Do All Cats Have Dander?

What is Cat Dander?

Cat dander is made up of tiny, lightweight flakes of skin shed by cats (Pet Dander). These skin cells contain cat saliva, urine and proteins. As cats groom themselves, these materials accumulate on their skin and fur. During grooming or shedding, the dander flakes off into the surrounding environment. The small size and lightweight nature of dander flakes allows them to become easily airborne and spread throughout homes.

Do All Cats Produce Dander?

Yes, all cats produce dander, which is composed of tiny flakes of skin shed by cats (https://www.petmd.com/cat/care/evr_ct_facts-about-cat-dander-and-allergies). Dander contains Fel d 1, a protein that triggers allergic reactions in susceptible individuals. However, the amount of dander produced can vary between breeds due to differences in shedding, grooming habits, environment, and health status.

For example, breeds like the Sphynx and Devon Rex produce less dander because they have little to no hair. On the other hand, long-haired breeds like Persians and Maine Coons tend to shed more, releasing more dander into the environment. Regardless of breed, proper grooming to remove loose hair and skin can help minimize dander production.

Cats that live exclusively indoors typically produce less dander than outdoor cats that are exposed to dirt, pollen, and other allergens. Kittens and younger cats usually shed less than senior cats. Any skin conditions or allergies can increase shedding and dander levels. So while all cats make dander, the amounts can fluctuate (https://vet.osu.edu/sites/vet.osu.edu/files/legacy/documents/pdf/education/mph-vph/allergic%20to%20your%20cat.pdf).

Dander Triggers Allergies

Cat dander contains a protein called Fel d 1 that triggers allergic reactions in people sensitive to it (Mayo Clinic, 2022). When cats groom themselves, particles of saliva, skin cells, and Fel d 1 protein get left behind on their fur. As the fur sheds in the form of dander, these allergens become airborne and can cause symptoms if inhaled.

Common cat allergy symptoms include sneezing, congestion, coughing, runny nose, and itchy eyes. In severe cases, asthma flare-ups may occur with wheezing and difficulty breathing. For highly sensitive individuals, even brief exposure can lead to significant reactions (WebMD, 2022).

The tricky thing about cat dander is that it’s extremely lightweight and sticky. It easily floats through the air and attaches itself to surfaces, fabric, furniture, and clothing. Even if the cat itself is not present, dander trapped in the environment can trigger allergic responses in those sensitive to Fel d 1 (Lung Association, 2022). This explains why some people experience allergy symptoms when visiting a friend or family member who owns a cat.

Breeds with Less Dander

Some cat breeds produce lower amounts of allergens and may cause fewer allergy symptoms in people sensitive to cats. However, no cat breed is completely non-allergenic or hypoallergenic. All cats produce allergens to some degree, and levels can vary significantly from cat to cat within a breed.

Breeds that tend to produce less allergen-causing dander include:

  • Balinese – Long-haired breed that sheds less dander than other cats. But no guarantee for allergy sufferers. (Source)
  • Siberian – Thick coats produce less dander. But allergen levels still vary between individual cats. (Source)

While some breeds may help, there are no allergy-free cats. Work closely with your doctor and breeders if adopting a cat. Never rely on labeling a breed as “hypoallergenic” when making your selection.

Reducing Dander in Your Home

There are several steps you can take to reduce dander levels in your home if you have cats:

Frequent vacuuming and washing of bedding is important to remove dander that accumulates on surfaces and fabrics. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to trap dander particles. Wash bed sheets, blankets, pillowcases, and other linens often in hot water to kill dander allergens.

Investing in air purifiers and filters can help capture dander floating in the air before you breathe it in. HEPA air purifiers are designed to filter out dander and other allergens. Place air purifiers in rooms where you spend the most time. Replace HVAC filters regularly as well.

Grooming and bathing cats regularly gets rid of dander on their bodies before it has a chance to shed. Brush cats frequently to remove loose hair and dander. Give cats occasional baths using cat-safe shampoos to wash away dander from their skin and fur. Be sure to brush cats before bathing to minimize shedding.

Dander Precautions for Allergy Sufferers

If you suffer from cat allergies but still love being around cats, there are precautions you can take to manage your symptoms:

  • Take allergy medications as prescribed by your doctor to help relieve symptoms. Antihistamines like cetirizine (Zyrtec) or loratadine (Claritin) can help control sneezing, runny nose, and itchy eyes. Nasal steroid sprays can also help reduce inflammation.
  • Limit fabric furnishings like carpeting, curtains, and upholstered furniture, which can harbor allergens. Stick to wood, leather, or vinyl surfaces that can be more easily cleaned.
  • Wear a protective mask or respirator when cleaning the litter box or vacuuming to avoid inhaling allergens. Consider asking a non-allergic family member to handle these chores.

Be sure to wash your hands after touching your cat to prevent spreading allergens to your eyes or nose. And keep your cat out of the bedroom if possible so you have a dander-free place for sleeping and lounging. With some adjustments, those with allergies can still live happily alongside feline friends.

Sources:
https://vet.osu.edu/sites/vet.osu.edu/files/legacy/documents/pdf/education/mph-vph/allergic%20to%20your%20cat.pdf

Visiting Friends With Cats

If you’re allergic to cats, visiting a friend or family member who has a feline companion can be challenging. However, there are some precautions you can take to reduce allergy symptoms when visiting a cat owner’s home.

According to Tips for Visiting Friends or Family if You’re Allergic to Their Pets, it’s a good idea to take allergy medication beforehand to minimize symptoms. Antihistamines like Zyrtec, Claritin or Allegra can help block allergic reactions to cat dander and saliva. You may also want to take medication a few hours before visiting to give it time to take effect.

When visiting, avoid petting, holding or touching the cat as this can transfer allergens to your hands and clothes. Also try not to rub your eyes or touch your face, as this can cause a reaction. Limit contact with upholstered furniture, rugs, curtains and other surfaces where cat allergens can collect. And be wary of clothing the cat sleeps or sits on.

After visiting, take a shower and change clothes as soon as possible after returning home, advises How to host guests who are allergic to your cats. This will wash away or contain any allergens on your body and clothes. Promptly washing the clothes you wore can also help eliminate cat dander that may have attached itself.

Taking a few simple precautions can help those with cat allergies safely visit feline-loving friends while minimizing allergy symptoms and discomfort.

Adopting a Cat with Allergies

If you suffer from cat allergies but still want to experience the joy of having a feline companion, there are some steps you can take to potentially make cat adoption successful:

Try fostering first to test reactions. Many shelters and rescues allow potential adopters to foster a cat temporarily before making a permanent commitment. This gives you a chance to see if your allergies are manageable with that particular cat in your home environment.

Choose a low-dander breed. Certain cat breeds like the Siberian, Russian Blue, and Bengal naturally produce less of the Fel-D1 protein that causes allergic reactions.

Use air purifiers and clean frequently. Air purifiers with HEPA filters can remove dander from the air while frequent vacuuming and washing of bedding can also help reduce allergens in your home.

Other Allergy Management Tips

In addition to reducing dander exposure, there are some other strategies that can help manage cat allergies:

Over-the-counter antihistamines like cetirizine (Zyrtec) or loratadine (Claritin) can provide relief from allergy symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, and itchy eyes. Antihistamines work by blocking the effects of histamine, the chemical released by the immune system during an allergic reaction. They come in pill, liquid, and nasal spray forms. However, antihistamines treat the symptoms only and don’t address the root causes of the allergy [1].

For people with severe cat allergies, immunotherapy or allergy shots can help build tolerance over time. This involves getting injections of small doses of cat allergens on a regular basis. The doses are gradually increased to allow the immune system to get used to the allergens. After about 3-5 years, allergy shots can induce long-term tolerance and relief of allergy symptoms [2].

It’s also important to wash your hands and avoid touching your face after petting or holding a cat. Allergens can stick to your hands and get transferred when you touch your eyes or nose. Washing your hands prevents the spread of dander and minimizes allergen exposure [3].

With proper management, people with cat allergies can still find ways to live with cats while controlling their symptoms.

The Bottom Line

All cats produce some level of dander, so no cat breed can be considered completely non-allergenic (Source). However, some breeds like the Siberian and Russian Blue tend to produce lower levels of the Fel d 1 protein that triggers allergic reactions in humans (Source). The amount of dander an individual cat produces can also vary based on factors like gender, age, and grooming habits.

While no cat is hypoallergenic, proper precautions like frequent vacuuming, air filters, and avoiding direct contact can greatly reduce allergy symptoms for sensitive individuals. Those looking to adopt a cat despite allergies may be able to find certain breeds or individuals less likely to aggravate their symptoms. However, it’s always smart for allergy sufferers to spend time around any potential cat before adopting to assess their personal reaction.

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