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Allergic to cats? Consider a hypoallergenic cat

It is estimated that nearly 1 in 5 people in Great Britain are allergic to cats. Many of them would however love to have a cat in their home. Hypoallergenic cats have become increasingly popular in recent years because they cause fewer symptoms in people who are mildly allergic to cats.

Here you can learn what causes your allergy to cats, steps you can take to reduce the symptoms of your cat allergy and the best hypoallergenic cat breeds and their characteristics.

Why are some people allergic to cats?

A protein, Fel D1, is what causes the allergy to cats in some people. This protein occurs in cat’s fur, skin cells, saliva and urine. Many people with a cat allergy believe that it is caused by the cat’s hair. However, cats lick their fur and the saliva that remains on the hair is one of the main causes of the allergic reaction.

Some people who are allergic to cats react severely when they just breathe in the allergens. Their eyes might burn and water, they could sneeze, have nasal congestion and even difficulty in breathing and skin rashes.

Some people don't get an allergic reaction until they touch a cat, while others experience symptoms when they only enter a space where a cat lives. It all depends on how much their body sees the Fel D1 protein as a threat.

For most people the symptoms of their allergy appear as soon as they come into contact with a cat and then disappear once the contact is broken. However, when people who are allergic to cats are around them for a long time they could develop permanent complaints. This includes lethargy, headache, mild muscle aches and general malaise.

To confirm whether your symptoms are caused by your cat, you can ask your doctor for a skin prick or blood test. If you get just a mild allergic reaction to cats you can use medication to relieve your symptoms. For example, you can use a nasal spray during your cat’s moulting season to clear your airways or you can use an antihistamine for allergic rhinitis or skin reactions.

What are hypoallergenic cats?

When a cat is classified as hypoallergenic it simply means that the cat spreads fewer allergens. This could be either because their body produces less of the Fel D1 protein or because the cat sheds less than usual and therefore leaves less allergens around the house. People who have a mild allergic reaction to cats are often able to live with hypoallergenic cats because their exposure to the allergens is reduced.

You should understand, however, that there are no fully hypoallergenic cats, because all cats shed some fur and dander. The breeds classified as hypoallergenic cats only spread less Fel D1 and so the chances of allergic reaction is considerably reduced. People who are severely allergic to cats can still experience a reaction from contact with hypoallergenic cat breeds.

Bringing a hypoallergenic cat into your home

If you are allergic to cats you should check your reaction to specific hypoallergenic cat breeds before deciding to bring one of these cats into your home. You could, for example, spend some time with the breeder or someone who already has this breed of cat in their home.

Should you find that you are allergic to the cat when you have already adopted it into your household, there are a few things you can do to reduce your allergic reaction:

  • Choose a smooth and washable floor like parquet, laminate or tiles. Avoid deep-pile carpets because it is not as easy to get rid of the cat hair and dander lodged in the pile.
  • Avoid furniture covered with fabric as much as possible. For example, choose a sofa covered with leather.
  • Use a vacuum cleaner with a special HEPA filter.
  • Ventilate your house daily by, for example, keeping your windows open wide
  • Steam-clean curtains, blankets and carpets.
  • Always wash your hands after touching your cat
  • You can wash your cat once a month with a special shampoo
  • Keep your cat out of your bedroom.
  • Brush your cat regularly, preferably outside.

These steps are not only complex and time consuming, but there is also no guarantee that they will work. You might have to find another home for your cat and this will be a sad step for both of you. This is why we recommend that you check whether you experience cat allergy symptoms with a particular breed of hypoallergenic cat before you buy one of them.

There are a few other points to keep in mind regarding hypoallergenic cats. Interestingly, males often produce fewer allergens than females and the same applies to kittens, cats that have been neutered and those with dark fur.

Hypoallergenic cat breeds

A number of specific cat breeds are classified as hypoallergenic because these cats either have little hair loss or produce far less Fel D1 protein than usual. Below we discuss a few of these breeds and some of the characteristics of each breed. Then you can decide which hypoallergenic cats might suit you.

Russian Blue

Russian Blues are classified as hypoallergenic cats because they have a unique double coat. The top and undercoat are the same length and the hairs are very close together, creating a short and soft coat. A further advantage is that a Russian Blue hardly sheds and then only twice a year, in spring and again autumn. The breed also produces the least Fel D1 of all breeds.

Russian Blues are known for being lazy and they love lying around. They will probably never really feel at home in an active and noisy household. These cats are not particularly sociable towards strangers, but they become very attached to their owners.

Balinese

This slender cat from Indonesia has a very soft, medium length coat and no undercoat. This breed does not shed much and this is why it is often mentioned in lists of antiallergenic cats. You don’t have much work caring for their coat - pulling a brush through once a week will be enough to remove all the loose hair.

The Balinese is are very affectionate cats that do not like to be alone. Like other cat breeds from Asia, this breed is also very active and talkative. They will attract your attention with a meow and reward you with loud purrs.

Bengal

Although it is often claimed by breeders, there is no evidence that the Bengal breed produces less Fel D1 protein than usual. The fact that their coat sheds much less than average is the reason why Bengals are recommended as hypoallergenic cats. Bengals do not have an undercoat, so frequent brushing is not recommended.

Bengal cats are very alert and can be quite demanding. As their owner, you should challenge and entertain the cat often. Novice cat owners are not advised to bring a Bengal into their home as it could be quite overwhelming. These cats also love climbing and so a tall scratching post will be ideal for them. Furthermore, these hypoallergenic cats are also fond of water and some owners take their Bengal along for a bath or a shower.

Siberian cat

It might come as a surprise that the long haired Siberians are classified as hypoallergenic cats. It is true, however, that their skin produces less Fel D1 protein than the average cat. Furthermore, their long hairs hardly shed, so they don’t spread many allergens. Siberians’ coats also don’t tangle, so it is unnecessary to brush them more than once a week. Daily brushing is only needed when they moult.

Siberian cats are slightly larger than other breeds and so you should keep in mind that they need plenty of room to move around. Ideally, you should create a space where the cat can climb and jump freely. These cats have no problem living with children and the breed also gets along well with dogs and other cats.

Cornish Rex

The unique characteristic of these short-haired hypoallergenic cats is that the Cornish Rex only has an undercoat, while other cats also have a middle and a top coat. This means that their coat is not only very soft but also sheds much less than most other cats. The cat therefore spreads fewer allergens and you will be less likely to suffer from your cat allergy.

The Cornish Rex is a very cuddly breed and these cats become attached to their household. They are constantly looking for attention and love to play. Unfortunately it will be difficult to keep the cat away if one member of the family really can't stand cats.

Devon Rex

The Devon Rex breed is similar to the Cornish Rex described above, in that both breeds only have an undercoat. The big difference is that the Devon Rex has even less hair, meaning that they spread even fewer allergens.

This breed is also very affectionate and cannot be left alone for long periods of time. Their skin is clearly visible through their small amount of hair which means that you need to protect them from the sun. They also get cold quickly, so in the winter they are likely to climb in under the covers with you.

While the cat’s thin coat is a blessing for people with allergies, it can cause a number of problems for the cats. Before you get one of these cats you should consider the increased risk for a number of health problems which could cost you a lot of time and money.

Sphynx

Many people think that the Sphynx is a hypoallergenic cat because it is hairless, but this is not completely true. Remember, it is not mainly a cat’s hair, but their dander, saliva and urine that causes allergic reactions in people.

What is true is that the cat is viewed as hypoallergenic because there is no hair to shed and spread allergens around. Before considering a Sphynx keep in mind that this hairless cat needs very special care. Furthermore, their skin is also often covered in a type of oil that could stain your clothes and furniture.

LaPerm

LaPerm cats were first bred in Oregon, in the US. In the UK the breed was introduced in 2004 and only recognized as an official breed in 2012. The unique feature of these cats, and also the source of the breed name, is their soft curly coat. Their coats hardly shed but the fur can tangle and so they should be combed a few times a week.

The original LaPerm was a farm cat which explains why this is a very energetic breed. They are used to being alone outside in the yard and so they are quite happy when left alone and can take care of themselves. They also have an urge to hunt, especially birds and mice. However, this doesn't mean that LaPerm’s are antisocial, they do also love cuddling.

Also read our blog: Cats that don’t shed or shed very little
More about different cat breeds

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