It’s not easy, being a cat lover with cat allergies. I’m all too familiar with the situation, since I’m allergic to cats myself — and yet I simply can’t imagine life without a furry friend or two in my home. It’s no surprise that many people try to cut this particular Gordian knot by finding a hypoallergenic cat. To be strictly and scientifically accurate, a completely hypoallergenic cat has yet to exist. That doesn’t stop people from identifying various breeds and types as being less likely to cause allergies than others. Domestic shorthair cats are just one among many.
Are domestic shorthair cats hypoallergenic? Not really. All cats produce the protein that causes an allergic response (Fel d1), including all domestic shorthairs. The length of a cat’s hair doesn’t really help with the amount of Fel d1 produced, although long hair can carry more of the protein into the air.
You’ve arrived here because you’re looking for advice on getting a cat that won’t provoke too many allergies. You probably have a lot of questions. Why do cats cause allergies? Are domestic shorthair cats less likely to give you an allergic reaction? Can you avoid cat allergies by getting a particular type of cat? Which cats produce less Fel d1? Are there any ways to deal with cat allergies? Read on, because we have the answers that you’re looking for. In this article, you’ll learn all about the causes of cat allergies, whether the type of cat makes a difference, and how to cope with your condition.
Are Domestic Shorthair Cats Hypoallergenic?
The short (and doubtless very disappointing) answer is: no, domestic shorthair cats aren’t hypoallergenic. They, like all other cats, produce a protein called Fel d1. This is the primary allergen associated with cat allergy symptoms. Some cats do produce less, while others produce more; however, all cats are somewhat allergenic.
Many different types of cat are put forward as being “hypoallergenic”. If you have a cat allergy, you’ve probably been told not to get a longhaired cat. I’m unconvinced, however, that longhaired cats are any worse than shorthaired cats. Longer hairs have more surface area than shorter hairs, I suppose, and they can thus carry more Fel d1 than short hairs. Personally, I’ve never discerned a difference.
I was no more uncomfortable looking after my friend’s Persian cat than I am around my own British Shorthair. A cat with very short hair or no hair might help a little, as there’s no floating hair to carry Fel d1 into the air. However, even the completely naked Sphinx produces dander — flakes of skin — that carry the protein.
The term “domestic shorthair” doesn’t describe a specific breed. It’s a blanket term for many different cats of varied and indistinct ancestry. Any cat with short hair and no pedigree falls under the domestic shorthair designation.
They all produce allergens, alas. Some people insist that different colours or patterns are associated with different levels of Fel d1, but research into this is rather lacking. Common wisdom holds that tortoiseshells and tabbies are “hypoallergenic”, but there’s little evidence for this. The colouration doesn’t really make much difference.
Attempts have been made, and continue to be made, to cats need plenty of attention from their humans to be happy. Remember, this is the same breed or genetically engineer a truly hypoallergenic cat. I have deep reservations about this. Breeding cats for specific traits is one thing; genetic engineering is another. I don’t really like the idea of creating a cat as a product in this way. Breeders generally look after “unsuccessful” kittens, at least finding them good homes. Research companies are more likely to euthanise animals that don’t meet their specifications.
One company did announce the development of a hypoallergenic cat. This line of cats was a genetically engineered British Shorthair mix, alleged to produce Fel d1 in a form that didn’t trigger a reaction. Sceptics have pointed out that little testing was done to prove that the altered Fel d1 really caused fewer allergies, even though the kittens were selling for tens of thousands.
Waiting lists were long and some buyers claimed that their kittens never materialised. It seems that genetic manipulation may not be the simple solution that some had hoped. Still, it seems that there’s always someone willing to try.
Before you resign yourself to a life of catless despair, or to investing in stock with a major tissue manufacturer, you should read a bit further. We’ll be discussing ways in which you can cut down the Fel d1 and share your space more comfortably with your cat.
Do I Have a Cat Allergy?
Not everyone who thinks they have a cat allergy really has one. It could be that your symptoms are due to something else in your environment. Symptoms of cat allergy can include:
- Rhinitis (an inflamed and runny nose)
- Red, puffy, watering eyes
- Hives (urticaria)
As you can see, these are also symptoms of other allergies. House dust is one of the worst offenders, thanks to the house dust mite. The droppings of this tiny creature can wreak absolute havoc on susceptible individuals. Tobacco smoke is another potential offender. Mould and mildew can also cause these symptoms. Paints, varnishes, polishes and cleaning materials can easily cause allergies, as can perfumes. If you spend a day or two in a cat-free environment and you’re still sneezing, your problem may not be the cat.
To be certain that it’s really Fel d1 at work and not some other allergen, you can get an allergy screen. This is a simple test that involves placing a very small amount of suspected allergens under your skin, and seeing if you react. Inflammation of the prick site indicates that you are allergic. There are other tests, too, such as blood tests. These can confirm your cat allergy and also identify others.
If you’re certain that you have a cat allergy, read on to find out what you can do. Cat allergies can be managed with a few simple procedures. You don’t have to give up your pet or your dreams of being a happy cat owner.
Managing Your Cat Allergy
So you’ve had your allergy panel, and your worst fears have been confirmed. You love cats, but your immune system begs to differ. What now?
Well, there’s plenty you can do. The first step is to speak to your doctor or a pharmacist about antihistamines. A daily non-drowsy tablet in the morning and a standard antihistamine at night takes care of the worst symptoms for me. For many people, this will be enough. Of course, whenever you start taking a new medication, you should seek professional advice to make sure it’s right for you.
Most people tolerate antihistamines well. Personally, I take a cetirizine or loratadine pill in the morning and a diphenhydramine tablet at bed-time, when the soporific effect won’t be a problem.
Next, you’ll need to work on reducing the amount of Fel d1 that you’re exposed to. This means more than removing loose hair. Dander is an issue too, as is ordinary dust that’s picked up traces of the protein. When I first started my anti-allergy crusade, I couldn’t work out why vacuuming up all the cat hair seemed to make my symptoms worse instead of better.
The fact is that most vacuum cleaners do an excellent job of picking up large, visible debris, such as hair, and an even better job of recirculating smaller particles back into the air. All the time I was industriously vacuuming the obvious material, my old vacuum was blowing a fine spray of Fel d1 back out into the air through the exhaust. Once I upgraded to a better model with a good filter, things got a lot better. You can find cleaners that are certified for use in cases of allergy.
I also made my bedroom a cat-free zone. This one was a lot harder, because I really miss sleeping with my cats nearby. Unfortunately, wrapping yourself in bedding that your cats have rolled around on is a recipe for rhinitis. Now the only purring object in the room is an air purifier. I know that my cats are just outside the door, and I’ll see them in the morning.