Can I Get A Hypoallergenic Cat If I'm Allergic?

What hypoallergenic REALLY means 😽

It’s a problem many cat lovers face: You love cats, but you're also allergic. What's a feline fan to do? You may have heard about hypoallergenic cats — but what exactly does “hypoallergenic” mean, and can you really safely become a cat parent even with allergies? (Achoo!)

We talked to Dr. Alex Schechter from Burrwood Veterinary in Detroit, and Dr. Laura Robinson, associate veterinarian at Antonio Animal Hospital in Southern California, who explained what makes a cat hypoallergenic and which cat breeds fit the hypoallergenic bill.

What does it mean if a cat is hypoallergenic?

“Hypoallergenic cats are those that are less likely to trigger allergic reactions or other adverse side effects in people with sensitive skin,” Dr. Schechter told The Dodo. With persistent grooming, “all cats have the potential to be hypoallergenic, but some may be easier to care for than others.”

If a cat is hypoallergenic, this doesn’t mean they’re immune to having allergies themselves, but rather, they’re less likely to cause them in humans. “The unique coat structure of hypoallergenic cats has been said to have such a small amount of fur that it’s almost nonexistent, and their lack of hair provides fewer surfaces for allergens to attach to,” Dr. Schechter explained.

Dr. Schechter said that cats with fewer hair coats or finer fur are typically the least allergenic types of cats, which includes any domestic shorthair breeds and Siamese cats.

What causes cat allergies in humans?

It should be noted that cat fur itself isn’t necessarily the cause of itchy eyes, hives and sneezing in humans. Rather, it’s a protein called Fel D1.

“Ten cat allergens have been identified in causing immune system (allergy) reactions in humans,” Dr. Robinson told The Dodo. “The main offender in our cat allergies is a protein called Fel D1, which is produced by salivary, sebaceous (in the skin), perianal (in the anal sacs) and lacrimal (in the eye) glands.”

So, anytime your cat licks herself, she spreads Fel D1 onto her skin and fur. And when that fur and dander sheds, Fel D1 goes everywhere — it can even become airborne. “Because of its small size and low weight, Fel D1 can float in the air for long periods and readily adheres to surfaces such as sweaters, blankets and carpeting,” Dr. Robinson said.

“Technically, there are no true anti-allergy cats,” Dr. Robinson continued, explaining that cats who are called “hypoallergenic” produce fewer allergens in one way or another compared to other breeds, either by shedding less or producing fewer amounts of Fel D1.

Some studies have shown that specific cat breeds can produce less Fel D1 proteins compared to other cats, but more research is needed to conclude if these cats actually cause less of an allergic reaction in humans.

“Before you welcome a cat into your home … spend some time around your chosen breed to find out if they trigger your allergies,” Dr. Robinson said. And consult your doctor before doing so, as they might have a few tips, recommendations or warnings tailored to your allergy diagnosis that you need to know before spending time with cats.

What are the most common breeds of hypoallergenic cats?

With all that being said, some who suffer from cat allergies may find that specific cat breeds with hair are less likely to cause reactions. According to Drs. Schechter and Robinson, the most common hypoallergenic cat breeds are:

  • Balinese
  • Oriental shorthair
  • Javanese
  • Devon rex
  • Cornish rex
  • Siamese
  • Russian Blue
  • Bengal

These breeds are known to produce less shed and have silky coats that require minimal maintenance. Balinese and other Siberian breeds have longer hair and shed seasonally. But, as mentioned, they’re believed to produce less Fel D1 protein, which may make them a more compatible breed for pet parents with allergies.

Some of these breeds may also require more care than other cats — especially hairless breeds, who need help keeping up with daily skincare regimens, and cats with longer hair who need help grooming. Make sure you’re looking into adopting a cat who will also fit your lifestyle as well as your allergy diagnosis.

Are hairless cats hypoallergenic?

Because the Fel D1 protein is linked to skin and saliva instead of cat hair, hairless cats are not necessarily hypoallergenic.

“Hairless cats are not hypoallergenic and may actually be less hypoallergenic than their long-haired counterparts,” Dr. Schechter explained, due to the gummy buildup on their skin.

But if you bathe your hairless cat regularly, you can reduce the amount of buildup and dander that can cause an allergic reaction.

How you can help relieve your cat allergy symptoms

If you still itch and sneeze despite your cat being a hypoallergenic breed, there are a few ways you can reduce the severity of your allergic reaction.

  • Take an antihistamine. You can pick up an over-the-counter antihistamine, or your doctor may prescribe you a more powerful one; check with what they recommend.
  • Bathe your cat with a dander-reducing shampoo or wipe her down with cat wipes.
  • Ask your vet about switching your cat’s food to an allergen-reducing food.
  • Launder and clean soft surfaces in your home frequently.
  • Invest in an air purifier.
  • Use dust-free and non-tracking cat litter to cut down on the amount of Fel D1 in the air.

Cat allergies are no fun for anyone — especially cat lovers. But adopting a hypoallergenic cat and helping her maintain her dander and shed may help curb your symptoms just enough so you can successfully cuddle with minimal itch.