The Cat Allergy Epidemic. What Percent of Americans Are Affected?


According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, over twice as many people are allergic to cats than dogs in the United States.[1] With around 65 million households owning at least one pet cat, cat allergies are extremely common.[2] Understanding the prevalence of cat allergies is important because allergies can significantly impact quality of life. Severe reactions to cats can cause uncomfortable symptoms like sneezing, coughing, and skin irritation. For some, dealing with these reactions may mean having to avoid spending time in places where cats live. Additionally, misconceptions about cat allergies can affect adoption rates if people mistakenly believe they or their family members are allergic.

[1] 8 Surprising Facts About Pet Allergies

[2] How Many People Are Allergic to Cats? 13 Interesting …

Define Cat Allergies

Cat allergies are allergic reactions to proteins found in cat dander, saliva, or urine. When people with cat allergies are exposed to these allergens, their immune systems overreact and release histamine, which causes allergy symptoms.

Some common allergy symptoms include: coughing, wheezing, itchy/watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing, rashes or hives on the face and chest, red and itchy skin. In severe cases, cat allergies can trigger asthma attacks.

US Cat Allergy Prevalence

According to studies, approximately 10-20% of the U.S. population has allergic sensitization to cats.1 This means they produce antibodies to cat allergens and show positive results on allergy skin or blood tests. However, only about half of those with sensitization will go on to develop symptoms of cat allergies when exposed.2

Cat allergy prevalence is higher among those with other allergic conditions like asthma, hay fever, or atopic dermatitis. Rates are also higher in urban areas where there are more indoor cats.1 Studies show adult women have a slightly higher rate of cat allergies than men.

The prevalence of cat allergies in the U.S. is similar to rates in Canada and Europe. However it is lower than Australia where over 20% test positive.2

Misconceptions About Cat Allergies

Many people have misconceptions about cat allergies that simply aren’t true. Here are some common myths that need to be dispelled:

Myth: Hypoallergenic cat breeds like the Sphynx or Cornish Rex are allergy-free.
Fact: There are no truly hypoallergenic cat breeds. People are allergic to a protein called Fel d 1 found in cat saliva and sebaceous glands, not cat hair itself. All cats produce this allergen.

Myth: Your allergies will get better with more exposure.
Fact: Continued exposure often worsens allergies over time due to increased sensitivity. Limiting exposure is recommended.

Myth: You can’t live with a cat if you’re allergic.
Fact: People with mild allergies can manage symptoms through medications, air filters, frequent cleaning, and keeping cats out of bedrooms.

The protein that triggers allergies is present in all cats. Misconceptions about certain breeds being hypoallergenic put those with allergies at risk of reactions. It’s important to understand cat allergies accurately in order to manage them.

Managing Allergies

While there is no cure for cat allergies, there are a variety of treatment options available to help manage allergy symptoms and reduce exposure to allergens ( According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), treatment options include medications like antihistamines and nasal corticosteroid sprays as well as allergy shots (immunotherapy). Frequent bathing of the cat and keeping it out of bedrooms can also help reduce dander exposure.

Tips for living with a cat when allergic include (

  • Keep the cat out of your bedroom and restrict it to non-carpeted areas of the home.
  • Bathe the cat weekly to reduce dander.
  • Use high efficiency filters in heating/AC systems.
  • Vacuum frequently using a HEPA filter vacuum.
  • Wash hands after petting cats.
  • Consider medications such as antihistamines to control allergy symptoms.

While challenging, managing allergies allows most cat owners to keep their pets. Through treatment and reduced exposure, allergy symptoms can be controlled.

Impact on Cat Adoption

Cat allergies can negatively impact cat adoption and ownership rates as they often force people to give up their cats. According to the ASPCA, about 11 percent of cats end up back in shelters because their owners developed allergies (source). A 2022 study also found that developing an allergy was the reason 2% of adopted cats were returned (source).

For those with cat allergies looking to adopt a pet, there are alternatives. Reptiles like snakes, lizards, and turtles do not trigger allergies. Rodents like hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, and mice are also hypoallergenic options. Birds can also make good pets for people with cat allergies. Consulting with a veterinarian or animal shelter for personalized advice can help allergy sufferers find the right pet.

New Research

There are some promising new experimental therapies being researched that could provide more effective relief for people with cat allergies. According to a recent article on the NIH website, researchers are testing a new approach that combines regular allergy shots with a lab-made antibody molecule [1]. This experimental cat allergy therapy led to significant symptom improvements that continued for at least one year after stopping treatment. The antibody is designed to bind to the part of the allergen that triggers allergic reactions. By combining it with standard allergy shots, it provides longer-lasting effects.

Another experimental approach utilizes CRISPR gene editing technology to modify cat DNA to remove the major allergen that causes reactions [2]. Researchers were able to disrupt the gene responsible for the major cat allergen Fel d 1, which reduced its production by up to 99%. Though still early research, this could eventually lead to the development of hypoallergenic cats. Additional research on improving immunotherapies is also aiming to provide safe and effective long-term relief for cat allergy sufferers.

Key Takeaways

Cat allergies affect a significant portion of the population in the US, with estimates ranging from 10-20% of people. This means that millions of Americans suffer from allergic reactions when exposed to cats. The most common symptoms are respiratory issues like wheezing, sneezing and watery eyes.
While many people assume they are allergic to cat hair or fur, the allergen is actually a protein called Fel d 1 that is found in cat saliva, skin and urine. People can have mild to severe reactions that make it difficult or impossible to live with cats.

Understanding the prevalence and causes of cat allergies helps us to better manage reactions. With medical treatment, changes to environments, and thoughtful adoption choices people and cats can often live happily together. Increased awareness and management options enable more cat lovers to share their homes despite allergies. Research continues to provide hope that new therapies and breeds may reduce allergies in the future.


Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about cat allergies:

What are the symptoms of cat allergies?

Common symptoms of cat allergies include sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes, nasal congestion, coughing, wheezing, trouble breathing, itchy skin, rashes, and hives. Symptoms typically appear within minutes to hours after exposure to cat allergens.

What causes cat allergies?

Cat allergies are caused by an immune response to specific proteins found in cat dander, skin flakes, urine, saliva, and hair. These proteins trigger the release of an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE), which then causes the release of chemicals like histamine that lead to allergy symptoms.


McGonagle, D. (2022). Feline allergens: Characteristics and immune recognition in cat allergy. Allergy, 78(4), 1061-1068.

Fazlollahi, M. R., Pittman, Z. C., Bidel, S. P., Alcala, E. L., Beydoun, H. A., Almazan, M. P., … & Sampson, H. A. (2020). Prevalence and correlates of clinical cat allergy in the United States: results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The journal of allergy and clinical immunology. In Practice, 8(9), 2976-2983.

Salo, P. M., Arbes, S. J., Crockett, P. W., Thorne, P. S., Cohn, R. D., & Zeldin, D. C. (2008). Exposure to multiple indoor allergens in US homes and its relationship to asthma. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 121(3), 678-684.

American Pet Products Association. (2021). 2021-2022 APPA National Pet Owners Survey.

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