Do you love cats but are allergic to them? Are you looking for a cat that does not cause allergies? It’s not all bad news. While it is true that there are no allergy-free breeds of cats, there are certain breeds that are hypoallergenic ones. This article will help you to clear up all your doubts about them for your own peace of mind.
Before getting into this topic, let’s understand exactly what allergies are and why they occur.
What is an allergy?
An allergy is an overreaction of the immune system when it makes the mistake of confusing a harmless agent for a dangerous invader, causing unpleasant symptoms. This becomes a problem when it affects a person´s quality of life or when it compromises his health.
How does our body defend itself?
The environment around us is full of viruses, bacteria and fungi, but thanks to the immune system we survive most of them. Its function is to protect and destroy certain invaders that pose a threat to the body. However, in allergy sufferers the immune system does not work properly as it attacks certain allergens as if they were invasive, even though in reality they are not, such as: pollen, pet dandruff, mites or certain types of foods or medications.
To neutralize them, the immune system produces antibodies called immunoglobulin class E (IgE), specific for each allergen. These antibodies stimulate cells called mast cells, which release histamine to fight off the attacker. Histamine contains chemicals with powerful inflammatory properties, causing the most common allergic symptoms, such as irritation of the lungs, skin, nose, and other tissues. For this reason, antihistamine medications are recommended, which inhibit their actions and relieve these symptoms.
How do cats cause allergies?
The cat is the only animal that produces a specific protein known as Fel d1, present in the salivary, anal and sebaceous glands (the latter located in the dermis), causing an allergic reaction in people who come into contact with it.
However, contrary to popular belief, it is not the cat´s hair that causes the allergy, but the dandruff particles that contain the allergens formed in the secretions of the sebaceous glands. Cat dandruff is made up of microscopic fragments of dry skin that is shed as the skin is renewed.
When it flakes, small particles may become airborne, and when they are inhaled or falls on the beds, carpets, walls, curtains, and clothes produce an allergic reaction when it comes in contact with humans.
During a cat´s self-cleaning process, Fel d1 protein in the saliva is deposited on the skin and the fur, which combined with Fel d1, that is also present in the sebaceous glands, creates a double allergic reaction in allergy sufferers; this reaction can be triggered after stroking him or if he licks you.
A study took place among 19-year olds in Northern Sweden to investigate the possible relationship between the IgE antibodies in the allergens of cats and dogs with the diagnosis, and persistence of asthma.
The specific IgE in animal dandruff had the highest prevalence and the strongest relationship with the diagnosis of asthma. Furthermore, the severity of the asthma was directly associated with the concentration of the IgE antibodies to animal dandruff. The study concluded that a high concentration of the IgE antibodies of allergens in dogs and cats was strongly related to the diagnosis, severity and persistence of asthma. However, a large portion of asthma patients today do not live with dogs or cats.
Can you have symptoms without touching or even looking at the animal?
Yes, indirect contacts can also trigger an allergic reaction. This reaction can cause many surprises. Pet allergens can be found in homes, and you can breathe in the dandruff airborne particles, even when the animals are not in the house. It is interesting to note, that even at the workplace you may come in contact with these allergens through a co-worker who has a cat and whose dandruff particles can be found on their clothes, or through people who work with animals on a daily basis such as a veterinarian, on farms or even horseback riding centers.
The reduction of allergies during childhood
Recently, a study took place that hypothesizes that infants who have lived with cats and dogs during their first years of life are less likely to develop asthma and allergies to these animals. This could be due to their exposure to a more diverse microbial community at home from a very young age.
Despite these results, you have to be very cautious and wait a while before taking a specific position or making a decision. Owning pets at an early age is not totally recommended as a preventive measure for diseases such as asthma, until more research is completed to clarify the exact mechanism of the allergen reactions in children.
Anthony S. Fauci, MD, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in the United States comments: “We are learning more and more about how the early-life environment can influence the development of certain health conditions. If we can explore strategies to prevent asthma before it develops, we will help ease the burden that this disease causes on millions of people, as well as in their families and communities. “
Allergy-free cats are a myth
There is no such thing as a 100 – percent hypoallergenic cat. There are hypoallergenic breeds that produce a lower amount of Fel D1 protein.
The research was carried out to determine the production of Fel d1 in different breeds of cats, and the final conclusion was that the hypoallergenic ones secrete and spread less Fel D1 compared to others, thereby representing an alternative for people who are allergic to cats.
Less allergenic cat breeds
Cats with less fur are less likely to accumulate dandruff, saliva, dust, pollen, and urine, and are easier to keep clean.
1. Siberian cat, the most recommended
If you love the look of a long-haired cat, the Siberian is for you. It is one of the most recommended breeds for allergy sufferers. They are very affectionate, agile, and intelligent cats and they do not shed very much.
2. Balinese cat
Despite having a moderately long coat, it does not shed very much and therefore is less likely to spread dandruff. His friendly, faithful, and playful character makes him an ideal companion.
3. Blue Russian cat
His thick, short and dense hair concentrates allergens closer to his skin, distributing them less in the home environment. They are known for their shy, loving and loyal personalities.
Blue Russian Cat
4. Devon Rex cat
Devon Rex has fine, dense, and wavy coats of hair. Its coat sheds less than most cats, and are less likely to distribute them in the home surroundings. They are friendly, intelligent, and outgoing.
Devon Rex cat
5. Javanese cat
Most cats have three coats of hair (top, middle and bottom coat). However, Javanese cats have only the thin top coat, which means that they disperse less allergens. Javanese cat is curious, sociable, and very intelligent.
The Sphinx cat, appearances can be deceiving
The Sphinx or sphinx cat is frequently associated to the list of hypoallergenic breeds, but in truth, it is not truly hypoallergenic. Although these breeds seem to have no hair at all, this is not true as they have a very fine and short layer of hair, imperceptible to the touch and sight. It is a mistake to think that such fine hair means fewer allergens since the person will be in direct contact with the skin, a carrier of FEL D1 (remember that the hair is not the only cause of the allergy).
Cat grooming to reduce allergens
If you are allergic to cats, it is best to choose a hypoallergenic breed, but if you already live with one and discover that you are allergic to him, the following tips will help you to live more comfortably:
It is recommended that a person who is not allergic to cat hair complete that task, but should that not be possible; always use a mask and gloves.
Brushing is essential to reduce dandruff that causes allergies, especially when he is shedding hair. Brushing should be done outside of the house to prevent it from spreading inside. It is recommended that a person who is not allergic to cat hair complete that task, but should that not be possible; always use a mask and gloves.
For cats with long or semi-long hair, a haircut will decrease the accumulation of allergen in the coat. There is a product called Vetriderm specially formulated to reduces environmental allergens that causes allergic reactions, as long as you have a mild to moderate allergy.
The litter box should not be near any of the bedrooms and preferably someone else should do the cleaning of same.
A diet rich in essential fatty acids Omega-3 and Omega-6 will help to keep his hair more hydrated and reduce the shedding of dandruff, causing less dispersion of the allergen.
When it comes to bathing your cat, this study evaluated the effectiveness of different washing techniques in removing the allergen in the cat, as well as its effect on the environment. The results indicated that washing a cat by total immersion reduces the amount of allergen on his body and can decrease the airborne amount, but this decrease only lasts for a week or so. Therefore, it would be necessary to bathe him at least once a week.
Take care of your environment
When it comes to carpet fabrics, wool is not a recommended material, especially if it is thick or has long fibers, as it accumulates more dirt. Replace them with bamboo rugs or smooth wooden floors to prevent allergens from building up inside your home. Wooden floors will absorb fewer allergens and are easier to clean than carpets. Replace fabric curtains with synthetic blinds and upholstered furniture with wooden armchairs. Use hypoallergenic comforters and mattresses.
Keep the house well ventilated and open the windows on a daily basis to allow for the entry of oxygen and to purify the environment. This could be reinforced with an air purifier in order to eliminate airborne allergens and other contaminants, although it will not eradicate the allergens attached to surfaces. If you have an air conditioner, try to attach a high performance filter (HEPA) on it, as it will reduce the amount of allergens present in the air such as dust mites, pollen, mold spores and pet dandruff.
If possible, avoid allowing your cat to enter your room, since it is important that the environment where you sleep and spend most of your time is free from allergens. Also, be sure to wash your hands every time you touch your cat or when you finish playing with it.
f you are allergic to cats and you already have one, you can take a series of preventive steps to help minimize its impact on your health and home. If you are thinking of adopting a cat, you can choose one of the hypoallergenic breeds. The best way to know if he will cause you any allergic reaction is to spend time with him. There is no such thing as allergen-free cats, only those that produce less of an allergic reaction in humans.