Ask A Vet: Why Are People Actually Allergic To Cats?



People that love cats just love them.  It isn’t something that we decide. Unfortunately, even if our hearts love them, sometimes our immune systems do not.  According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, almost 3 out of 10 people have animal allergies and there are twice the number of cat allergies as dog ones. When a sensitive immune system sees the allergen molecule from a cat, it launches an attack just like it would for a virus or pathogen that was going to make you sick. People who are allergic to cats can feel just like they are “coming down” with something.

Michael C. Hollie, MD, FAAAAI, FACAAI is a Board Certified Allergist in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He sees patients with animal allergies regularly. Dr. Hollie is an animal lover himself (as well as an animal allergy sufferer) so he understands about the divergence of heart and immunity in these cases. The allergens (proteins that cause allergic symptoms) are found in the cat’s dander (dead skin cells), saliva and urine.

The inconvenient truth is there is no cat that will not incite an allergic reaction for a cat allergy sufferer. Dr. Hollie explained, “People often confuse the terms “hypoallergenic” and “non-allergenic” when referring to a pet’s ability to provoke allergy symptoms.  Hypoallergenic refers to low allergy and non-allergenic refers to no allergy. With that said, non-allergenic cats and dogs do not exist.”

There is no cat without skin, saliva or urine, so even hairless cats or cats that are purported to be low shedding breeds will cause allergic reactions. Some cats seem to produce less of the antigen than others. There was a company called Allerca who attempted to selectively breed low antigen producing cats to produce a truly low allergen offspring.  Unfortunately, the company stepped out of the companion animal market amid a flurry of complaints.

Depending on an individual person’s sensitivity, certain cats may be better than others for that specific person, but there is not a true “non-allergenic” breed.  Everyone that loves pets and has allergies wants to believe that there is a silver bullet, but like most things, there is no shortcut.

If you are cat allergic your best hope is to address your allergy with your immune system. Only a Board Certified Allergist can provide you with an accurate diagnosis, recommendations regarding living with a cat, and most importantly, effective treatment that may include desensitization (allergy shots) to your cat.

Don’t give in to the internet hype and have unrealistic expectations from a certain type or breed of animal. Pick a cat that you love and then pick an allergist that you trust and together you can find a way to live happy and healthy.

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Written by Dr. Kathryn Primm
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