Cats and Allergies. How Many People Really Suffer?


Approximately 3% to 15% of people are allergic to cats. This allergy is triggered by a protein called Fel d 1 found in cat saliva, skin secretions, and urine. When cats groom themselves, the saliva dries and flakes off into the air. These microscopic particles are inhaled, triggering an allergic reaction in some people.

Symptoms of cat allergies include sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, congestion, coughing, irritation of the nose or throat, rashes, and asthma attacks. While cat allergies can range from mild to severe, they can significantly impact quality of life.

Despite how common cat allergies are, there are still many misconceptions around them. Understanding the true prevalence, causes, and treatments for cat allergies can help those affected manage their symptoms.


Common allergy symptoms caused by cats include sneezing, coughing, runny nose, itchy eyes, and skin rashes. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, cat allergies can trigger sneezing fits, nasal congestion, facial pain from sinus pressure, and irritated, watery eyes. Coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and wheezing may also occur in people with asthma. Skin symptoms like hives, eczema flare-ups, and reddened skin are also seen in some individuals allergic to cats.

Allergy symptoms tend to develop within minutes to hours after exposure to allergens from cats, such as skin dander, saliva, and urine. However, WebMD notes that some people experience a delayed reaction 24-48 hours after encountering cat allergens. Severity of symptoms can range from mild sneezing and congestion to more serious respiratory distress.


Cat allergens come primarily from cat skin dander and saliva. The main allergen is a protein called Fel d 1, which is found in cat skin sebum and saliva.1

When cats groom themselves, particles of saliva along with Fel d 1 protein get distributed on their fur. These allergens then dry up and flake off into the surrounding environment. This dander containing the Fel d 1 protein is so small and light that it can stay airborne for long periods and gets easily inhaled.2

For people who are allergic, the immune system identifies the Fel d 1 protein as a foreign invader. This triggers an IgE antibody response. The IgE antibodies identify the allergens and signal the immune system to release histamine. The histamine then causes the symptoms of itchy eyes, runny nose, and coughing.

Frequent or prolonged exposure can cause increased sensitivity as the immune system continually overreacts to the allergen. That’s why some people develop stronger cat allergies over time.


If you suspect you have an allergy to cats, it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis from an allergist or immunologist. There are several tests that can help confirm a cat allergy:

Skin prick test – Small amounts of allergen extracts are placed on the skin, which is then pricked with a needle. If you’re allergic, a raised bump will appear within 15 minutes. This test can detect sensitivity to proteins found in cat dander, saliva or urine.

Intradermal skin test – Allergen extracts are injected below the skin’s surface. This test provokes a stronger immune response than a skin prick test, helping detect mild allergies.

Blood tests – A blood sample is exposed to cat allergens to check for allergen-specific antibodies like IgE. Higher levels indicate an allergy. This is less sensitive than skin tests.

At-home tests – These can screen for allergies using blood, saliva or skin samples. Positive results should be confirmed with medical tests for accuracy.

Elimination diet trial – Avoiding cat exposure for 1-2 weeks to see if symptoms improve can help diagnose a cat allergy before testing.

Allergy testing is the best way to definitively diagnose a cat allergy. This will allow you to pursue the most effective treatment options.


Cat allergies are one of the most common allergies globally. Research shows that around 1 in 10 people are allergic to cats (Chan 2018). In the United States, it’s estimated that around 10-20% of the population is allergic to cats (AAFA). This equates to over 50 million Americans having cat allergies. People tend to develop cat allergies in childhood or adolescence, with around 2 in 10 children being allergic to cats. While many people outgrow allergies over time, cat allergies tend to persist into adulthood for a majority of people.

Cat allergy prevalence also varies by region and ethnicity. For example, studies show higher rates of cat allergies among Caucasian populations compared to Asian populations (Chan 2018). Overall, cat allergies remain one of the most frequently reported allergies worldwide.

Misconceptions about Cat Allergies

There are several common myths and misconceptions when it comes to cat allergies. Understanding the facts can help people properly manage their allergies.

One myth is that cat allergies will get better with more exposure. According to Wapiti Labs, many cat lovers think continuous exposure will help them build tolerance, but this is often not the case as allergies can get worse over time.

Another myth is that certain cat breeds, like Balinese or Siberian, are hypoallergenic. However, research shows no evidence of cat breeds that do not cause allergic reactions. People react differently to individual cats.

It’s also a myth that only long-haired cats trigger allergies. According to Purina, any cat can cause an allergic reaction. The allergen is in cats’ saliva, skin flakes, and urine, not their fur.

Managing Allergies

There are several ways to manage cat allergies if you want to keep your feline friend:

Regular bathing and grooming can significantly reduce airborne allergens. Bathing your cat at least once a week can remove much of the Fel d 1 allergen from their fur. Be sure to use a cat-safe shampoo and brush thoroughly while bathing to remove dander.

Keep your cat out of the bedroom since that is where you spend the most time. Use high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters in the bedroom and other rooms to filter allergens. Wash bedding frequently in hot water to remove allergens.

Vacuum frequently using a HEPA filter vacuum. This will help remove dander and allergens from carpets, furniture, and other surfaces. Wipe down surfaces with a damp cloth weekly.

Consider allergy shots (immunotherapy). After testing for specific allergies, customized allergy shots can help desensitize you to cat allergens over time. Symptoms may start improving after 6-12 months of shots.

There are also medications that can provide symptom relief, such as antihistamines, nasal corticosteroid sprays, and leukotriene inhibitors. Talk to your doctor about medication options appropriate for your symptoms.

While managing allergies takes diligence, it provides ways for cat lovers to keep their pets while controlling allergy symptoms.

Allergy Shots

One way to treat cat allergies is through immunotherapy or allergy shots. According to the Mayo Clinic, allergy shots work by exposing the patient to very small doses of the cat allergen, typically the protein that causes the allergic reaction, over time [1]. The dosing starts very small and is gradually increased in a controlled way under medical supervision.

The goal is to increase tolerance to the allergen so the immune system doesn’t overreact to it. Patients typically receive allergy shot therapy for 3-5 years. Research shows that patients can experience long-lasting relief from allergy symptoms even after discontinuing the shots. For example, a recent NIH study found that combining cat allergy shots with a monoclonal antibody provided more effective, longer-lasting relief that continued a year after stopping treatment [2].

Alternative Pets

For people with cat allergies looking for a hypoallergenic pet, there are several options to consider that tend to produce fewer allergens than cats. According to, good hypoallergenic pets include:

  • Certain dog breeds like poodles, Portuguese Water Dogs, and schnauzers
  • Small rodents like guinea pigs, rats, mice, gerbils, and chinchillas
  • Birds like parrots, canaries, and finches
  • Reptiles like snakes, lizards, and turtles
  • Fish like goldfish, angelfish, and guppies

It’s important to note that no pet is 100% hypoallergenic. But these options tend to produce less dander and saliva, which are common allergy triggers. Working with an allergist and breeder to find the right pet can help those with cat allergies still enjoy having an animal companion. Proper care and grooming can also reduce allergens. Overall, there are alternatives for cat lovers who need to avoid feline allergies.


In summary, cat allergies are caused by a reaction to proteins found in cat dander, saliva or urine. The most common symptoms are respiratory ones like sneezing, coughing and itchy eyes. Allergies can be diagnosed through skin prick tests or blood tests. Approximately 10% of the population has some level of cat allergy, although fewer than 5% experience severe reactions. Many think long-haired cats cause more allergies but any breed can trigger a reaction. Managing allergies involves keeping cats out of bedrooms, bathing cats weekly, and using HEPA filters. Allergy shots can help desensitize over time for some. While you may need to find a new home for your cat if allergies are severe, some hypoallergenic breeds like the Sphynx can be an alternative. Overall, cat allergies are common but can often be managed with lifestyle changes and medical treatment.

Scroll to Top