24h
- Washing a cat reduces the amount of Fel d 1 on skin and fur but it doesn't last long.
However, there are genetic factors that determine the amount of Fel d 1 that a cat will produce, so not all cats produce the same amount of protein.
A cat scratch or lick can trigger an allergic reaction but many airborne particles are small enough to get into the lungs as we breathe. This article is transferred around by floating in the air and by sticking to carriers such as clothes or hair.
Within 3 weeks, new mattresses in stores had the same level of cat allergens as those in houses where cats used to live.
Because Fel d 1 is very sticky, it can travel and spread to locations where cats are not normally found: shopping malls, cinemas, hotels, and even in hospitals and doctor offices. It is almost impossible to avoid cat allergen exposure.
Several studies showed that a whopping 56% of homes that never had cats contained levels of cat allergens high enough to trigger an allergic reaction. Also, 16% of homes which never had cats contained levels of cat allergens high enough to cause asthma symptoms.
It may take up to 6 months after the removal of a cat for the bulk of cat allergens to disappear from home.
What are the Symptoms of Allergies in Cats?
The main symptoms of cat allergies are Itching, Itchy and watery eyes, Itchy throat or mouth, Coughing, Redness of the skin and hives, and Runny nose, or Nasal congestion. For people with asthma, an allergic reaction can also trigger: Tight or painful chest, Difficulty breathing, Whistling or wheezing, and Shortness of breath.
The United States has the highest percentage of household pets in the world, and the numbers continue to increase, with approximately 62% of US households having 1 or more domestic pets. Of the households with cats, 17% of the people who live with them are skin prick test positive for cat extract; that is, they are sensitized to their animal.
The membranes that line your eyes and nose can become swollen for people that are allergic to cats or dogs.
The main symptoms are:
- Itchy and watery eyes
- Itchy throat or mouth
- Redness of the skin and hives
- Runny nose
- Nasal congestion
For people with asthma, an allergic reaction can also trigger:
- Tight or painful chest
- Difficulty breathing
- Whistling or wheezing
- Shortness of breath
If you think you might have an animal allergy, see an allergist for confirmation.
Are Bengal Cats Hypoallergenic?
There is no such thing as an allergen-free cat. Hypoallergenic means "below average" or "slightly" allergenic is a term meaning that something causes fewer allergic reactions. Cats that require less grooming (like bengal cats) as well as cats that are genetically less predisposed to produce the allergen Fel d 1, can be considered hypoallergenic.
Even though Bengal cats can produce, in some cases, fewer allergic reactions, there is no such thing as an allergy-free cat. The best way you have to know if a certain cat is going to produce you or a family member an allergic reaction is by exposing yourself or that person to the cat itself.
Because kittens have less of the allergenic protein, an allergy might develop as the kitten grows into an adult.
Breeding bengal cats is a very lucrative business and there's a lot of misinformation on the web. I did hours of research on Google Scholar and Looked for real research and there's not a single article defending that bengal cats are hypoallergenic.
Can You Live With a Cat if You are Allergic?
Yes, it is possible to live with a cat if you have allergies. There are many people who live with cats despite having an allergy. Some only have mild symptoms and treat them using over-the counter medications or visiting their doctor for prescriptions; while others suffer from moderate allergic reactions but manage without needing any treatment at all because they've learned how to coexist peacefully in this close interaction between human beings (and felines).
Yes, it is possible to live with a cat if you have allergies. While some people may have severe reactions, others may only experience mild symptoms that can be treated with over-the counter medications or prescriptions from their doctor.
Those who suffer from moderate allergies may be able to manage without any treatment at all by learning how to coexist peacefully in this close interaction between human beings and felines. If you are allergic to cats but would like to live with one, talk to your doctor about your options and what you can do to minimize your symptoms.
Cats are one of the most popular pets in the United States, and for good reason. They make great companions, are relatively low-maintenance, and can be fun and playful. However, for some people, cats are not an option because they are allergic to them. If you fall into this category, you may be wondering if it is still possible to live with a cat if you have allergies.
What Solutions Exist To Prevent Cat Allergies?
Removing the cat from the house is the best way to improve cat allergies and any expert will recommend that first. The reality, though, is that if you read this far, you are, most likely, not willing to do that.
Let's review some things you can do to prevent cat allergies:
Avoid Fabric as Much as Possible
The allergy-causing protein (Fel d 1) is very small and sticky. 60% of airborne Fel d 1 is carried by small particles, of which 75% are more than 5 microns in diameter and 25% less than 2.5 microns.
It will travel around the house and likely inundate every corner of the house. A recent group of researchers carried out experiments in different rooms. They modified the environment and the cleaning methods. They also compared the difference between washin and or not the cat. The objective, identify if there were any methods that would help reduce the presence of Fel d 1 in the air.
The most stricking finding was that carpets accumulate up to 100X more cat allergen that hardwood floors.
Carpet accumulates cat allergen at ∼100 times the level for a polished floor, that is, ∼100 µg/day Fel d I compared with ∼0.5 µng/day Fel d I
Reducing the amount of fabric on a household is likely going to drastically reduce the presence of the allergen:
- Minimize carpeting
- Minimize upholstered furniture
- Minimize paper walls
- Minimize curtains
Clean the House Often
The study also showcased that vacuming and moping the hardwood floors would also decrease the presence of allergens.
Because Fel d 1 is very small, using a vacuum that doesn't have an Hepa filter can be counterproductive. The act of vacuuming would pick up the allergens from the floor and spread them through the room.
Dyson has one of the best HEPA filter vacuum cleaners in the market:
Wet mopping the floors weekly will also help. Wiping walls and furniture weekly with dust cleaners such as the Swiffer® and duster cloths work quite well.
Include an Air Purifier in Every Room
Both low ventilation rate and furnishings increased the level of Fel d I measured inside the house.
While ventilating is sometimes a possiblity, it is unlikely to happen 24/7.
Air purifiers that include hepa filters do a good job at trapping cat allergens. The way they work is by pulling air in and then forcing it through a fine mesh. Hepa filters can capture up to 99.97% of particles that are 0.3 microns or larger. That includes things like dust, pollen, and cat dander.
They will trap most of the cat allergens, and as a result, the air that comes out is much cleaner and "almost" allergen free.
The hepa filters that I use at home are fairly cheap and improved my quality of life drastically:
A recent study showed that there was an average 70% reduction in the particulate matter ≥0.3 μm with the HEPA filter. Patients' subjective responses also suggested benefit from the filter. The overall impression is that the HEPA filter can reduce allergic respiratory symptoms.
I have one in every room and it has helped me a lot. This Levoit model has a sleep mode that is very silent, so you can also use it while sleeping.
Best Antihistamine for Cat Allergies
Having a cat and cat allergies was overwhelming for me at first. My first weeks with a cat at home were weeks I don't wish anyone to experience: Waking up with a runny nose, a stuffed face and itchy and sticky eyes... not fun.
I tried almost all Antihistaminics in the market and there was one that worked best for my cat allergies. But first, let's review which types of antihistaminics exist today:
They're usually divided into 2 main groups:
- antihistamines that make you feel sleepy – such as chlorphenamine (Piriton), cinnarizine, diphenhydramine, hydroxyzine and promethazine
- non-drowsy antihistamines that are less likely to make you feel sleepy – such as acrivastine, cetirizine, fexofenadine and loratadine
I tend to prefer non-drowsy antihistmines for my cat allergies because I have to take them somwhat regularly but still need to perform my day to day duties and deliver on my responsibilities.
I found out that there's not much difference between a branded antihistaminic and a generic one. To me, the best antihistaminic for cat allergies was the Amazon antihistaminic with Loratadine as an active ingredient has turned out to be cheap and working very well for me, which is the generic version of Claritine but for a fraction of the price:
300 Tablets for $21.50
70 Tablets for $26.56
What worked best for me was to try different active ingredients and brands to decide which one worked best for me and my needs.*
* This is not medical advice, please, speak with your allergist if you have doubts about your allergies.
Some Techniques that Won't Help With Your Allergies
Keeping the cat out of the bedroom is not very effective since cat allergen is transferred from room to room by the owner’s clothing. Remember that it can take a good 6 months before the cat allergen levels are low enough that they will not longer be a problem.
A recent study showed that in as little as 24h the levels of the allergen in the air where the same between a bathed cat and one cat that was not bathed. The study reinforces the lack of efficacy of washing cats as a means of reducing allergen exposure.
Cat Allergy Treatments
Along with avoidance, medications such as antihistamines and steroid nose sprays can help minimize allergy symptoms. I was lucky to build tolerance to my cat Mia, but for the first months I took Allegra and Fluticasone on a daily basis.
Allergy shots and allergy drops has been demonstrated to be effective for the long term treatment of cat allergies.
Some people, like it happened with me, may be able to build up a tolerance by gradually exposing themselves to the allergen. This process, called desensitization, it's best if it's done under the supervision of a doctor.
Stay Wild, Stay Safe, See You Outdoors!
Albert & Mia
Satorina, J., Szalai, K., Willensdorfer, A. et al. Do hypoallergenic cats exist? -- Determination of major cat allergen Fel d 1 production in normal and hypoallergenic cat breeds. Clin Transl Allergy 4, P11 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1186/2045-7022-4-S2-P11
Bonnet, B., Messaoudi, K., Jacomet, F. et al. An update on molecular cat allergens: Fel d 1 and what else? Chapter 1: Fel d 1, the major cat allergen. Allergy Asthma Clin Immunol 14, 14 (2018).
Nageotte C, Park M, Havstad S, Zoratti E, Ownby D. Duration of airborne Fel d 1 reduction after cat washing. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2006;118:521–2.
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