Am I allergic to my cat?

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According to the charity Allergy UK, some 35 per cent of pet owners are actually allergic to the animals in their lives, with cat and dog allergies the most common ones. That adds up to an awful lot of sneezing and discomfort! We take a look at what can you do about it...

If you know you suffer from allergic conditions, such as hay fever or asthma, you might feel that the only answer is not to have a pet — but is this true? And what happens if one family member has an allergic reaction and the others are fine? Or if you are in a new relationship and everything goes well until your new partner meets Fluffy or Jess and the result is wheezing and streaming eyes and nose?

Cats will spread the allergen on their fur through grooming.

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Pet allergy 

Pet allergy is the second most common allergy in Britain, after house dust mites. It’s sometimes assumed that it is your pet’s fur that causes the reaction, but that isn’t the case. The allergen, or allergy-producing substance, is actually a protein called Fel d 1, which is found in cats’ sebaceous glands. 

When your cat washes itself, this protein becomes attached to the hair, dried skin particles, and saliva, and spreads easily into the environment. For most people, this causes no problems. For those who have an allergic response, symptoms soon appear. These may be relatively mild or quite severe, and can include red, itchy, watery eyes; a runny nose; sneezing; breathing difficulties; and a skin rash. Hay fever sufferers and those who have allergic asthma are especially at risk of cat allergy, although it can develop in others too.

Cats Protection has a useful leaflet on its website which explains that most allergies develop in children and teenagers so that if you have always lived with a cat, it’s less likely that you will develop an allergy as an adult, although this can happen.  

What is an allergic reaction and why does it happen?

An allergy is an inappropriate response by the immune system to a substance which in
non-allergic people is harmless. Our immune systems are designed to respond in this way to genuine ‘attackers’ like viruses and bacteria. They then produce a quantity of the allergy antibody Immunoglobulin E (IgE) which produces the allergic symptoms listed previously.

If you, a friend, or a member of your family does develop these sorts of symptoms, the first thing to do is to be as sure as you can be that the cat is the cause! There are many other possible causes of allergic reactions, including house dust mites, plants and flowers, pollen, mould, perfume, household chemicals, and other substances, so it’s always worth making sure that you are dealing with a true cat allergy. Make the first point of call your GP to see what can be done to help, particularly if the person concerned suffers from hay fever, asthma, or any other allergic condition. The patient may be referred to a specialist for a blood test or skin-prick testing to see whether the problem can be identified and treated.

Case Studies

We have been speaking to cat lovers to find out how they deal with a cat allergy. 

“I’m hoping the right cat for me could be out there somewhere” 

Joan lives in a village in East Anglia. She retired recently and planned to adopt two bonded kittens, “so that we could have them for the whole of their lives!” she says. Joan had always had allergy problems, especially reacting to newly-cut grass, pollen, and insect bites, but was able to be with her son’s cat without any flare-ups. However, when she adopted two kittens from her local Cats Protection branch, it was a different story.

“Within three days, my eyes and nose started running and I developed sinusitis,” she says. “It was like having a permanent cold and I was in a lot of pain. Whenever the kittens climbed on to my lap, my skin began to tingle too. Both my husband and I adored them but I started feeling so poorly we didn’t know what to do for the best. I took anti-histamines which helped a bit, as did wiping them down, hoovering every day, and cleaning the house from top to bottom, but I could never really cuddle or play with them as I longed to do. It didn’t seem fair on them to have to be lifted off my lap when they jumped up. 

Read the rest of the feature in the ‘June 2022’ issue, available to read instantly on our digital edition HERE or purchase the print edition HERE.


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