Does Your Cat’s Dander Worsen As They Age?

What is Cat Dander?

Cat dander refers to tiny, microscopic pieces of skin that are shed by cats. Dander is made up of tiny fragments of skin cells, hair and proteins called Fel d 1 that cats naturally produce in their saliva and sebaceous glands. As cats groom themselves, these proteins stick to their fur and skin and are then shed off as dander particles. According to PetMD, dander is “microscopic” and “ranges from 2.5 to 10 microns in size” which makes it invisible to the naked eye.

Cat dander can be found all over a cat’s body, and especially in places where cats groom frequently like their fur, paws and face. It also accumulates wherever cats sleep, rest and play. As cats move around, dander gets released into the air and environment. This is why dander can be found in places like carpets, bedding, furniture and fabric items that cats have contact with [1].

Cat Dander Allergies

Cat dander allergies are quite common, with approximately 10-20% of adults worldwide being allergic to cats [Sparkes, 2022]. The prevalence of sensitization to cats in patients with respiratory allergies has been reported around 5-20% [Sparkes, 2022]. In recent population studies of infants in Norway and Sweden, allergic sensitization to cats was found in 0.3-1% [van Hage, 2023].

Symptoms of cat dander allergy can vary but often include sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes, nasal congestion, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, itchy skin, and rashes. Reactions can range from mild to severe. Some people may experience asthma attacks triggered by exposure to cat dander.

Cat Age and Dander Production

As cats age, they tend to produce more dander than when they are kittens or younger adults. This is because older cats shed more dead skin cells as their skin becomes less elastic with age. Additionally, older cats groom themselves less thoroughly, allowing more dander to accumulate in their fur and be released into the environment (1).

One study found that cats over 12 years old produce about three times more allergen than cats under 5 years old. So cat dander does tend to get worse with age as cats become seniors (2). The increased shedding leads to higher levels of the Fel d 1 protein, the main allergen present in cat dander that triggers allergic reactions in humans.

However, there is individual variation between cats. While many elderly cats generate more dander, some maintain healthy skin and fur into old age. Regular grooming and diet can help minimize dander production. But in general, cat dander levels tend to progressively increase as cats get older.

Other Factors Affecting Dander

There are some other factors that can affect the amount of dander a cat produces and spreads around the home, including:

1. Coat Length – Cats with longer coats tend to shed more and produce more dander than short haired cats. The longer fur traps and holds on to more dead skin cells and dander before it falls off the cat’s body.

https://www.dailypaws.com/cats-kittens/cat-grooming/cat-dander

2. Grooming – Frequent brushing and bathing can help remove loose hairs and dander from a cat’s coat before they are shed around the home. Well groomed cats will spread less dander than cats that rarely get brushed.

3. Seasonal Shedding – Cats tend to shed more of their winter coats in the springtime as the seasons change. This increase in shedding means more dander production during shedding seasons.

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

Reducing Exposure to Dander

There are several effective ways to reduce exposure to cat dander in the home for people with allergies:

Bathing and grooming cats regularly can help reduce shedding and dander production. Brushing your cat a few times per week will remove dead hair and dander on their coat before it gets dispersed in the home. Using a damp microfiber cloth to wipe down your cat can also help remove dander. Products like allergen-reducing shampoos and wipes can further help minimize dander when bathing cats (Source).

Using HEPA air purifiers and filters can capture much of the cat dander floating around your home. HEPA filters are designed to remove tiny particles like dander that regular filters miss. Portable room air purifiers with HEPA filtration can significantly reduce airborne dander (Source).

Limiting your cat’s access to certain rooms, like bedrooms, can also minimize exposure in key areas. Keeping them out of carpeted rooms as much as possible will prevent dander buildup. Using high-quality vacuum cleaners with sealed HEPA bags helps capture dander in carpets and furniture.

Allergy Medications

There are several medication options available to help treat cat allergy symptoms:

Antihistamines

Antihistamines are commonly used to treat cat allergy symptoms. They work by blocking the effects of histamine, a chemical released by the immune system during an allergic reaction. Common oral antihistamines used for cat allergies include cetirizine (Zyrtec), loratadine (Claritin), and fexofenadine (Allegra). These medications can help relieve sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes, and itching. They are available over-the-counter or by prescription. Side effects may include drowsiness.

Nasal Sprays

Nasal steroid sprays are very effective at reducing inflammation in the nasal passages caused by cat allergies. They can help relieve sneezing, congestion, runny nose, and postnasal drip. Nasal sprays such as fluticasone (Flonase) and triamcinolone (Nasacort) work by reducing the immune response and inflammation. They need to be used daily for best results and may take several days to start working. Side effects are usually minimal but may include nasal irritation or nosebleeds.

Immunotherapy

Allergy shots or sublingual (under the tongue) immunotherapy can help desensitize the immune system reaction to cat allergens over time. This treatment involves being exposed to small amounts of the cat allergen in order to build up tolerance. Positive effects may take 3-6 months for sublingual and 6-12 months for allergy shots. Immunotherapy can lead to long-term remission of cat allergy symptoms after 3-5 years of treatment. Side effects may include redness and swelling at the injection site for allergy shots.

Discuss the best medication options with your allergist based on your specific symptoms. Antihistamines, nasal sprays, allergy shots, and/or a combination can provide allergy relief. Be sure to follow dosage instructions carefully.

Considerations for Allergy Sufferers

There are some steps that allergy sufferers can take to reduce their exposure to cat dander:

Choose cat breeds that are known to produce less dander, like the Sphynx or Rex breeds. Their lack of fur or very short hair means they shed less dander into the environment (source).

Keep cats out of bedrooms and limit them to one low-traffic area of the home. Use high efficiency air filters and vacuum frequently to reduce dander in inhabited spaces (source).

Wash hands immediately after touching cats to remove dander that may stick to hands and later cause reactions by touching the face (source).

Advice for Cat Owners

There are several things cat owners can do to reduce dander in the home and minimize allergy symptoms:

Regular grooming and vacuuming can help reduce loose hairs and dander. Brush your cat daily or a few times a week to remove loose hairs before they are shed around the home. Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter regularly on upholstered surfaces to remove dander and allergens (Source).

Air purifiers with a HEPA filter can remove dander from the air so it doesn’t circulate and cause allergy symptoms. Place air purifiers in rooms where you spend the most time with your cat (Source).

There are foods, supplements, and sprays designed to reduce shedding in cats. These can minimize the amount of loose fur and dander. Talk to your vet to see if any of these options may help for your cat (Source).

When to See a Doctor

If your cat allergy symptoms are getting progressively worse or suddenly appear for the first time, you should make an appointment to see a doctor. According to the Mayo Clinic (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pet-allergy/symptoms-causes/syc-20352192), some key signs that indicate you need medical evaluation and treatment include:

  • Increasingly severe allergy symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, itchy/watery eyes, coughing, skin rashes
  • New onset of asthma symptoms when exposed to cats, such as wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness
  • Severe shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Anaphylaxis – a life-threatening reaction involving swelling of the airways

If your allergies are significantly impacting your quality of life, it is important to see an allergist. They can evaluate your symptoms, perform allergy testing, and prescribe medications or treatments to help manage your cat dander allergy. Ignoring worsening allergy symptoms could potentially lead to a medical emergency. Don’t hesitate to seek medical advice if your cat allergy becomes unmanageable.

Summary

In summary, while cat dander production remains relatively constant as cats age, there are some key points for allergy sufferers and cat owners to be aware of:

– Cats produce dander continuously as skin cells die and their saliva dries. The amount of dander doesn’t necessarily increase with age.

– Allergies are caused by proteins in cat dander. Exposure can worsen symptoms, so limiting contact with cats and their dander can help.

– Medications like antihistamines and nasal sprays can help manage allergy symptoms. Air purifiers and regular cleaning can also reduce dander in the home.

– For cat owners with allergies, bathing and grooming cats regularly helps limit loose dander. Washing hands after contact avoids spreading dander.

– Those with severe allergies should consult an allergist and their doctor. Specific immunotherapy may help build tolerance over time.

While cat dander production is constant, being informed about causes and solutions can help allergy sufferers determine the right approach to manage their symptoms.

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