Allergy-Free Felines. Are Hypoallergenic Cats Too Good To Be True?

What causes cat allergies?

Cat allergies are triggered by a protein called Fel d 1, which is found in cat skin, saliva, and fur. When someone with a cat allergy comes into contact with Fel d 1, their immune system identifies it as a threat and releases histamine as a defense response. This leads to common allergy symptoms like:

  • Sneezing
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Coughing

With continued exposure, cat allergies tend to get worse over time as the immune system becomes more sensitized. Even after removing the cat from the home, the Fel d 1 protein can linger for months. Typically, the more severe the reaction, the lower the exposure needed to trigger symptoms (source).

Hypoallergenic cat breeds

There are certain cat breeds that are considered “hypoallergenic” because they produce lower amounts of Fel d 1 protein, which is the major allergen present in cat saliva, skin and urine that triggers allergic reactions in humans. While no cat breed is completely non-allergenic, some breeds like the Siberian, Balinese, and Cornish Rex are known to have lower Fel d 1 levels and can be easier for allergy sufferers to tolerate.

The Siberian is a popular hypoallergenic breed due to its thick double coat that produces less dander. Balinese cats have long silky fur like their Siamese relatives but shed less. Cornish Rex cats have tight curly coats with only a fine undercoat instead of a thick dense fur. While these breeds and others like the Russian Blue may trigger less severe allergic reactions in some people, there is no such thing as a 100% hypoallergenic domestic cat.

People with cat allergies need to meet with the actual cat they are considering adopting to see if their symptoms are manageable. What causes reactions can vary between individuals. Those set on owning a cat despite being allergic should consult a doctor and prepare allergy management strategies before adopting.

Tips for managing allergies

There are some simple strategies you can try to reduce allergy symptoms when living with a cat:

Bathe your cat at least once a week. Frequent bathing can reduce the amount of allergen a cat produces by removing dander and saliva from their fur (1). Use a cat-safe shampoo and avoid getting water in their ears.

Use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter in your home. HEPA filters can remove over 99% of allergens from the air and greatly reduce allergy symptoms (2). Place air purifiers with HEPA filters in bedrooms and main living areas.

Vacuum frequently using a vacuum with a HEPA filter. Vacuuming carpets and upholstery can reduce allergen levels. Wear a protective mask when vacuuming (3).

Keep your cat out of bedrooms. Designate your bedroom a pet-free zone and use HEPA air purifiers. This can give you a refuge where allergen levels are lower (4).

Take over-the-counter allergy medications. Antihistamines like cetirizine or loratadine can help relieve allergy symptoms like sneezing and itchy eyes. Nasal corticosteroid sprays may also help reduce inflammation (5).


Immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots, is a long-term treatment option for people with cat allergies. It works by gradually exposing the immune system to small amounts of cat allergens to build up tolerance over time. According to the National Institutes of Health, allergy shots have long been used to reduce allergic reactions by building up tolerance through incremental exposure1.

Allergy shots involve regular injections of a serum containing cat allergens over the course of 3-5 years. The doses are gradually increased to a maintenance level. Patients need to commit to receiving shots 1-2 times per week during the buildup phase and then monthly during the maintenance phase. Allergy shots have been shown to significantly reduce allergy symptoms and need for medication in most patients. However, it requires a significant time commitment.

Oral or sublingual immunotherapy involves placing allergen extracts under the tongue to be held there and then swallowed. This form of immunotherapy also requires regular dosing daily to build up tolerance. Some studies have found sublingual immunotherapy to effectively reduce allergy symptoms to cats2. However, more research is needed to compare its efficacy to allergy shots.

In summary, immunotherapy can be an effective treatment for cat allergies but requires a long-term commitment to regular dosing to build tolerance over years. Allergy shots and sublingual versions are options that should be discussed with an allergist.

Temporarily fostering

One option to test for cat allergies before full adoption is to temporarily foster a cat. Fostering provides a short-term trial to gauge your reaction to cats in a real home environment. Shelters and rescue organizations often have fostering programs where you can care for a cat for a few weeks or months.

This allows you to see how you react to close, indoor contact with cats over an extended time period. You’ll be exposed to factors like dander, fur, and saliva that can trigger allergies. While fostering, pay close attention to any allergy symptoms like sneezing, coughing, itchy eyes, rash, or congestion. Keeping a daily log can help track your reaction.

However, fostering may still trigger allergies even if you don’t have issues during the first few days or weeks. Allergy symptoms can sometimes take repeated or prolonged exposure before flaring up. So while fostering can provide useful information, it doesn’t guarantee you won’t have allergies if you fully adopt the cat long-term.

Some key things to know are that allergy testing beforehand can help predict reactions, and medications may be needed to manage symptoms during and after fostering.

Permanent Solutions

For some people with cat allergies, symptoms may improve over time as they become desensitized to their cat. According to the NIH, allergen immunotherapy can help reduce allergy symptoms and reactions (NIH). Allergy shots or sublingual immunotherapy tablets expose the immune system to small amounts of cat allergens, helping build up tolerance over time. Studies show allergy immunotherapy can significantly reduce allergy symptoms and need for medication.

However, if cat allergy symptoms remain severe despite allergy treatments and efforts to reduce exposure, rehoming the cat with a non-allergic family may be necessary. The decision to rehome a pet due to allergies should not be taken lightly and warrants an honest discussion with your doctor. However, in cases of severe allergies that impact quality of life, finding the cat a new home may be the best option for both the owner’s health and the cat’s wellbeing.

Adopting Kittens

Some people find that adopting kittens can temporarily help manage cat allergies. This is because kittens produce lower levels of Fel d 1, the protein found in cat saliva, skin and urine that triggers allergic reactions, when they are very young. However, as kittens grow and mature, they begin to produce more of this allergen. So while adopting a kitten may provide some temporary relief, it is often not a long-term solution for those with cat allergies.

According to Keep the Cat – Lose the Allergies, kittens don’t produce large amounts of Fel d 1 protein until they are around 6 months old. So some find they can tolerate kittens initially. But as the cat ages and Fel d 1 production increases, their allergies often get progressively worse. Adopting kittens is therefore generally not recommended as a permanent solution for people with cat allergies.

While young kittens may produce lower amounts of allergens, people who are highly sensitive may still react to even small amounts. And as the kitten matures, the allergies can become unmanageable. Those considering adopting a kitten should be prepared for the likelihood that their allergies will worsen over time. They may ultimately need to rehome the cat as it reaches adulthood. So adopting a kitten requires serious consideration of both the cat’s long-term needs as well as the adopter’s ability to provide a permanent home.

Outdoor Cats

One option some cat owners consider is keeping their cat primarily outdoors to reduce allergen exposure inside the home. However, this doesn’t completely eliminate interactions that can trigger allergies.

Whenever you go outside to feed, pet, or play with an outdoor cat, you will still have direct contact with dander, saliva, and other allergens. Bringing an outdoor cat inside even temporarily can spread allergens throughout the home.

There are also significant risks to keeping cats exclusively outdoors, including threats from cars, wildlife, weather, diseases, parasites, and more. Outdoor cats have much shorter average lifespans than indoor cats.

While an outdoor or part-time outdoor lifestyle may slightly reduce allergen levels, it does not provide complete relief for people with cat allergies. And the risks to cat safety and health are very high. According to the ASPCA, indoor cats live over twice as long on average compared to outdoor cats.

Air purifiers/ventilation

Using an air purifier with a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter can help reduce airborne allergens like cat dander, pollen, and dust in your home. HEPA filters are designed to capture 99.97% of particles 0.3 microns in size, including cat allergens.[1] Look for an air purifier with a true HEPA filter specifically made to remove pet dander and hair.

Air purifiers work best when used correctly – place them in rooms where you spend the most time with your cat, keep doors and windows closed, and run the purifier continuously. Proper air circulation from an air purifier can reduce the concentration of allergens circulating in the air. Combining an air purifier with daily vacuuming and dusting can also help trap allergens before they become airborne.

While air purifiers won’t eliminate all allergens, they can significantly reduce allergen levels to help minimize allergy symptoms for some people. It’s important to choose the right size purifier for the room and properly maintain the filter for the best results.

See an allergist

Consulting with an allergist can provide a definitive diagnosis of a cat allergy. Allergists use skin tests and blood tests to determine how allergic someone is to a specific cat allergen. This can help determine the severity of the allergy and guide treatment. The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology explains that allergy skin testing involves “pricking the skin with allergen extracts and evaluating the size of the wheal (bump) that forms at the prick site” (

Seeing an allergist allows for the development of a customized immunotherapy plan. Allergy shots and tablets containing increasing amounts of cat allergen extracts can help build immunity over time and reduce allergy symptoms. This approach requires long-term commitment but can significantly reduce cat allergies for many patients. An allergist will provide guidance on determining if immunotherapy is right for you and monitor progress.

Allergists are also the best resource for long-term management of cat allergies. They can recommend medications, discuss allergy prevention strategies, advise on air filters and ventilation, and determine if adding another cat to the home is possible. Having an expert oversee your allergy treatment provides the greatest chance of living comfortably with cats despite allergies.

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