While it is commonly thought that cat hair causes allergy symptoms, the truth is more complex. In fact, a cat allergy is caused by various things – usually the protein in a cat’s saliva, urine or in their dander (shed skin particles). Whenever a cat sheds their fur or grooms themselves, dander can be spread from their fur and skin and an allergen is transferred onto the hair. This often leads to the allergy symptoms you experience – be it coughing, sneezing or watering eyes!
However, cat hair can also act as a carrier of other airborne allergens: pollen, dust mites and mould, which can also cause allergic symptoms in individuals with hay fever, asthma or eczema.
Before you suspect that you might be allergic to cats, it is worth mentioning that there are a number of things you could be allergic to. Dust mites, for example, or perhaps you have a case of seasonal hay fever? That said, cat allergies are one of the most common allergies in the UK, particularly for those who also have allergic asthma or hay fever. So how do you know if you are allergic to cats?
Immediate reactions to cats could include:
For many people, the signs are more subtle and it can be tricky to identify the cause of your allergic reaction – particularly if your symptoms are triggered by another factor. Some people are allergic to some cats but not others.
If you’re worried that you might be allergic to your cat, consider a trial separation that may help you determine if your cat is the cause of your reaction. Want to get a cat but not sure if you are allergic? Try visiting someone that has a cat, or head to a cat adoption centre, to test if cats trigger a reaction.
Do you suspect you may have a cat allergy? Before you plan on what to do next, it is important to discuss your allergy with a GP or health professional. This is particularly important if you have other allergic conditions, such as asthma, rhinitis or eczema.
Your GP or health professional may refer you for testing to confirm whether or not you have an allergy to cats. This can be done by a blood test and/or skin prick testing. In some cases, referral to an allergy specialist may be needed.
Most allergies occur in childhood or as a teenager – if you’ve previously lived with a cat in your family and didn’t display allergy symptoms, it is likely that you’ll be fine as an adult. However, in rare cases, there is a chance that adults who lived with cats as children can develop allergy symptoms.
Sometimes, when someone has lived with an allergen for a prolonged period (living with a cat as a child, perhaps), they become tolerant to that particular pet. Then, when they are re-exposed to a different cat as an adult, they develop symptoms. While this is rare, this can explain why some people feel that their allergy symptoms come on quickly with no notice. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to manage your cat allergy symptoms.
If you have found out that you do have an allergy, your doctor is the best person to give you advice on managing and alleviating your allergy symptoms. For example, you might benefit from using antihistamine tablets or nasal sprays. There are also a number of things you can do within your home to keep your symptoms at bay. These include:
Aside from keeping your house clean and free of allergens, there are several things to be mindful of as you interact with your cat. These include:
There is no such thing as a hypoallergenic cat breed. Allergic reactions are triggered in people when we come into contact with a specific protein called Fel d 1 which is present in the cat’s saliva and gets deposited on the cat’s coat and skin during grooming. Individual cats may have different amounts of this protein in their saliva, which is why allergic reactions triggered by some cats are worse compared to that caused by others. Trial and error is the best way to find out which individual cats trigger your allergy.
There is not a single correct answer to this question. But before you decide whether to keep your cat, you must make sure that it is your cat causing the allergic reaction. You don't want to go through the stress and upset of rehoming a much loved pet if your allergic reaction is caused by dust mites.
You have to decide whether the severity of your allergic reaction means you need to re-home your cat.
In some cases, the symptom-easing tips included above are enough to make living with a cat sustainable, but other people find that their allergic reaction makes living with a cat unbearable.