Cat allergy is often developed in childhood and implies an overreaction of the immune system to proteins secreted from the cat's urine, saliva, sebaceous gland and paw pads. Scientists are still not sure about why some people develop cat allergy and others don't, but most likely it has to do with a combination of environment and heredity. Some people may be allergic to cats for a long time without knowing it.
All cats release allergens, which are the irritating substances, so if you are allergic it is best to avoid contact with cats as far as it is possible. Avoiding cats all together might be hard and since the allergenic substances easily stick to clothes The allergen could travel and spread far beyond the home where the cat lives. If you are allergic to cats it will be good to know that there are medicines that can ease the symptoms on a short term basis, and also immunotherapy - vaccine treatment - which takes years.
The cat allergens travel easily by air and will cause problems as they stick to the mucous membranes of your eyes, nose, skin or lungs. The symptoms of cat allergy are the same as that of dog allergy and other pet allergies:
Unfortunately there are no pets, which are completely free from allergens. On top of that, the allergen carried by cats is quite strong. For example, we run a 50% higher risk of developing a pet allergy from cats than from dogs. How strongly you react differs a lot between individuals and there are examples of allergic individuals who feel they tolerate some cats better than others.
Siberian cat, Ragdoll and Rex cat are some cat breeds that are sometimes said to be less allergenic than others. Although in general it is not possible to recommend a specific breed to someone suffering from allergy since the allergen levels may differ greatly also within the breed. If you are allergic but still insist on getting a cat, it is best to "test" individual cats. Some race cat societies offer contact with so called "testing homes" where allergic people can meet with different cats to see if they get an allergic reaction from them before going out to get one of their own. The general advice is to avoid getting a cat if you know you are allergic.
If you are allergic to cats you should avoid owning one. If you already have a cat at home you should discuss your options with a doctor. Should you choose to live with at cat in spite of your allergy there are some things you can do on your own in order to ease your problems:
There are also medicines to cat allergies, which can prevent and alleviate symptoms but they do not cure the actual allergy. Mild problems can be treated with over-the-counter antihistamine tablets and eye drops. If the allergy is causing nasal congestion, a nasal spray containing corticosteroid may be an option. Common cold sprays, however, do not work on allergies. They may, on the contrary, increase the symptoms. If you are not fully helped by over-the-counter medicines you should contact your doctor who can look over your treatment and also prescribe some medicines that are more effective than the ones you can get over-the-counter. It is important that you contact your doctor if you are not sure of what is causing your problems, or if your symptoms are similar to asthma. The doctor will then be able to do a full allergy examination and adjust your treatment.
Some people experience severe problems from their cat allergy despite taking their medicine and trying to prevent the problems. In such cases immunotherapy, or vaccine therapy, may be an option for treating the cat allergy. Such treatment implies regular visits to a specialised allergy clinic to receive shots containing small doses of the allergen. The dosage will gradually be increased as the body is getting used to the allergy provoking substance. The treatment may take up to five years to complete, which is something that's important to consider if you choose to start it.
UK/GEN/15/0057b Date of preparation: December 2015