10% of the UK population are affected by pet allergens. If you are suffering with allergies, yet also count yourself as a cat lover, take a look at our frequently asked questions about cat allergies below:
Cats produce powerful cat allergens in the form of protein molecules in their saliva and sweat. When they wash, cats release minute particles called cat dander, which contain an allergen, into the surrounding air. Cat dander particles are very small, down to 0.05 microns in size and readily become airborne. What is more, cat dander is very 'sticky' and can travel long distances on people’s clothes and thus can be present even if a cat is absent. It also has a 'long-shelf-life' and can linger and cause allergy symptoms and asthma symptoms for months after a cat has left the home. If you move into a new place and start experiencing allergy symptoms, it could be that the previous owner had a cat.
If you are allergic to cat dander, it means your immune system over-reacts to specific allergen proteins that cat allergens contain. It is best not to have a cat at all, because you then face needing to re-home the pet if your allergy symptoms become unbearable. You could get a cat that is short-haired and less likely to shed dander but you should bear in mind that there are no proven hypoallergenic or non-allergenic breeds. If you do decide to get a cat and someone shows allergy symptoms, then you need to focus upon minimising the amount of cat dander the person is exposed to.
If there is a cat in the house, it is not realistic to completely eradicate all pet dander all together. But there are a number of ways in which the levels of cat allergen can be significantly reduced. These include:
There are some products you can use to reduce cat dander levels, such as special shampoos and sprays for surfaces. To treat your own symptoms, an antihistamine and maybe steroid nasal sprays are useful although you may have to try a few to see which ones are most effective. It could also be worth investigating immunotherapy, where the immune system is re-trained not to react to the presence of cat allergen (it involves a series of injections containing the allergen over a period of time). Finally, if you haven't already, it could be worth having an allergy test at an allergy clinic to confirm that it really is cats you are allergic to, and not something else such as house dust mite or pollen.
Suspect an allergy if your cat has the following symptoms:
See your vet to confirm a diagnosis, which may involve blood tests to pinpoint the allergen. Cats can be allergic to many of the same substances as humans, such as house dust mite, pollen, mould and certain foods. Treatment may involve antihistamines or allergy shots. You should also take the same allergen avoidance measures as you would for a human.