Cat allergies, like sexuality, run on a spectrum. If you're only slightly allergic, you might be ready to bear it, if you can find a cat that will meet you halfway. While there's no such thing as a completely hypoallergenic cat, some breeds are easier on the sinuses than others. Unfortunately most online advice is unsourced or anecdotal. We asked allergist Joseph T. Inglefield III, MD to fact-check some popular beliefs about cat allergies.
Photo by Kevin Dooley
Fur Length Doesn't Matter
According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology, pet hair is just the carrier of allergens, not the cause, and fur length and amount of shedding don't matter. Even hairless cats carry allergens in their skin, saliva and urine. But Dr Inglefield disagrees: "Cats and dogs that shed less leave less allergen around the house," he says. "Less hair and dander in the home helps decrease the amount of Fel d 1, the major cat allergen. Cats lick the fur or hair and the saliva dries and flakes off into the air. Those particles are very easy to breathe deeply into the nose and lungs."
Colour Might Matter
There's conflicting scientific data on hair colour as a sign of allergens. Dr Inglefield says there's a "consensus" that dark cats are more allergenic than light ones, but sees no obvious reason why that would be true.
Treatment and Good Habits Matter
"Allergy shots for cats are very effective," says Dr Inglefield, "and have been shown in studies to reduce symptoms quite nicely. As an allergy sufferer myself I was allergic to cats and dogs but once on allergy shots can now have a dog (Shi-Poo, a 'hypoallergenic breed') sleep with me and at one point had eight cats in the house."
He recommends keeping cats out of the bedroom at all times. The AAAAI has several dander management tips: Have a non-allergic person regularly brush the pets, and regularly clean carpets with a double or micro-filter vacuum, or get rid of carpets entirely.
Big Cats Trigger Allergies Too
"All cats produce this allergen," says Dr Inglefield, "even lions and tigers. I had a circus worker who was allergic to cats and had bad reactions being around the tiger cages."