Are Hypoallergenic Cats Really Allergy-Free? The Truth About “Non-Allergenic” Cat Breeds

What Causes Cat Allergies

Cat allergies are caused by a protein called Fel d 1, which is found in cats’ saliva, skin, and fur 1. When cats groom themselves, Fel d 1 gets spread over their fur. The protein is very lightweight and easily becomes airborne. When people who are allergic to cats breathe in the Fel d 1, it triggers an allergic reaction 2.

An estimated 10-20% of people worldwide are allergic to cats 1. Fel d 1 is a very potent allergen and only small amounts are needed to trigger allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Even homes without cats can contain enough Fel d 1 on surfaces and fabrics to cause issues for people with cat allergies.

Myths About Hypoallergenic Cats

One common myth is that certain cat breeds are completely hypoallergenic or allergy-free. However, no cat is 100% non-allergenic, according to experts. The protein Fel d 1, which is the main allergen in cat dander and saliva, is produced by all cats to some degree. Some breeds simply tend to produce less of it than others.

For example, the Sphynx cat, a hairless breed, was once thought to be hypoallergenic. But studies have shown Sphynx cats can still produce allergens through their skin and saliva. While hairless cats may shed less dander, the allergen is still present.

The idea that certain cat breeds cause no allergic reactions is a myth. All cats produce Fel d 1 to some extent. However, some breeds tend to produce lower levels, which may help reduce allergy symptoms in some people. There is no such thing as a 100% hypoallergenic cat.

Breeds with Low Levels of Fel d 1

While no cat breed is completely hypoallergenic, some breeds produce lower levels of Fel d 1 glycoprotein, the main allergen in cat saliva, skin and urine that triggers allergic reactions in humans. Breeds that tend to have lower Fel d 1 levels include:

Siberian: This breed produces less Fel d 1 compared to other cat breeds, likely due to a natural mutation in their genes. Siberians have a thick double-layer coat that may help trap allergens rather than releasing them into the environment. However, allergy levels can vary between individual cats. [1]

Balinese: Related to the Siamese breed, Balinese cats produce less Fel d 1 than other breeds, especially in male cats. Their fine coat also traps more allergens near the skin. But again, sensitivities can vary with each cat. [2]

Cornish Rex: This breed is thought to produce less Fel d 1 due to its extremely fine, down-like fur. Their reduced coat shedding helps keep dander and saliva allergens lower in the home environment. However, reactions can still occur. [3]

While these breeds may help reduce symptoms, consult your doctor to get allergy tested before adopting. No breed is 100% hypoallergenic and reactions vary by individual. With precautions, most allergic owners can find a compatible cat.

Tips for Managing Allergies

There are various things you can do that may help minimize allergy symptoms when living with a cat:

  • Bathe your cat 1-2 times per week using a pet-safe shampoo. Frequent bathing can reduce the amount of allergen on the cat’s fur. Be sure to bathe and rinse thoroughly.[1]
  • Use a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter air purifier in the main rooms your cat frequents. HEPA filters remove particles that contain allergens from the air.[2]
  • Take over-the-counter antihistamines like cetirizine, loratadine, or fexofenadine to reduce allergy symptoms. Talk to your doctor about prescription antihistamine options if OTC drugs are not effective enough.[3]
  • Use nasal corticosteroid sprays to reduce congestion, sneezing, and other upper respiratory allergy symptoms. These require a prescription.[2]

With a combination of these strategies, those with cat allergies can often manage their symptoms and continue living with their beloved furry companions.

Allergy Shots and Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots, can help desensitize people to cat allergens over time. This treatment involves receiving injections of small amounts of cat allergen proteins, with gradually increasing doses over several months to years. The goal is to alter the immune system’s response and reduce symptoms upon exposure to cats (1).

According to the National Institutes of Health, experimental allergy shots specifically for cat allergies provided longer-lasting relief compared to standard allergy shots in a recent trial (2). While standard shots lost effectiveness a year after treatment ended, the cat allergen specific shots maintained reduced allergy symptoms. Other research has found allergy shots can take 3-6 months before symptom relief is achieved, but are successful for 85-90% of people with cat allergies (3).

Newer approaches like single-dose immunotherapy also show promise for improving tolerance to cats. One 2022 study found a single dose was able to increase cat allergen tolerance 10-fold after 2 years (4).

Allergy shots do require a significant time commitment and can have side effects like redness or swelling at the injection site. They also involve some risk of severe allergic reactions. However, immunotherapy can provide long-term benefits and is an option to discuss with an allergist, especially for those with severe cat allergies who wish to keep their furry companions.

Other Allergy Management Strategies

In addition to allergy shots and medications, there are some other things you can do around the house to help manage cat allergies:

Keep the cat out of your bedroom and restrict it to only a few rooms, as recommended by the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Cat dander particles are very small and can remain airborne for long periods of time. By keeping your bedroom a cat-free zone, you can minimize exposure while sleeping.

Groom your cat frequently to reduce loose hairs and dander, as suggested by WebMD. Brush or comb your cat daily, focusing especially on the belly and behind the legs where dander collects. Bathing your cat weekly can also help wash away allergens.

Vacuum carpeted areas often to remove cat hair and dander, according to the Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center. Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter and wear a face mask while vacuuming. Cleaning drapes, upholstered furniture and air vents regularly also helps reduce allergens.

Testing for Fel d 1 Allergies

To definitively determine if you are allergic to cats, allergy testing is recommended. The two main types of allergy tests for cat allergies are skin prick tests and blood tests.

Skin prick tests involve pricking the skin with a small amount of allergen extract from cat dander. If you are allergic to cats, a small hive will form at the prick site. This test confirms an allergy by exposing a tiny amount of the allergen to the skin and looking for an immune system reaction.

Blood tests measure the levels of Fel d 1 specific IgE antibodies in the blood. Elevated levels indicate an allergy. This is done by taking a blood sample and measuring immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies to Fel d 1 using a cat serum immunoassay like the one offered by Mayo Clinic Labs (

Both skin and blood allergy tests are effective ways to determine if you are specifically allergic to the Fel d 1 protein produced by cats.

Consider Foster-to-Adopt

Fostering a cat first can help gauge allergy severity before making a long-term commitment. Many shelters and rescue organizations have foster-to-adopt programs where you can take a cat home temporarily to see if your allergies are manageable.

According to Kitty Devore Rescue, “Within our foster care program, we have several foster parents who are allergic to the Fel D1 protein allergen in cats.” They recommend trying medications like Allegra or Zyrtec while fostering to control allergy symptoms. Monitoring allergy levels for a few weeks can help determine if adopting is viable (

The foster period also gives time to take added allergy precautions like using HEPA air purifiers, vacuuming often, washing hands after contact, and keeping cats out of bedrooms. According to Reddit users on r/FosterAnimals, air purifiers can “help a lot” when fostering cats with allergies (

If allergy symptoms remain mild during the foster period, it may give confidence to move forward with officially adopting the cat. But if allergies become severe and unmanageable, it’s best to return the cat and reconsider options. Fostering first provides flexibility without long-term commitment.

Talk to Your Doctor

Getting personalized medical advice is crucial for properly diagnosing and treating cat allergies. Here are some important questions to ask your allergist:

What tests do you recommend for diagnosing my cat allergy? Skin prick testing and blood tests can help pinpoint if you’re allergic to cat dander specifically (source).

Would allergy shots help my symptoms? Allergy shots involve gradually exposed to the allergen to desensitize your immune system. Studies show allergy shots can significantly reduce cat allergy symptoms long-term (source).

What medications do you recommend? Antihistamines, nasal sprays, and bronchodilators may provide allergy relief. Your doctor can suggest prescription medications if over-the-counter options aren’t effective enough (source).

What lifestyle changes can reduce my exposure? Your doctor may advise limiting time with cats, using HEPA air filters, washing hands after contact, and keeping cats out of bedrooms (source).

Being proactive with your allergist can lead to better management of cat allergy symptoms. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and discuss all potential treatment options.

The Bottom Line

There is no such thing as a truly 100% hypoallergenic cat ( CDC ). All cats produce Fel d 1 protein to some degree, which is what causes allergic reactions in sensitive people. However, some cat breeds have naturally lower levels of Fel d 1 and may be better tolerated by allergy sufferers. With proper management strategies like limiting exposure, taking medication, immunotherapy shots, and thorough cleaning, many people find they can successfully live with a cat despite having allergies.

While you may experience fewer allergy symptoms with certain cat breeds, no cat is completely non-allergenic. The key is finding a cat you connect with and using various methods to control your allergies. Work closely with your allergist to develop a management plan. With some trial and error, you may discover you can have the best of both worlds – sharing your home with a cat while keeping allergy symptoms controlled.

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