Sniffle-Free Felines. The Best Cats for Allergy Sufferers


Cat allergies are an overreaction of the immune system to proteins called allergens that are found in cat dander (skin flakes), saliva, and urine. When people with cat allergies come into contact with these allergens, their immune system mistakenly identifies them as harmful and releases antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE) to attack them. This triggers an allergic reaction with symptoms like itchy or watery eyes, sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, coughing, wheezing, skin rash or hives, and asthma attacks.

The goal of this article is to provide guidance on identifying cat breeds that are less likely to trigger allergic reactions, known as hypoallergenic cats. By choosing a hypoallergenic cat breed, people with cat allergies may be able to enjoy living with a cat while minimizing allergy symptoms.

Causes of Cat Allergies

Cat allergies are caused by an allergic reaction to specific proteins found in cat dander and saliva. The primary protein that triggers allergies in humans is called Fel d 1. This protein is produced naturally in a cat’s sebaceous glands and salivary glands (1).

Fel d 1 gets transferred from a cat’s fur and skin into the surrounding environment through grooming behaviors like licking and shedding. When skin flakes and saliva containing Fel d 1 are released into the air and deposited on surfaces, they can be easily inhaled or ingested by humans. Allergic reactions then occur when the immune system overreacts to the presence of this harmless protein (1).

All cats produce Fel d 1, though levels vary between breeds. Male cats tend to produce more of the allergen than females. Regardless of breed or gender, any cat kept as an indoor pet will release dander and saliva particles containing allergens into home environments (2).

For highly sensitive individuals, even brief exposure to traces of Fel d 1 can be enough to trigger allergy symptoms. That’s why cat allergies are so common, affecting around 10% of the population in regions where cats are popular pets (1).


Myth of Hypoallergenic Cats

There is no such thing as a truly hypoallergenic cat breed. All cats produce allergens that can cause reactions in people sensitive to them. According to Purina, the notion of hypoallergenic cats is a myth. Cats shed dander, saliva, and urine that contain Fel d 1 protein which triggers allergic responses. No cat is completely non-allergenic.

However, some individual cats seem to produce less allergen than others, potentially making them easier to tolerate. As The Conversation notes, there is no definitive scientific evidence that specific breeds inherently cause fewer allergies. But cats that shed less dander due to a lack of fur may release fewer allergens into the environment.

While no cat is 100% hypoallergenic, some breeds and individuals seem to provoke milder allergic responses. But sensitivity can vary greatly between individuals. What causes moderate symptoms in one person may trigger severe reactions in another.

Best Breeds for Allergies

When choosing a cat breed that is less likely to trigger allergies, there are several good options to consider:

The Siberian is one of the more popular cat breeds thought to be hypoallergenic. Siberians produce lower levels of Fel d 1, the allergen found in cats’ saliva, skin and urine that causes issues for people with allergies (Source). Their long, thick coats also help trap dander. Siberians are known to be affectionate, loyal and intelligent.

Balinese cats are a long-haired breed believed to have less allergen than other cats. They don’t shed much thanks to their silky fur and produce lower Fel d 1 levels. Balinese cats are playful, affectionate and vocal (Source).

The hairless Sphynx is an obvious choice, as they have no fur at all to trap dander and allergens. Their skin produces less Fel d 1 protein as well. Sphynx cats love being the center of attention and require regular bathing and care for their skin (Source).

Cornish Rex and Devon Rex cats have very short, thin coats that don’t hold onto dead skin cells and allergen particles. Their curly coats also prevent dander from becoming airborne. Both Rex breeds are energetic, playful and thrive on human interaction.

The Bengal‘s short, soft coat produces less Fel d 1 allergen than other cats. Some individuals may still react to Bengal fur however. This breed is very active and needs lots of playtime and stimulation.

Burmese cats produce lower levels of Fel d 1 compared to other breeds, though individuals can still trigger allergies. Burmese are known for their playfulness and loyalty. They make very social companions.

Choosing the Right Cat

When looking to adopt a cat that won’t aggravate your allergies, it’s important to consider the breed, gender, and coat length. Although no cat is 100% hypoallergenic, some breeds like the Balinese, Russian Blue, and Oriental Shorthair tend to produce less of the Fel-D1 protein that triggers allergies. Males typically produce less allergen than females. Short-haired cats don’t hold onto as much dander as long-haired breeds.

The best way to choose the right cat is to meet them in person before adopting to see how your allergies react. Spend at least 10-15 minutes holding, petting, and interacting with the cat. Be aware of any allergy symptoms during this time, like runny nose, itchy eyes, or sneezing. You may want to visit the cat multiple times. See if you can borrow a blanket or towel the cat has slept on and keep it in your home for a few hours to test your reaction. If you have little to no allergic response to a specific cat, they are likely a good match for you.


Managing Allergies

There are several methods you can use to manage cat allergies if you want to keep your feline friend in your home (Vet.osu, 2 pages). Regular bathing and grooming of your cat can significantly reduce airborne allergens. Bathing your cat once a week or every two weeks can remove much of the Fel d 1 allergen from their fur and skin before it has a chance to circulate in the air (Vet.osu, 2 pages). Investing in an air purifier with a HEPA filter can also help remove allergens from the home environment. Place air purifiers in the main living areas and the bedroom. Additionally, taking medication such as an over-the-counter antihistamine or prescription allergy medication can provide allergy symptom relief for allergic reactions. You may also want to consider keeping your cat out of the bedroom, as this can be a major allergen hot zone in the home.

With diligent cleaning, grooming, air filtration and medication, it is possible for many cat lovers with allergies to successfully live with their feline companions while keeping allergy symptoms under control.

Living With a Cat

For people with cat allergies who still want to live with a cat, it’s important to take measures to reduce allergen exposure. Frequent vacuuming and washing are key to reducing allergens that accumulate in fabrics and surfaces. The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology recommends vacuuming at least once a week with a vacuum that has a HEPA filter to trap allergens. Wash bedding, curtains, pillows, and other fabrics weekly in hot water to eliminate allergens. Handwashing after contact with cats can remove allergens from skin and hair before they cause a reaction. Direct contact like cuddling and kissing should be avoided.

Designating areas like the bedroom or office as cat-free zones can provide allergen relief in key living spaces. Keeping cats out of bedrooms is ideal since you spend many hours there. Using high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) purifiers in rooms the cat frequents can also reduce airborne allergens. While living with a cat will require diligence to manage allergies, taking preventative measures can allow people with allergies to successfully live with cats.

Allergy Immunotherapy

Allergy immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots, is one of the most effective treatments for cat allergies. It works by gradually exposing the immune system to small amounts of cat allergens over time. This desensitizes the immune system and reduces allergy symptoms over the long term.

Allergy shots involve receiving injections of a serum containing cat allergens. The doses start small and increase gradually over the course of treatment, which typically takes around 3-5 years. Allergy shots have been shown to significantly reduce allergy symptoms and the need for medication in most people with cat allergies (NIH).

Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) is an alternative where allergen extracts are administered as drops or tablets placed under the tongue. SLIT works similarly to allergy shots to desensitize the immune system over time. Studies show SLIT can effectively reduce allergy symptoms, though it may be less potent than allergy shots for some people (Mayo Clinic).

Allergy shots and SLIT should only be administered under the supervision of an allergist. Treatment typically needs to be maintained long-term for benefits to continue.

Seeking Medical Care

Individuals with severe cat allergies may benefit from seeking medical care from an allergist. Allergists can perform allergy testing to determine if a person is specifically allergic to cat dander versus other allergens. Common allergy tests include skin prick testing, where small amounts of potential allergens are pricked on the skin, and blood tests that measure IgE antibodies to specific allergens.

Once allergy testing confirms a cat allergy, allergists may prescribe medications to help treat symptoms. Common prescription medications include:

  • Steroid nasal sprays like fluticasone (Flonase) and triamcinolone (Nasacort) to reduce nasal congestion and sinus inflammation.
  • Antihistamine nasal sprays such as azelastine (Astelin, Astepro) and olopatadine (Patanase) to control runny nose, sneezing, and itching.
  • Oral antihistamines like fexofenadine (Allegra) and cetirizine (Zyrtec) for treating rashes, hives, and itching.
  • Allergy shots or sublingual immunotherapy drops that gradually expose the immune system to cat allergens to reduce sensitivity over time.

Medications can provide symptom relief, but avoiding or limiting exposure to cats remains important. Allergists can provide guidance on managing cat allergies at home when living with or frequently exposed to cats.

The Right Cat Can Reduce Symptoms

With precautions, living with cats can be much more manageable for people with allergies. While no cat is 100% hypoallergenic, some breeds produce fewer allergens than others. The first step is determining if you are allergic to cat dander or cat saliva. Many people are only allergic to cat saliva, so a breed that produces less saliva can greatly reduce allergy symptoms.

According to, breeds like the Sphynx, Cornish Rex, and Devon Rex tend to produce less dander. Responsible breeders can provide pedigrees and allergen test results. Because mixes breed unpredictably, a purebred cat is most likely to inherit those lower allergen traits. Some cats even receive injections to neutralize the protein in their saliva that causes allergic reactions.

No matter the breed, proper grooming and bathing can reduce loose hair and dander in the environment. With some precautions like keeping cats out of bedrooms and vacuuming frequently, finding the right low-allergen cat can greatly improve quality of life for allergy sufferers. Though challenging, living with the proper cat is possible for many people with allergies.

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