Is Your Cat Making You Sneeze? Signs You May Be Allergic


Cat allergies, referred to as cat allergic rhinitis or cat dander allergy, are quite common. Cat allergies are caused by cat allergens present in feline saliva, skin flakes (dander), urine, and fur 1. The major allergen is a protein called Fel d 1 found in cat skin and hair follicles. Up to 10% of the general population is estimated to be allergic to cats.

Allergic reactions occur when the immune system overreacts to these allergens, mistakenly identifying them as harmful. This causes the body to release chemicals like histamine leading to symptoms. Cat allergies can range from mild to severe and in rare cases may even cause anaphylaxis.

Common Allergy Symptoms

Some of the most common allergy symptoms when exposed to cats include:

  • Sneezing – Cat allergens can irritate the nasal passages and cause sneezing fits.
  • Runny nose – The nose tries to flush out allergens with extra mucus, resulting in a drippy, runny nose.
  • Watery eyes – Allergens may also irritate the eyes, causing them to water excessively.
  • Itchy throat – An itchy or irritated throat is a key sign of a cat allergy.
  • Congestion – Swelling in the nasal passages from inflammation leads to congestion.

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, nasal congestion from an allergic reaction to cats can also cause facial pain and pressure.

Skin Reactions

Some of the most common symptoms of cat allergies are skin reactions like hives, eczema flare ups, redness, swelling, and itching. Hives are red, raised, itchy welts on the surface of the skin that can range in size. They are caused by the release of histamine in the skin in response to exposure to allergens (Healthline).

People with eczema may experience eczema flare ups when exposed to cat allergens. The eczema can become red, itchy, and inflamed. For some, even mild exposure can trigger an eczema outbreak (WebMD).

Redness and swelling of the skin may occur after coming into contact with cats. This is the result of the immune system releasing histamine. The swelling is often most noticeable around the face, lips, and eyes. Itching commonly accompanies the redness and swelling.

The itching sensation can be mild or severe. Antihistamines can help reduce itching for mild reactions, but severe itching may require corticosteroids. The itching is the result of histamine release into the skin in response to exposure to cat allergens like dander, saliva, or urine.

Respiratory Issues

One common symptom of being allergic to cats is respiratory issues such as wheezing, chest tightness, coughing, and shortness of breath. The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology states that cat allergies can trigger coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and wheezing. This is because when someone with a cat allergy is exposed to fel d 1, the allergenic protein found in cat saliva, skin, and urine, it can cause an allergic reaction that leads to inflammation of the airways. This inflammation causes respiratory symptoms like wheezing as the airways constrict and coughing as the body tries to expel irritants. Shortness of breath and chest tightness occur because the inflamed airways make it more difficult to breathe deeply. For those with asthma, cat allergies can also exacerbate asthma symptoms and trigger asthma attacks. Proper treatment such as allergy medications and avoiding exposure to cats can help manage the respiratory symptoms of cat allergies.

Gastrointestinal Problems

Being allergic to cats can cause a range of gastrointestinal issues, with the most common being nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. These symptoms arise from the immune system’s exaggerated response to cat allergens, triggering inflammation along the gastrointestinal tract.

Studies show that approximately 20-30% of people with cat allergies experience gastrointestinal problems after exposure [1]. The most frequently reported issues are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and cramping abdominal pain. These symptoms can begin minutes to hours after contact with a cat and tend to be more severe in people with multiple allergies.

The nausea and vomiting are caused by inflammation of the stomach lining. The diarrhea and abdominal pain occur from inflammation of the intestines. In severe cases, an allergic response can trigger spasms and contractions of the intestinal muscles leading to colicky abdominal pain. People may also experience bloating, gas, and altered bowel habits.

Treatment involves avoiding cats and taking antihistamines. For acute reactions, medications like antiemetics and antidiarrheals may provide symptom relief. Long-term management focuses on allergy shots and medications to desensitize the immune system. Gastrointestinal symptoms typically improve once the underlying allergy is properly controlled.

Eye Irritation

Itchy, watery, swollen eyes are common symptoms of cat allergies. When someone with a cat allergy is exposed to feline proteins, their immune system releases histamine as an inflammatory response. This can lead to allergic conjunctivitis, causing the eyes to become irritated.

Common eye allergy symptoms from cat exposure include:1

  • Itchy eyes
  • Redness and swelling of the eyes and eyelids
  • Excessive tearing
  • Burning or stinging sensation in the eyes
  • Puffy, swollen under-eye skin
  • Sensitivity to light

These symptoms tend to worsen with continued or repeated exposure to cats. Some people may experience eye symptoms within minutes of contact with cats. For others, it may take hours for eye irritation to develop.

Allergic conjunctivitis should clear up once cat allergen exposure is eliminated. Antihistamine eye drops, oral antihistamines, cold compresses, and avoiding rubbing the eyes can provide relief in the meantime.2

If eye irritation persists despite avoiding cats, allergy testing may be needed to confirm cat allergies. Chronic eye inflammation should be evaluated by an allergist or ophthalmologist.

Ear Inflammation

One of the most common symptoms of cat allergies is itchy, irritated ears. Cats with allergies often scratch or rub their ears excessively in an attempt to relieve the irritating itchiness. This can lead to redness, swelling, scratches, and even damage to the ear canal or ear flap if left untreated.

Allergies cause inflammation and irritation inside the ear canal, which leads to intense itchiness. The inflammation also changes the pH balance and environment inside the ear, making it easier for bacterial or yeast infections to take hold.1 These secondary infections can worsen the itchiness and pain.

Some key signs of allergic ear inflammation in cats include:

  • Excessive head shaking or ear scratching
  • Redness or swelling inside the ear flap or canal
  • Brown or black discharge from the ears
  • Scabs or scratches around the ears from scratching
  • Head tilting or off-balance movements
  • Hair loss around the ears
  • Odors coming from the ears

If your cat is exhibiting these allergy symptoms, it’s important to take them to the vet for diagnosis and treatment. Leaving ear inflammation untreated can lead to permanent damage and ongoing discomfort.

Oral Allergy Syndrome

Oral allergy syndrome is a common reaction in people with cat allergies who also have hay fever or reactions to certain foods like apples or carrots. It causes itchy and irritated mouths or throats after eating certain fruits, vegetables or nuts. Oral allergy syndrome is caused by cross-reactivity between proteins in pollen and similar proteins in the food.

The most common symptoms of oral allergy syndrome in cat allergy sufferers include:

  • Itchy mouth or throat – Usually starting immediately after eating the triggering food.
  • Tingling or scratchy feeling in the mouth – Especially on or under the tongue.
  • Swelling of the lips, tongue or throat – Can progress to anaphylaxis in severe cases.

The symptoms are usually worse with raw fruits or vegetables versus cooked, as the proteins are changed during the heating process. Treatment involves avoiding the triggers, taking antihistamines before eating problem foods or speaking to an allergist about possible immunotherapy.


In rare cases, people with cat allergies can develop a life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. According to the Allergy UK, anaphylaxis from cat allergies is possible but very uncommon.

Anaphylaxis requires immediate medical treatment, as it can lead to dangerously low blood pressure, breathing difficulties, and loss of consciousness. Some of the most serious symptoms of anaphylaxis from cat allergy include:

  • Difficulty breathing – Throat swelling and airway constriction can make it very hard to breathe.
  • Low blood pressure – Blood vessels expand rapidly during anaphylaxis, causing a steep drop in blood pressure.
  • Loss of consciousness – Low blood pressure and oxygen deprivation can cause people to lose consciousness during anaphylaxis.

Anyone experiencing these severe reactions from cat allergy exposure needs emergency medical care. Epinephrine is often administered to counteract the effects of anaphylaxis and prevent progression to respiratory or cardiac arrest.


There are several ways to treat cat allergies and minimize symptoms:


The most effective treatment is complete avoidance of cats. However, for cat owners this may not be realistic. Ways to reduce exposure include keeping cats out of the bedroom, using high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, washing hands after contact, and vacuuming frequently [1].


Over-the-counter antihistamines like cetirizine or loratadine can help relieve symptoms. Nasal corticosteroid sprays may also help reduce nasal congestion. For severe reactions, allergy shots or oral immunotherapy could desensitize you to cats over time [2].


Allergy shots or sublingual (under the tongue) drops containing cat allergens can help build tolerance over 3-5 years. This treatment is most effective when combined with medication and allergen avoidance.

Air Filters

HEPA air filters can remove over 99% of cat allergens from the air when used properly. Consider filters for the bedroom, family room, or other places you spend time.

Scroll to Top