Why Kittens Don’t Make Me Sneeze (But Cats Do). Unraveling the Feline Allergy Mystery


I’ve always loved cats, but unfortunately I’m quite allergic to them. My eyes get itchy and watery, my nose gets stuffed up, and I start sneezing uncontrollably whenever I’m around cats. However, I noticed that I don’t have the same severe allergic reaction when I’m around kittens. I can cuddle and play with kittens just fine, without any issues. This led me to wonder – why am I allergic to cats, but not to kittens?

In this article, we’ll explore the possible reasons why kittens seem to trigger less allergy symptoms than adult cats. We’ll look at differences in the saliva, dander, grooming habits, and more between kittens and adult cats that may explain this allergy phenomenon. Whether you have a new kitten yourself or are just curious, read on to uncover why kittens get a free pass when it comes to cat allergies.

What Causes Cat Allergies

Cat allergies are caused by a protein called Fel d 1, which is found in cat dander, skin flakes, and saliva. When cats groom themselves, dander gets spread around the fur and eventually shakes loose into the environment. Dander particles are extremely lightweight and easily become airborne. When someone with cat allergies breathes in the dander, their immune system identifies Fel d 1 as a dangerous invader and releases histamine to attack it. This causes allergy symptoms like sneezing, itchy eyes, and sinus congestion.

Pet dander is made up of tiny flecks of skin shed by cats, dogs, rodents, birds and other furry animals. Dander contains proteins that trigger allergic reactions in sensitive people. The more an animal sheds, the more dander it produces. Cats tend to shed more as they age, so adult and elderly cats produce much more allergy-causing dander than kittens.

Kittens Produce Less Dander

Kittens don’t produce as much dander when they are very young. Dander consists of microscopic pieces of skin that cats shed. It contains the Fel d 1 protein that causes allergic reactions in people. Kittens are born with a very fine, soft coat that doesn’t shed much initially. Their skin also produces lower levels of dander in the first few weeks of life.

As kittens grow older, their baby coats shed and are replaced by adult fur. This process starts around 6-8 weeks of age. Their skin becomes more active and produces higher levels of dander. By 4-6 months of age, most kittens will produce dander at levels similar to adult cats 1. So while very young kittens may not trigger allergies, their dander production increases as they mature.

Differences in Saliva

Saliva is known to be one of the primary triggers for cat allergies. Cats spend a lot of time grooming themselves and licking their fur. This deposits proteins called Fel d 1 onto their coats. The saliva also contains enzymes that cats use for grooming and digestion, such as amylase and lysozyme. Exposure to the salivary proteins is a major cause of allergic reactions in people sensitive to cats.

However, kittens produce a smaller amount of these allergy-triggering proteins in their saliva compared to adult cats. Their salivary glands and digestive systems are not as developed. With less saliva coating their fur, kittens tend to cause fewer allergic reactions when people are exposed. But as kittens mature into adult cats and increase their self-grooming habits, they will begin producing more of the allergy-causing proteins in their saliva.

Lower Fat Content in Kittens

One of the reasons why people may be allergic to adult cats but not kittens is because of the lower fat content in a kitten’s skin and dander. Fatty acids found in skin cells and dander can trigger allergic reactions in some people. Cats produce a protein called Fel d 1 that is found in skin flakes and saliva, which people with cat allergies react to. However, fatty acids in cat skin and dander may also provoke allergy symptoms.

Kittens have lower amounts of fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6 in their skin compared to adult cats. These fatty acids accumulate in a cat’s skin over time. Kittens also groom themselves less often, producing less dander overall. With lower fatty acid content in their skin, kittens may trigger less of an allergic reaction in people sensitive to these compounds. Over time as a kitten ages and fatty acids build up, allergies can develop.1 2

Less Time for Exposure

One reason kittens may trigger less of an allergic reaction is that they simply haven’t had as much time to expose people to allergens yet. Allergies get worse with continued exposure over time as the immune system gets more sensitized to the allergen.

For example, someone who has never been around cats won’t have any existing antibody response built up. But after repeated exposure to cat dander, saliva, or urine over weeks or months, they may start to react with allergy symptoms. Their immune system has had more time to recognize these substances as foreign invaders.

With kittens, there has been less time for this sensitization process to occur. So even someone with significant cat allergies may be able to tolerate a kitten initially. But as the kitten ages, the person’s allergies could worsen with ongoing exposure. This highlights the importance of early allergy management in childhood before significant sensitization occurs.

In essence, kittens don’t yet produce enough allergens or haven’t triggered enough immune response in people to cause significant symptoms. But over time, allergies can build up. (1)

Reduced Grooming

Kittens groom themselves much less frequently than adult cats. Kittens lack the proper coordination and flexibility to thoroughly groom themselves until around 12 weeks of age.[1] Adult cats spend 30-50% of their waking hours grooming themselves, while kittens only groom for about 10% of the time.[2]

This reduced grooming leads to less spread of allergens like cat dander and saliva. Kittens produce less dander and distribute it around less through self-grooming. Their saliva also stays more localized to their mouth area with less grooming and licking of their fur. The limited grooming habits of kittens restricts the spread of potential allergens.

For people allergic to cats, the reduced dander and saliva spread from a kitten results in fewer allergy symptoms. However, as the kitten ages and increases grooming, allergies may worsen over time.

[1] https://www.purina.co.uk/articles/cats/kitten/health/grooming-your-kitten

[2] https://catevolution.com.au/blogs/cat_tips_tricks/choosing-a-cat-vs-a-kitten-pros-cons

Possible Development of Tolerance

Some research suggests that early exposure to kittens may help people build up a tolerance and reduce allergic reactions to cats over time. One study found that people with cat allergies had fewer allergy symptoms after being exposed to kittens daily over a period of 18 months.[1] The researchers hypothesized that gradually increasing exposure allowed participants’ immune systems to build up tolerance through a process called immunotherapy.

However, more research is still needed to fully understand if and how tolerance can develop. The same study found that when kitten exposure stopped, participants’ allergy symptoms returned. Other factors like genetics, immune system differences, and the amount of allergen exposure can all affect whether someone builds up cat tolerance. While early kitten exposure shows promise for some, consult an allergist before attempting it yourself.

Managing Adult Cat Allergies

There are several treatment options for managing cat allergies in adults including medications and allergy shots. Allergy medications like antihistamines and nasal steroids can provide symptom relief by blocking the allergic response. Oral antihistamines like cetirizine (Zyrtec) or fexofenadine (Allegra) can help relieve itchy eyes, sneezing, and runny nose. Nasal steroid sprays like fluticasone (Flonase) work directly in the nose to reduce inflammation.

Allergy shots or immunotherapy involves receiving regular injections of small doses of cat allergens to desensitize your immune system over time. This treatment can lead to long-term reduction of cat allergy symptoms. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, allergy shots are around 80-90% effective for cat allergies when maintained over 3-5 years (source).

There are also several ways to reduce allergen levels at home. Keeping the cat out of the bedroom and only allowing access to certain rooms can help. Using a high efficiency HEPA air purifier to filter out allergens is recommended. Vacuuming with a HEPA filter regularly and washing bedding on hot helps remove dander and allergens. You can also ask a non-allergic family member to brush the cat daily to control loose hair and bathing your cat weekly with a pet-safe shampoo (source).


In summary, there are several key reasons why people with cat allergies may react differently to kittens versus adult cats:

– Kittens produce less of the Fel d 1 protein that people are allergic to, because their glands are not fully developed.

– Kittens tend to groom themselves less, spreading less saliva and dander around.

– Kittens have a lower fat content in their skin, leading to less inflammatory reactions.

– With kittens, there is less time for continued or prolonged exposure to allergens.

– It’s possible to develop some tolerance over time to a specific cat’s allergens.

The takeaway is that kittens tend to trigger fewer allergy symptoms, but allergies can still develop as they grow older. Careful management of the environment and bathing cats frequently can sometimes help mitigate allergies to adult cats. For those with severe cat allergies, avoiding exposure may be the only option. However, working closely with an allergist and immunologist may reveal ways to own cats safely.

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