Have you always dreamed of owning a cat but are worried that they might set off your allergies? Maybe you’re already a cat owner who loves nothing more than snuggling up with your kitty, burying your nose in the back of their neck and taking a deep breath in – “aaaah, that’s the good stuff!” only to be convulsing in a sneezing fit minutes later. No? Just us then (awkward).
Cat allergies are often a plight that many people choose to live with, just so they can be a cat owner. In fact, two of us in the Supakit team suffer considerably with cat allergies – with symptoms ranging from sneezing to mild asthma, with itchy eyes and scratchy throats thrown in for good measure. Although prolonged exposure to our cats seem to have diminished our symptoms somewhat, we still have to reach for the anti-histamines occasionally – especially in the summer months.
But what causes allergies to cats? Contrary to popular belief, it is not a cat’s fur that causes allergies but actually a protein found in cats' saliva (known as Fel d 1) that adheres to their fur while they clean themselves. It's this protein that causes the dreaded itchies. Allergens from the saliva then make their way into the air, onto soft furnishings and up your nose (aaatchoo!) as cat’s shed their fur. The Fel d 1 protein is also found in cats' skin cells and urine.
Is there such a thing as a hypoallergenic cat?Many potential cat owners are on the search for cats that don't cause allergies, but are there such things as hypoallergenic cats? Unfortunately, the answer is not a definitive 'yes' or 'no'. There isn't a singular breed that can be deemed as a 'hypoallergenic cat breed' as allergens are found in every cat’s saliva. However, there are some particular cat breeds that shed their fur less than others, meaning less fur with added allergens in the environment to cause the sneezing fit / coughing episode / itchy eyes / wheezing* (*delete as appropriate).
Although it is hard to find cats that don’t shed at all, below we will run down the top 5 cat breeds known to shed less and are considered by some to allergy friendly cat breeds:
Bengal cats known for their exotic good looks are single coated, meaning they don’t have as much fur overall as other cat breeds. Therefore, less fur results in less allergens entering the atmosphere as Bengals shed. As their coats are naturally sleek, Bengals do not need to groom themselves as much, meaning less saliva ends up on their fur and in turn, less of the sneeze-inducing Fel d 1 protein in the air.
Siberian cats have long, luxurious coats which is why it is such a surprise that they are considered ‘hypoallergenic’ by some. A 2017 study found that Siberian cats have slight mutations to the Fel d 1 protein they produce, leading researchers to believe that this change to the allergen simply makes them less allergy-inducing.
Supermodels of the cat world, the Russian Blue’s silvery coat is gloriously thick but relatively low-shedding. Russian Blue cats are thought to produce less Fel d 1 protein than other cat breeds making them a popular choice for the wheezers among us.
Cornish & Devon Rex
Both the Cornish & Devon Rex get their name from being likened to the velvety soft ‘Rex Rabbit’. These curly, short haired cats have one ‘undercoat’ in comparison to most cat breeds who have three layers to their coats. It’s this very short, very soft coat that leads people to label them as ‘hypoallergenic’ cats.
Often referred to as ‘naked cats’, Sphynx cats are thought of as completely hairless when they actually have peach-fuzz type hair in particular areas of their bodies, such as their ears. Warm and soft to the touch, this sweet breed requires regular bathing to aid grooming as their body oil is not absorbed into a coat. This lack of coat means that hardly any of the Fel d 1 protein is shed, causing very little allergic reactions.
However, as we discussed previously, no breed can be billed as a total ‘hypoallergenic cat’ as the allergy-inducing Fel d 1 protein is produced in some quantity by all of the breeds listed above. But if you are looking for a cat that does have reduced allergenic qualities, the above list might be a good place to start.
It is important to consider the impact bringing a cat into a household of allergy sufferers, not only for the health of humans involved, but also for the welfare of the cat. If you do make the decision to own a cat and later decide that suffering from allergies is too much to bear, the ordeal of rehoming is heartbreaking for both owner and cat and is worth considering before making the leap into cat ownership.
If you are already a cat owner and experiencing allergy symptoms, there are some measures you can take to help alleviate some of your suffering:
- Avoid allowing your cat access to your bedroom.
- Invest in an air purifier with a HEPA filter which helps to clear allergens from the air.
- Vacuum thoroughly every few days.
- Ask someone else who does not suffer from cat allergies to brush your cat and dispose of the hair quickly.
- Wipe your cat down with 'Petal Cleanse' which helps to trap and neutralise the Fel d 1 protein.
- Wash your hands thoroughly after petting or playing with your cat.
- Change your cat's litter tray regularly as the Fel d 1 protein is present in cat urine and be sure to wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.