How Rare Is It To Be Allergic To Cats?


Cat allergies, also known as cat allergic rhinitis or feline allergies, refer to allergic reactions triggered by exposure to proteins found in cat dander, saliva, or urine. These allergies are relatively common, with some estimates suggesting 10-20% of adults worldwide have cat allergies. The prevalence seems to be increasing over time. Cat allergies can cause various symptoms, especially in the respiratory tract, skin, and eyes. Reactions may range from mild to occasionally life-threatening.

This article will provide an overview of cat allergies, including the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, prevalence, risk factors, treatments, and tips for living with cat allergies. It will also discuss hypoallergenic cat breeds that may cause fewer allergic reactions.


Cat allergies are caused by an allergic reaction to proteins found in cat skin cells (dander), saliva, or urine. The most common symptoms of cat allergies include[1]:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Itchy, red or watery eyes
  • Facial pain from nasal congestion
  • Coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and wheezing
  • Postnasal drip with throat clearing and sore throat
  • Itchy nose, roof of mouth or throat
  • Facial pressure and pain

Symptoms can range from mild to severe. In some cases, exposure to cats can trigger a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) that requires immediate medical attention[2].



Cat allergies are caused by proteins found in cat dander (skin flakes), saliva, urine and sebaceous glands. When cats groom themselves, the proteins in their saliva stick to their fur and dander. As the dander and saliva dry, they flake off into the air. When a person inhales the dander or it lands on their skin, the immune system may overreact to the harmless proteins, producing an allergic response.

The two main proteins that trigger cat allergies are:

  • Fel d 1 – a protein found in cat saliva and sebaceous glands. It is extremely lightweight and can stay airborne for hours, easily inhaled.
  • Albumin – a protein in cat urine. It can stick to fur and flake off when dry.

When people with cat allergies come in contact with these proteins, their immune system mistakenly identifies them as harmful. The immune system releases IgE antibodies that trigger the release of histamine and other chemicals, causing allergic symptoms like sneezing, congestion, rashes, watery eyes and coughing. The more exposure to the proteins, the more severe the allergic reaction can become over time.


To diagnose a cat allergy, allergists may use skin prick testing, blood tests, or patch testing.[1] In skin prick testing, a small amount of allergen extract is pricked on the skin using a needle. If a raised, reddish bump develops at the prick site, it indicates an allergy.[2] Blood tests like the RAST (radioallergosorbent test) measure allergy antibodies in the blood. Higher levels indicate an allergy. Patch testing applies potential allergens to the skin for 2 days to check for a reaction.[3]

These allergy tests help determine if a person is allergic to cat dander specifically or to other substances. Dander contains the Fel d 1 protein which most people with cat allergies react to.[1] Allergy testing also measures the severity of the cat allergy. This helps guide treatment recommendations.


Studies show that around 10-20% of adults worldwide are allergic to cats. This percentage has been steadily increasing over time. Cat allergy is one of the most common animal allergies, with some research showing sensitization rates around 5-20%. For comparison, allergies to dogs affect around 10% of the population. In one study of over 2500 infants, allergic sensitization rates were 0.3-1% for cats and 0.3-1.2% for dogs. While cat and dog allergies are some of the most prevalent, allergies to rodents and horses can also be common depending on exposure. Overall, cat allergy affects a significant portion of the global population.


Risk Factors

Certain factors can increase your risk of developing a cat allergy:

Family history – Having a parent or sibling with allergies puts you at greater risk for developing allergies. About 1 in 3 people with a family history of allergies are allergic to cats.1

Other allergies – People with other allergies like hay fever, asthma, or eczema are more likely to be allergic to cats. About 50-90% of people with cat allergies also have other allergic conditions.2

Asthma – Having asthma puts you at higher risk for developing a cat allergy. About 60-90% of people with cat allergies also have asthma.3

Age & Gender – Cat allergies are more common in young boys than girls. The allergy often develops by age 10.1


There are several medical treatments that can help relieve symptoms for people allergic to cats:

  • Antihistamines like cetirizine (Zyrtec), fexofenadine (Allegra), and loratadine (Claritin) can help reduce sneezing, itchy eyes, and runny nose. They come in oral tablet forms.

  • Nasal corticosteroid sprays like fluticasone (Flonase) and triamcinolone (Nasacort) can reduce inflammation in the nasal passages. They are sprayed directly into the nose.

  • Leukotriene inhibitors like montelukast (Singulair) block chemicals that cause allergy symptoms. They come as oral tablets.

  • Allergy shots or immunotherapy involves getting injections of small amounts of cat allergens over time to desensitize the immune system. This is a more long-term treatment approach.

People with severe cat allergies may need to use a combination of treatments to fully manage symptoms. It’s important to discuss options with an allergist to find the right approach.

Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Allergy Symptoms

There are several lifestyle changes that can help reduce allergy symptoms for people with cat allergies. According to the Purina article “8 Simple Ways to Manage Cat Allergens At Home”, keeping cats out of bedrooms and using air purifiers can significantly cut down on allergen exposure.

Washing hands after handling cats is also recommended, as cat allergens can stick to skin and clothes. Take showers and change clothes after prolonged exposure to cats. High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) vacuums are useful for removing allergens from carpets and upholstery.

Other tips include grooming cats frequently to reduce loose dander and considering allergen-reducing foods. Keeping furniture surfaces clean and covering cushions can also minimize allergens. Overall, reducing close contact with cats and maintaining clean environments are the most effective lifestyle changes for managing cat allergy symptoms.

Hypoallergenic Cats

While no cat is 100% hypoallergenic, some cat breeds produce lower levels of the Fel d 1 protein that triggers allergic reactions in humans. These cats may cause fewer allergy symptoms for some people, allowing them to more comfortably live with cats despite their allergies. However, individuals react differently, so someone with cat allergies should still exercise caution when interacting with any cat breed.

Certain cat breeds like the Siberian, Russian Blue, Bengal, and Siamese tend to produce lower amounts of allergens and may cause fewer allergy symptoms. Their coats produce less dander, and they shed less hair and distribute less allergen into the environment. However, no studies conclusively prove these breeds to be hypoallergenic.

A cat that produces fewer allergens is not the same as a truly hypoallergenic cat. Those with cat allergies should spend time around the individual cat to see if their allergies are triggered before adopting.


The outlook for managing cat allergies depends on several factors. With proper diagnosis, avoidance strategies, medications, and immunotherapy, many people can successfully manage their cat allergies. Total allergy remission is rare, but symptoms can often be controlled through comprehensive treatment plans. Some key points on the prognosis include:

  • Allergy avoidance is crucial – minimizing exposure to cat allergens wherever possible.
  • Allergen-specific immunotherapy (shots or sublingual drops) helps desensitize the immune system and can induce long-term tolerance.
  • Oral and nasal antihistamines, corticosteroid nasal sprays, bronchodilators, and other medications can provide symptom relief.
  • For severe allergies, allergy shots are often more effective long-term than medications alone.
  • Symptoms may improve over time as incremental allergen exposure leads to gradual desensitization.
  • Strict allergen avoidance and comprehensive treatment lead to better control of symptoms.
  • Consulting an allergist is important for proper diagnosis, testing, and building an effective management plan.

While cat allergies can’t be cured, they can often be well-controlled through vigilant avoidance measures, immunotherapy, medications, and lifestyle adjustments. With an allergy specialist’s help, those with cat allergies can find an individually tailored strategy to minimize their symptoms and optimize their quality of life.

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