Itchy Eyes and Runny Noses. Uncovering the Mystery of Cat Allergy Symptoms


A cat allergy, or feline allergy, is an overreaction of the human immune system to proteins found in cat dander, skin flakes, saliva, or urine. These proteins trigger an allergic response when they come into contact with the immune system. Cat allergies are estimated to affect around 10-20% of adults worldwide, making it one of the most common animal allergies.

The most common allergy symptoms caused by exposure to cats include sneezing, runny nose, itchy/watery eyes, nasal congestion, coughing, rashes, hives, and wheezing. In severe cases, a cat allergy can trigger a life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. While not all people with a cat allergy will experience every symptom, multiple symptoms occurring at the same time is common after exposure to cats.


Sneezing is a very common symptom of cat allergies. Cats with allergies often experience repetitive sneezing fits and a runny nose. This is caused by an allergic reaction to something the cat inhaled, like pollen, dust, or dander. The allergen triggers the release of histamines in the cat’s nasal passages, leading to inflammation, irritation, and excessive mucus production. This causes the cat to sneeze repeatedly in an attempt to expel the irritant. Sneezing is the most obvious symptom of feline allergic rhinitis or asthma. It can occur year-round or seasonally, depending on what allergen is provoking the reaction. Sneezing may happen frequently throughout the day. In some cases, cats can sneeze up to 20 times per hour when exposed to an allergen.

According to WebMD, inhaled irritants or allergens are common causes of sneezing in cats ( Allergic cats may sneeze when exposed to things like pollen, dust, mold, cigarette smoke, perfumes, cleaning products, or other environmental triggers. Sneezing can also be caused by viral, bacterial, or fungal infections affecting the upper respiratory tract. If a cat is sneezing constantly, it’s important to take them to the vet to determine the underlying cause and provide appropriate treatment.

Itchy or Watery Eyes

One of the most common symptoms of cat allergies is itchy, watery eyes. This occurs when allergens like fel d 1, a protein found in cat saliva, coat, and skin dander, come into contact with the eyes. Fel d 1 particles bind to mast cells in the conjunctiva and release histamine, causing redness, swelling, itching, and tearing.

Exposure to cats can irritate the eyes in those with allergies, causing them to turn red, swell up, and feel intensely itchy. The itching triggers rubbing which further aggravates the eyes. Tear production also increases, leading to watery eyes.

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, approximately 15-30% of people with cat allergies experience ocular symptoms like itchy, irritated, or watery eyes when exposed to cats or environments where cats live. Antihistamine eye drops like Zaditor or Visine-A can provide relief by blocking the histamine response.

To manage cat allergy eye symptoms, limiting contact with cats, vacuuming frequently, washing hands after petting, and using HEPA air filters can help reduce allergens that exacerbate itchy, watery eyes.


One of the most common cat allergy symptoms is nasal congestion. This is caused by inflammation in the nasal passages from an allergic reaction to cats. When a person with a cat allergy is exposed to cat dander, their immune system releases histamine and other chemicals that cause swelling of the nasal tissues.

This nasal inflammation leads to congestion, a runny nose, sneezing, and post-nasal drip. Mucus production increases as the irritated nasal passages try to flush out the allergens. The congestion and runny nose from a cat allergy can range from mild to severe, making it difficult to breathe through the nose.

Nasal corticosteroid sprays can help reduce inflammation and relieve congestion caused by cat allergies. But the most effective treatment is avoiding exposure to cats. Symptoms may persist even after removing the cat from the home due to allergens lingering in fabrics and surfaces.



One of the most common cat allergy symptoms is coughing. Allergens from cats can inflame and irritate the airways, triggering coughing spells. Coughing is the body’s attempt to expel irritants from the lungs and keep the airways clear. But constant coughing can be extremely disruptive and unpleasant.

According to the Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center, coughing is a key sign of cat allergies, along with wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. Coughing tends to get worse when directly exposed to cats or in environments where cats have been. Allergens like dried saliva, dander, and urine particles enter the lungs, triggering coughing fits.

Chronic coughing from cat allergies can disrupt sleep, work, and daily activities. It can be loud, uncontrollable, and leave the throat irritated. Cough drops and medicine provide only temporary relief. The most effective way to treat the coughing is to avoid cat allergens completely or pursue immunotherapy treatments over time.

Skin Irritation

One of the most common symptoms of cat allergies is skin irritation, including hives, redness, swelling, and itchy skin. When someone with a cat allergy is exposed to feline proteins, their immune system releases a chemical called histamine as an overreaction. Histamine is responsible for the bothersome skin symptoms.

Hives, also known as urticaria, are red, raised, itchy welts on the surface of the skin. They range in size and can appear anywhere on the body. Hives are caused by the release of histamines in the skin in response to an allergen (Mayo Clinic).

Swelling is another bothersome skin symptom, also caused by excess histamine production. Areas of the face or extremities may swell up in response to exposure to cats or their dander. Antihistamines can help reduce swelling.

Redness and itchiness commonly occur together, as the histamine causes blood vessels to dilate and nerves to become irritated. Antihistamine creams and oral medications can provide relief from red, itchy skin caused by cat allergies (Healthline).


One of the most common symptoms of cat allergies is wheezing and difficulty breathing. When someone with a cat allergy is exposed to cat dander, their immune system releases histamine, which can cause narrowing of the airways and make it hard to breathe. This can lead to audible wheezing as air struggles to move through the narrowed airways. According to Healthline, 30-40% of people with cat allergies experience asthma symptoms like wheezing and shortness of breath. The wheezing and tight feeling in the chest is often described as similar to an asthma attack.

Wheezing from cat allergies tends to occur shortly after exposure to the allergen. However, symptoms can sometimes be delayed for hours. Wheezing may be accompanied by coughing as well. For those with severe cat allergies, exposure can even trigger an anaphylactic reaction that requires immediate medical attention.


One common symptom of cat allergies is headaches, often caused by sinus pressure and inflammation (Source). When exposed to cat allergens like dander or saliva, the sinuses can become irritated and swollen. This swelling puts pressure on the sinus cavities, which can lead to dull, throbbing headache pain.

These allergy-related headaches may feel similar to sinus headaches or migraines. The pain is often focused around the sinus areas like the forehead, cheeks, and bridge of the nose. Cats don’t directly cause migraines, but the allergy symptoms they trigger can (Source).

Relieving the sinus pressure is key to alleviating allergy headaches. Over-the-counter pain medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can temporarily relieve the headache pain. Allergy medications like antihistamines may also help by reducing sinus swelling and inflammation. Avoiding allergen exposure and using air filters can prevent headaches by reducing allergy flare ups.


Fatigue is a very common symptom of cat allergies. When someone is allergic to cats, their immune system works hard to get rid of cat allergens, which taxes the body and leaves people feeling tired and fatigued Source. Fighting off allergens requires energy and can drain a person, making them feel exhausted even when they get adequate sleep. The inflammation caused by an overactive immune system in response to cat dander also contributes to fatigue. People with cat allergies often feel like they have little energy or just want to sleep. Severe fatigue from allergies may interfere with daily activities and quality of life. Treating the allergy and reducing exposure to cats can help improve allergy-related fatigue.


Anaphylaxis is a rare but severe allergic reaction to cat allergens that can be life-threatening.1 This reaction causes the immune system to release a flood of chemicals that can cause shock or low blood pressure, difficulty breathing, swelling of the throat, vomiting, hives, and other symptoms.2 Anaphylaxis requires immediate medical attention, as it can progress rapidly and lead to death if untreated. Some of the common signs of an anaphylactic reaction to cats include:3

  • Wheezing or difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of the lips, face or throat
  • Hives or itchy rash
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Feeling faint or weak

People with severe cat allergies are at risk of anaphylaxis and should carry epinephrine auto-injectors in case of a reaction. Avoiding exposure to cats is the best way to prevent anaphylaxis in those with significant cat allergies.

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