Medically Reviewed by Taylor Froiland, PharmD, RPh
Written by Adam McCown, PharmD
Cats. Some people love them, some prefer dogs. But whether you’re a cat lover or not, a lot of us are allergic to them. In fact, it is estimated that over 12 percent of Americans suffer from cat allergies—a far higher amount than people who suffer from dog allergies. 25% of people who have any type of allergy are also allergic to cats. Needless to say, that’s a lot of people. Millions of people.
What Cat Allergies Feel Like
Most people realize they are allergic to cats because, you guessed it, they notice the symptoms of cat allergies anytime they are around them. Signs and symptoms usually include red eyes, sneezing, watery eyes, runny nose, coughing, sore throat, and, possibly, a skin rash. Basically, if you’ve got a feline allergy and are around cats, you just feel like you have a cold that won’t go away. It’s not the best feeling in the world.
Depending on how sensitive you are to cats, you may feel the allergy symptoms right when walking into a house where they live, or you may only notice after a few hours of being in an area with them. Less sensitive people may only experience the symptoms when actually touching or handling a cat. For some people, the symptoms are mild and they may not even mind them (they might even own a cat if they really are a cat lover), for others, the symptoms get so bad that it can be difficult to bear.
Cat Allergy Causes
Contrary to what many people think, when it comes to an allergy to cats, their fur and hair is not really the biggest problem. The real culprits are proteins that are found in your furry friend’s saliva, urine, and dander (dried flakes of skin). Despite not being the biggest problem, cat allergies can also be triggered to a lesser degree by hair and even blood.
One of the reasons why cats produce allergic reactions in more people than dogs do, is that cats are constantly bathing themselves and are rarely bathed by their owners. As the proteins that cause allergies are found in their saliva, this constant bathing can spread it more easily around your house.
These proteins that are found throughout your cat’s body in their saliva, urine, hair, blood, etc., are called allergens. Allergens are otherwise harmless substances that can trigger allergic reactions in certain people. Basically, in susceptible people, cat allergens cause a rapid immune response mediated by an antibody called IgE. The IgE antibody rapidly activates an inflammatory immune system response that produces the symptoms of a cat allergy.
You can thank IgE and your overly sensitive immune system for that runny nose, sore throat, red eyes, and other symptoms.
It’s also important to note that even if you are not allergic to cats, they can still cause you problems with your other allergies. If you have an outdoor cat, for example, they can bring pollen, mold, and other types of allergens inside your home on their fur.
Treatment of Cat Allergies
Like we mentioned, it’s pretty easy to determine whether or not you have an allergy to cats. If you start to cough, sneeze, feel itchy, or develop a rash right after visiting your friend who has a cat, then you probably are allergic. Most people who are allergic will also continue to suffer from the symptoms even after they are away from the animal.
The most common and effective treatment option is prevention by avoidance—staying away from cats as much as possible. However, for people who are allergic but who want to have a cat or visit homes with cats, there are some possible treatment options. Here’s what you can do:
- Talk to a doctor about nasal sprays or antihistamines
- Allergy shots, also called immunotherapy
- Do not use carpets or rugs that can trap allergens
- Keep pets out of specific areas
- Regularly groom your cat
- Regularly vacuum furniture and carpets
If you have a cat or have to be around cats and you determine you are allergic to them, it’s not the end of the world. Talk to your doctor and even your vet about what your options are, and how you can improve your situation both on your end and on your cat’s end. You may be able to control your symptoms and live happily with your feline.