Living With a Cat When You’re Allergic. Is It Possible?


Cat allergies are one of the most common allergies, affecting 10-20% of the population worldwide. The allergy is caused by an overreaction of the immune system to a protein called Fel d 1, which is found in cats’ saliva, skin and fur. When a person with cat allergies comes into contact with cat dander containing Fel d 1, their immune system mistakenly identifies it as harmful and releases histamine, causing allergy symptoms like sneezing, coughing, nasal congestion, eye irritation and skin rash. While cat allergies can range from mild to severe, they are rarely life-threatening. However, living with indoor cats can greatly exacerbate allergy symptoms and make life very uncomfortable for people with cat allergies. This article explores if and how someone with cat allergies can live comfortably with cats.


Cat allergies in humans are caused by an immune response to a protein called Fel d 1 found in cat saliva, skin, and urine. When a person with a cat allergy is exposed to Fel d 1, their immune system overreacts and releases histamine, causing common allergy symptoms.

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, the most common cat allergy symptoms include:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Itchy, red or watery eyes
  • Facial pain and pressure
  • Coughing and wheezing
  • Chest tightness and shortness of breath
  • Itching of the skin, rash or hives

In severe cases, a cat allergy can trigger an asthma attack. Symptoms may begin soon after exposure to a cat and can last for hours or days after.


Cat allergies are caused by proteins found in cat dander (skin flakes), saliva, and urine. The most common allergen is a protein called Fel d 1, which is produced in cats’ sebaceous glands and skin.

When cats groom themselves, the Fel d 1 particles get on their fur and saliva. The particles then spread through the air or get transferred to surfaces when the cat rubs against objects. Fel d 1 is sticky and can remain airborne for long periods. When inhaled by a person allergic to cats, it triggers an immune system reaction that causes allergy symptoms.

In rare cases, cat allergies can be caused by sensitivity to cat serum albumin in cat saliva. Some people may also react to cat urine.

Allergen Sources

The main sources of allergens from cats come from their fur, skin dander, and saliva.Patient Information: Cat Allergies Studies have shown that the most significant allergen comes from a protein called Fel d 1, which is primarily found in cat saliva and skin dander.Cat Allergies: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments and Testing As cats groom themselves, the saliva dries and mixes with skin dander, which then sticks to the fur. These allergens then get transferred around the home as the cat moves around and rubs against furniture and carpets.Cat Allergy Got You Down? Avoiding exposure to areas where allergens accumulate, such as soft furnishings, carpets, and the cat’s bedding can help reduce allergen contact for those with cat allergies.

Allergy Testing

There are a couple main ways to test for cat allergies. Skin prick testing is one of the most common methods. This involves pricking the skin with small amounts of cat allergen extracts and observing if a red, itchy bump forms within 15-20 minutes. This indicates an IgE-mediated allergic response. Skin prick tests are generally very accurate for diagnosing cat allergies, with a positive predictive value over 95% (

Another diagnostic option is a blood test checking for IgE antibodies to cats. This measures the level of IgE antibodies in the blood in response to cat dander. Higher levels indicate an allergy. Blood tests can successfully identify over 90% of people with cat allergies. While less sensitive than skin testing, blood tests are minimally invasive (


Allergies are caused by allergens in the environment, so reducing exposure is key for allergy sufferers. Here are some tips for avoiding cat allergens at home:

Keep cats out of bedrooms. Since you spend many hours sleeping in your bedroom, it’s important to make it a cat-free zone. Use baby gates or close doors to keep cats from entering bedrooms.

Use HEPA filters in your home. HEPA air purifiers and vacuum cleaners can remove allergens from the air and surfaces. Place air purifiers in main living areas and bedrooms.

Clean frequently. Cat allergens can build up quickly on surfaces, bedding, and fabrics. Vacuum carpets and furniture at least twice a week using a vacuum with a HEPA filter. Wash sheets, blankets, and stuffed animals in hot water weekly.

“To reduce cat allergens at home, keep cats out of bedrooms, use HEPA filters, and clean frequently,” says Lelu & Bobo.


There are several types of medications that can help manage allergy symptoms from cats:


Antihistamines like cetirizine (Zyrtec), loratadine (Claritin), and fexofenadine (Allegra) can relieve allergy symptoms by blocking histamines released by the immune system in response to allergens [1]. Antihistamines come in oral tablets, liquids, and nasal sprays. Common side effects include drowsiness, dry mouth, dizziness, and headache.


Steroids like prednisone help reduce inflammation caused by allergic reactions. They are available as pills, inhalers, and nasal sprays. Potential side effects include increased appetite, weight gain, mood changes, and higher blood pressure.

Allergen Immunotherapy

Allergen immunotherapy involves getting allergy shots on a regular schedule to desensitize your immune system to cat allergens over time. This can reduce allergy symptoms and need for medication long-term [2]. It requires patience and commitment but can be very effective.


Certain cat breeds tend to produce lower levels of Fel d 1, the allergen found in cat saliva, skin, and urine that triggers allergic reactions in humans. While no cat is 100% hypoallergenic, some breeds are considered better choices for allergy sufferers. These include:

The Siberian is known for having lower dander production despite its long, thick fur. Siberians have a natural resistance to diseases and fewer allergens in their saliva.

The Russian Blue is an allergy-friendly breed due to its short, plush coat that doesn’t shed much. They produce lower Fel d 1 levels.

The Sphynx has very little hair, so it tends not to trigger allergies from dander. However, its saliva may still cause reactions.

Consult with a breeder to interact with parent cats before adopting a kitten of a potentially hypoallergenic breed.

Lifestyle Tips

There are some simple lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your exposure to cat allergens and minimize allergy symptoms when living with a cat:

Wash your hands frequently, especially after petting or playing with your cat. Washing hands prevents spreading allergens to your face or sensitive areas like eyes or nose. Use warm water and soap and wash for at least 20 seconds.

Change clothes after extended contact with your cat. Allergens can collect on clothing, so change into fresh clothes to avoid continued exposure. Wash the exposed clothing to eliminate any cat dander or saliva proteins.

Bathe your cat weekly. Bathing can reduce the amount of allergens on your cat’s fur. Use a cat-safe shampoo and avoid getting water in your cat’s ears.

Clean bedding and fabric surfaces weekly. Use hot water when washing sheets, blankets or clothing. For upholstered furniture, vacuum frequently and use covers or blankets that can be regularly laundered.

When to Rehome

In severe cases where allergy symptoms are very difficult to control, rehoming your cat may be the best option for your health. According to, rehoming should only be considered as a last resort after exhausting other options like medications, allergy shots, and thorough cleaning/grooming. If your allergies are so severe that you experience breathing difficulties, swelling, or anaphylaxis even with medical treatment and allergen avoidance, it may be safest to find your cat a new home. Make sure to take the time to find your cat a loving home rather than abandoning it. While giving up a beloved pet is heartbreaking, your health and safety should come first in extreme, uncontrolled cases.

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