Hypoallergenic Cats - Fact or Fiction?

Hypoallergenic Cats - Fact or Fiction?

There is much interest from the general public on the issue of supposedly hypoallergenic and non-shedding dogs, which are often considered to be a good choice of pet for people who usually suffer from allergies to dogs. Surprisingly, much less is written about hypoallergenic cats, despite the fact that over twice as many people within the UK suffer from cat allergies than suffer from dog allergies.

Many potential pet owners love the idea of cat ownership, but have to make the difficult decision that keeping a cat is not a viable decision for them due to their sensitivity to allergy triggers from touching or spending time around cats. However, many cat owners and breeders believe that certain breeds of cat are significantly less likely to trigger allergies in people who are prone to suffering from them than most cats are, and this idea is certainly worthy of further investigation.

Read on to learn more about cat allergies, and the topic of hypoallergenic cats.

How are cat allergies triggered?

Certain proteins that are naturally produced by the cat can serve as an allergy trigger in people that are sensitive to them. The allergenic compounds that trigger an adverse reaction are usually the Fel d 1 protein, which is secreted by the sebaceous glands of the skin, and the Fel d 4 protein, which is present in the cat’s saliva. Direct contact with a cat, being within a home where a cat lives or even being in an area where a cat has previously been can all trigger an allergic reaction in people who are sensitive to cats. Symptoms can range from hay fever-like symptoms including sneezing, itchy eyes and a sore throat, up to coughing, wheezing and asthma attacks in more severe cases.

It is often assumed that it is cat fur or cat dander that causes an allergic reaction, but this is not entirely accurate. When a cat moults or sheds fur, this fur distributes the allergenic compounds present on the hair around the house, meaning that cats that shed a lot may cause more of a reaction than cats that do not; but the fur in and of itself is not the cause of the allergy trigger.

Being around a cat or in a home where a cat resides can be very uncomfortable for sufferers of cat allergies!

What is a hypoallergenic cat?

The term “hypoallergenic cat” technically means a cat that does not trigger allergies in people prone to suffering from them, which would usually indicate the absence of the various allergy-triggering proteins that usually cause a reaction altogether.

However, unfortunately for the allergy sufferer who would potentially like to own a cat, there really is no such thing as a genuinely hypoallergenic cat, as all cats produce the various feline protein compounds that can trigger allergies, although some cats produce less of them than others, and some cats secrete less of them than others.

This is where the myth of the truly hypoallergenic cat has arisen from; some cats will tend to cause a more pronounced reaction in allergy sufferers than other cats, and breeders and owners have observed over time that often, cats of certain breeds appear to have less or an effect on allergy sufferers than most other cats do.

Some of the reasons why certain breeds of cat may cause a less pronounced reaction or no reaction at all in allergy sufferers include:

  • Hairless cats, as there is no fur to be shed around the house to spread the allergenic compounds. However, these compounds are still produced by the cat and will be present on their bodies and will also rub off onto objects that they touch.
  • Cats that do not shed fur in any great quantities, as again, the carrier (in this case, the fur) will not spread the allergenic compounds around as widely.
  • Cats with curly or wiry fur, as shed fur will be trapped within the coat to some extend and again, have less chance to get distributed around the home.
  • Some cats simply produce less of the allergenic compounds than others, meaning that reactions to them are reduced or absent altogether.

What breeds of cat might be less likely to trigger allergies?

It is important that all allergy sufferers bear in mind that there is no magic formula or guaranteed way to ensure that any given cat will not trigger their allergies. Some people find that they are absolutely fine with most cats, but that the odd one will suddenly trigger an allergic reaction with no warning. For other people, they may find that they are allergic to the vast majority of cats but occasionally come across one cat that does not affect them. The logistics of identifying how a person prone to allergies may react to any given cat is by no means an exact science, and involves a lot of trial and error and potential exposure to cats that may trigger their allergies! It should never be taken as a given that despite anecdotal evidence or the experience of other allergy sufferers, any particular cat of any given breed will be a safe pick for an allergy sufferer.

With that caution in mind, this list contains the main breeds and types of cats often referred to as “hypoallergenic ,” and that may potentially be a good place to start the hunt for a cat that will not trigger allergies.

  • Siberian Cat
  • Russian Blue
  • Siamese
  • Bengal
  • Devon Rex
  • Cornish Rex
  • Abyssinian Cat
  • Balinese Cat
  • Oriental Shorthair

Another cat to bear in mind is the Sphynx Cat, a hairless cat, although allergy sufferers have found that in some cases, Sphynx cats actually produce a worse reaction from close contact with them, as the allergenic protein compounds are concentrated on the skin.

It is also worth mentioning that female cats generally produce less of the allergenic proteins than males, and neutered males produce less than entire tomcats.



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