Can Allergies Keep You From Loving Cats?


Cat allergies are very common, affecting around 10-20% of the population globally. According to research, the prevalence of cat allergies has been increasing over time. The most common symptoms of cat allergies include sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes, and wheezing. Allergic reactions occur when the immune system overreacts to proteins found in cat dander, saliva or urine. While cat allergies can be bothersome, many people wonder if it’s possible to overcome them. With a combination of avoidance measures, medications, and immunotherapy, some individuals can reduce sensitivity and manage symptoms when exposed to cats.

Causes of Cat Allergies

Cat allergies are caused by an allergic reaction to allergens produced by cats. The main allergen that triggers cat allergies is a protein called Fel d 1. This protein is primarily found in cat skin, saliva, and urine. When a person who is allergic to cats is exposed to Fel d 1, their immune system mistakenly identifies the protein as a harmful invader and produces antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE) to attack it. The interaction between Fel d 1 and IgE antibodies triggers the release of histamines and other inflammatory chemicals, causing the symptoms of cat allergies.

According to research summarized by WebMD, “Fel d 1 is extremely lightweight and sticky. It spreads easily through the air and attaches strongly to fabrics, walls, and other surfaces” (Source). Even after a cat leaves an area, Fel d 1 can remain present for long periods of time. For people with cat allergies, even small amounts of Fel d 1 exposure can trigger an immune response and allergy symptoms.


The most common symptoms of cat allergies include:

– Runny nose
– Sneezing
– Itchy, watery eyes
– Coughing, wheezing

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, cat allergies can cause sneezing or a runny or stuffy nose, facial pain from nasal congestion, coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and wheezing. The Mayo Clinic also lists itchy, red or watery eyes, nasal congestion, itchy nose, throat or roof of mouth, and postnasal drip as common allergy symptoms.

The most problematic symptoms are often respiratory, including coughing spells, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Eye symptoms like itchiness and watering can also be quite disruptive.


There are a few methods doctors can use to diagnose cat allergies:

Skin prick test – In this test, a small amount of cat allergen extract is placed on the skin, usually on the forearm or back. The skin is then pricked with a needle or probe to allow the allergen to enter the skin. If a person is allergic, they will develop a small, itchy red bump at the prick site within 15-20 minutes. This is considered the gold standard for diagnosing cat allergies (Source).

Blood test – A doctor may order a blood test to look for IgE antibodies to cat dander. Elevated levels indicate an allergy. This can help confirm skin prick test results (Source).

Trial exposure – If test results are unclear, a doctor may recommend limited exposure to a cat in a controlled setting to see if symptoms develop. This helps confirm or rule out a cat allergy diagnosis.


One of the most effective ways to manage cat allergies is to avoid exposure to cat allergens as much as possible. This involves taking steps to keep cats out of certain areas of your home and cleaning frequently to remove allergens:

Keeping cats out of bedrooms and other common living areas can significantly reduce allergen exposure. Install pet gates or close doors to bedrooms, living rooms, and kitchens. Only allow cats in less frequented areas like laundry rooms, finished basements, or spare bedrooms.[1]

HEPA air filters can remove cat allergens circulating in the air. Use standalone HEPA filters or HVAC systems with HEPA filtration in the main living areas of your home.[2]

Frequently washing fabrics and cleaning surfaces removes cat dander and allergens. Wash sheets, blankets, and clothing weekly in hot water. Vacuum carpets and upholstery regularly using a vacuum with a HEPA filter. Wipe down surfaces with a damp cloth to pick up dust and dander.


There are several types of medications that can help relieve allergy symptoms caused by cats:


Antihistamines like loratadine (Claritin), cetirizine (Zyrtec), and fexofenadine (Allegra) can help relieve sneezing, runny nose, and itchy eyes by blocking the effects of histamines released during an allergic reaction. Over-the-counter oral antihistamines are generally the first line of treatment for cat allergies. They provide relief within 30 minutes to 1 hour and effects can last for up to 24 hours. Some side effects include drowsiness and dry mouth 1.

Nasal Steroids

Nasal steroid sprays like fluticasone (Flonase) and triamcinolone (Nasacort) can reduce inflammation and congestion by delivering steroids directly to the nasal passages. It may take several days of regular use to experience symptom relief. Side effects are generally mild but can include headaches or nosebleeds 1.

Allergy Shots

Allergy shots or immunotherapy involves getting injections containing small amounts of cat allergens over time. This helps your body build tolerance and reduces immune system reactions. It can take 3-6 months to see improvement. Allergy shots are often recommended for people with severe cat allergies who don’t get enough relief from medications alone.

Alternative Treatments

In addition to traditional medical treatments, some alternative therapies may help relieve cat allergy symptoms. Two such options include acupuncture and honey therapy.

Acupuncture involves inserting very thin needles into specific points on the body to stimulate nerve pathways and energy flow. Some research indicates acupuncture may reduce inflammation and improve lung function in people with allergies.[1] More studies are still needed, but acupuncture is generally safe when performed by a licensed professional.

Honey therapy uses locally produced honey to help desensitize the immune system to pollen allergies. The idea is that consuming honey made from local pollen sources may act like a natural vaccine against environmental allergens. There is some evidence this approach can reduce allergy symptoms over time.[2]

Probiotics may also help by promoting a healthy gut microbiome, which plays a role in immune function. Some research finds probiotic supplements can reduce inflammation and improve quality of life in allergy sufferers.[3] Talk to your doctor before trying probiotics for cat allergies.

Breeds for Allergy Sufferers

Although no cat breed is 100% hypoallergenic, some breeds tend to produce fewer allergens than others, making them better choices for allergy sufferers. Here are some of the more allergy-friendly cat breeds to consider:

The Siberian breed has a thick double coat that produces lower levels of the Fel d1 allergen than other breeds. Siberians have been reported to trigger fewer allergy symptoms in many people. According to, Siberians are a popular hypoallergenic choice.

Balinese cats have long silky fur but shed very little dander. The structure of their fur makes it less likely to spread allergens into the air. Balinese cats tend to produce fewer allergy symptoms in sensitive individuals.

The curly, short fur of Cornish Rex cats means less fur and dander in the home. Their loose curled coats trap allergens close to their skin. Many report the Cornish Rex triggers less allergy issues.

Completely hairless Sphynx cats are an obvious hypoallergenic option, since they do not shed fur. However, they still produce dander, so those with cat allergies should spend time with one before deciding if it’s a good match.

Lifestyle Changes

Making some simple changes to your lifestyle and environment can significantly reduce allergy symptoms when living with a cat. One of the most important steps is vacuuming frequently using a HEPA filter vacuum cleaner. HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters are able to trap tiny particles like cat dander that regular vacuums simply recirculate into the air. Vacuuming carpets, furniture, curtains, and other fabric surfaces daily can remove much of the lingering dander and allergens in your home (source).

Regular bathing of your cat can also help reduce dander and allergens on their coat and skin. Use a pet-safe shampoo and wash your cat at least once a week. Make sure to wash and dry your hands immediately after handling your cat to prevent transferring allergens from their fur onto surfaces or your face (source). Wiping your cat down with damp cloths between baths can also pick up loose hairs and dander.

Air purifiers with HEPA filters, frequent laundering of fabrics, and cleaning surfaces with allergen-reducing products can further help reduce allergen levels in your home environment.

Long-Term Outlook

Severe cat allergies tend to be chronic [1], but it’s possible to develop a tolerance over time [2]. Some people see their symptoms lessen with repeated exposure to cat dander and repeated daily interactions. Still, management and treatment are necessary in the long run. Allergy shots have proven effective for enabling people to ultimately live more comfortably with cats [3].

In severe, unmanaged cases, the only option may be finding a new home for the cat. This is a difficult decision, but health and quality of life have to come first. Consult an allergist and try all other options before rehoming a beloved pet.

With diligent avoidance, use of allergy medications, and allergy immunotherapy, many people can adapt to handling mild to moderate cat allergies long-term. It’s important to be consistent with minimizing dander, managing symptoms early on, and communicating with doctors. But for most, a cat allergy doesn’t have to mean saying goodbye to cats forever.

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