According to WebMD, about 10% of the U.S. population has pet allergies and cats are among the most common culprits. Cat allergies are twice as common as dog allergies.
Especially for cat lovers, cat dander allergy is a particularly troublesome problem.
Before starting this article, we should first correct two common misunderstandings:
- Is it cat dander I'm allergic to?
The answer is no. We are not allergic to cat hair, but to several special proteins (allergens) contained in cat saliva, glands, urine and feces.
- Can raising a hairless cat (Sphinx Cat) prevent cat dander allergy?
The answer is no. The saliva, glands, urine and feces of Sphinx Cat also contain allergens, which can cause allergies.
In this article we will address the mechanism of cat dander allergy and its countermeasures.
What Is the Mechanism of Allergies?
In short, allergy is actually caused by the defense function of the human immune system. When humans are exposed to some antigens, the immune system will identify these "enemies" and produce antibodies or other chemicals to protect the human body. This mechanism can protect the human body against viruses, bacteria, parasites and so on.
But sometimes the immune system is too "sensitive" to defend against some antigens that will not cause harm to the human body, such as pollen, dog hair, cat hair and so on.
How do cats cause human allergies?
There are two main substances that cats cause human allergies:
Among them, Fel d1 is more likely to cause allergic reactions in humans.
In the process of cat licking hair, these two proteins (Fel d4 and Fel d1) are dispersed throughout the cat's body, and then spread into the air through hair, dander, urine, feces, etc., or directly contact us, causing our allergic reaction.
Does a hairless cat really not make people allergic?
Cat allergy has nothing to do with the amount of cat hair. Some people are more allergic to long haired cats and less allergic to hairless cats, which is mainly because the longer the cat's hair, the easier it is to accumulate allergens.
All kinds of cats produce allergens. However, there are great differences between cats. Some cats produce fewer allergens, while others produce more. Generally speaking, male cats that are not sterilized will produce more allergic substances; in contrast, female cats produce much less allergens.
What Happens If You Are "Allergic" to Cats?
Several typical symptoms of cat dander allergy include red and itchy eyes, stuffy nose, runny nose, sneezing, cough, shortness of breath, urticaria and rash.
Allergy symptoms may occur minutes to hours after exposure to allergens on cats.
If you are not sure that the allergy is caused by the cat, you can have a skin test in the hospital. Skin test refers to injecting/smearing a small amount of antigen on your skin to test whether you are allergic to this antigen.
If the skin test cannot be carried out in some cases, such as skin diseases, blood test can also be carried out. The blood test will detect whether there are antibodies that cause allergy in your body.
What If I Am Allergic to Cats?
First of all, you should try to avoid exposure to allergens. If there is no way to avoid, the following drugs can be used for cat dander allergy treatment:
- Antioncotic: It mainly helps to breathe smoothly by contracting swollen blood vessels.
Can People Who Are Allergic to Cats Still Have Cats?
The following methods can reduce the risk of cat dander allergy as much as possible by reducing the number of allergens:
- Comb and bathe cats frequently.
- Set up a "forbidden area" for cats at home, such as keeping cats out of the bedroom and reducing the exposure to allergens.
- Clean room frequently to reduce the accumulation of allergens. When necessary, it is recommended to often replace or even not use furniture that is particularly prone to accumulate dander, such as blankets, blinds, curtains, etc.
- If possible, let members of the family who are not allergic to cats clean up litter pots, cat nests, etc.
- Use an air purifier (if you have) to absorb allergens scattered in the air.
- Wash your hands frequently after playing with the cat, and remove the cat hair from your body.
Fortunately, some of the research may help people with cat allergy.
1. Anti-Cat-Allergy Vaccine
Hypocat, a Swiss research institution, has developed a vaccine for cats, which allows the cat's immune system to eliminate the Fel d1 protein (the culprit causing human allergy) naturally produced by cats. After injecting more than 50 cats with the vaccine, it was found that these cats did produce less Fel d1 protein. After mixing human blood (people who are allergic to cats) with the saliva and tears of these cats, the allergic reaction is also lower than that before vaccination.
However, this is only a preclinical study, and it may take several years to do more data accumulation before it can be released.
2. Anti-Allergen Cat Food
A study in July 2019 showed that feeding cats with an antibody containing Fel d1 can reduce the amount of Fel d1 they produce, thereby reducing people's allergic reactions.
1. Kelly S M, Karsh J, Marcelo J, et al. Fel d 1 and Fel d 4 levels in cat fur, saliva, and urine [J]. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 2018.
2. Thoms F., Jennings G.T., Maudrich M., Vogel M., Haas S., Zeltins A., Hofmann-Lehmann R., (...), Bachmann M.F. Immunization of cats to induce neutralizing antibodies against Fel d 1, the major feline allergen in human subjects (2019) Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 144 (1), pp.193-203.
3. Satyaraj E, Li Q, Sun P, Sherrill S. Anti-Fel d1 immunoglobulin Y antibody-containing egg ingredient lowers allergen levels in cat saliva. J Feline Med Surg. 2019 Oct; 21(10): 875-881.