As a cat-allergic cat-lover, I know all too well why someone might want a cat allergic cat-lover. The quest for this mythical beast has swept up many breeds, with wheezing cat fans looking to the Sphinx, the Rex, the British Shorthair and the Chartreuse for sneeze-free feline companionship. Some insist that longhaired cats are the worst offenders, while others claim that certain colours and patterns are more or less likely to produce an allergic reaction. Alas, none of this is accurate. There is, at present, no way to choose a hypoallergenic pet from among the general multitude of Catkind.
Are tortoiseshell cats hypoallergenic? Unfortunately, no colour or pattern can guarantee you a hypoallergenic cat. Cat allergies are caused by the body’s immune response to a particular protein. This protein is present in all cats, regardless of what colour they are. Tortoiseshell cats seem to produce less of the allergenic protein, but it’s still present and will still cause allergic reactions in susceptible people.
You’ve arrived on this page because you have concerns and questions about cats and cat allergies. Are tortoiseshell cats safer for those with cat allergies? Are there any cats that don’t produce allergic reactions? How can an allergic cat owner cope better with their condition? What solutions exist if you are allergic but want a cat anyway?
Keep reading, because we have the answers you’re looking for. In this article, you’ll learn about tortoiseshell cats, cat allergies, and how you can manage your allergies while still enjoying kitty companionship.
Are Tortoiseshell Cats Hypoallergenic?
Not really. There is no such thing as a hypoallergenic cat in the strict scientific sense. Cat allergies have little to do with the colour or pattern of a cat’s fur, and there’s no pattern you can pick that will be less likely to give you an allergic reaction.
The protein implicated in most cases of cat allergy is called Fel d1. The more Fel d1 a cat produces, the worse your allergies are likely to be. All cats (except for a handful of genetically modified animals, which we’ll get to later) produce Fel d1. This protain is present in the cat’s saliva and dander, the flakes of dead skin that the cat sheds.
It may be true that tortoiseshell cats produce somewhat less of the Fel d1 protein, although evidence is scanty. If you’re very severely cat allergic, a tortoiseshell cat won’t solve your problems. If your allergies are milder, might find that a tortoiseshell cat produces a less bothersome reaction. Personally, I’ve never really noticed much difference.
Torties, while gorgeous and fascinating, don’t possess any magical qualities that will protect you from the symptoms of cat allergies. These can range from coughing and sneezing all the way though to anaphylaxis in the most extreme cases. Cat allergic people may also suffer from dermatitis, eczema, urticaria (hives) and asthma when exposed to Fel d1.
What is a Tortoiseshell Cat?
“Tortoiseshell” is not a specific breed. Rather, the term refers to a type of colouration. Tortoiseshell cats have a mottled coat with patches of many different colours: black, white, deep grey (termed blue among cat fanciers) and every shade of orange and red. The effect is very appealing. They differ from calico cats in that their colours are mingled, rather than presenting as clearly defined patches of solid colour or stripes.
There are dilute tortoiseshell cats, whose coats show delicate shades of cream, blue, lilac and buff. Chocolate tortoiseshells cats are darker, with shades of black and brown predominating.
Tortoiseshell cats are nearly always female. The genes that produce their colouration are carried on the X chromosome, and two X chromosomes are required to produce the multi-coloured tortoiseshell coat. Very occasionally, a cat with XXY chromosomes will have a tortoiseshell coat but a male anatomy.
Besides their largely apocryphal reputation for being low-allergy cats, tortoiseshells have attracted many other legends. They’re often regarded as good luck, with those mottled coats attributed with the power to bring wealth and well-being to a household. Both Celtic and Japanese folklore holds that three-coloured cats like torties and calicos are lucky.
Another trait attributed to tortoiseshell cats is the famous “tortitude”. Torties are often held to be especially headstrong and somewhat contrary. Very little academic study has been carried out on this, but it’s an article of faith amongst many in the cat fancy.
For myself, I’ve always found tortoiseshell cats quite docile and tractable, with no special tendency to aggression or mischief. They do seem to be a bit more sensitive than my other cats, which perhaps accounts for their alleged bad behaviour. They’re fine as long as their needs are met and they don’t have to cope with too much stress. Torties aren’t naughty — they’re just misunderstood.
Are Hypoallergenic Cats Real?
Regrettably, there are currently no truly, scientifically hypoallergenic cats out there in the world. It would be lovely if there were, but as things stand, any cat can trigger your allergies if you’re sensitive to their saliva or dander.
There have been attempts to breed, and even to genetically engineer, cats that don’t produce Fel d1. One group of researchers did announce success, with a rather promising line of cats engineered to express minimal Fel d1. As I understand it, these cats are not widely available. The price for one was astronomical even for a pedigree cat — something in the region of £3,000 — and I’m not even sure how one would go about acquiring such a cat.
I’ve seen many types of cat touted as less allergenic. Torties and tabbies are sometimes put forward. Certain breeds have been put forward. British Shorthair cats are one breed that comes up a lot; I think this may be because they’re the breed chosen as the basis for the engineered hypoallergenic cats. In fact, the BSH was chosen for its famously good-natured personality rather than any hypoallergenic properties.
American Shorthairs and every kind of Rex have also been suggested, as has the hairless Sphinx. The Rex and Sphinx make a certain amount of sense, as these charming cats have very short hair in the case of the Cornish and Devon Rex, and none at all in the case of the Sphinx. However, even a hairless cat produces saliva and dander. Although the lack of hair might help reduce the problem, you’d still suffer from an allergic reaction to the animal.
Some people swear that longhaired breeds are worse for allergy sufferers than shorthairs. I suspect this is chiefly psychological, since the hair is not the allergen. I suppose more hair shed into the air or onto surfaces might mean more Fel d1, but I honestly haven’t noticed much difference myself.
How do I Tackle Cat Allergies?
First of all, you need to consider how bad the problem is. If someone in your house has very severe cat allergies then you may need to accept that a cat is not for you. This is particularly true if children are the ones affected. Subjecting a child to a high-allergen environment when they’re young can be highly detrimental, setting them up for more serious problems in their later lives.
If you’re not currently a cat owner in this situation, I suggest not becoming one. If you are, and the cat is causing significant suffering, either isolate your pet in one part of the house or consider re-homing her. It’s not fair to compromise someone’s health for the sake of owning a cat.
If your allergies are more-or-less bearable, or at least don’t represent a serious threat to your health, then there are ways to manage the issue. Your first line of defence is a daily antihistamine (or two, if necessary). Get a good quality air purifier or two, one for your bedroom and one for the living-room.
Invest in a really top-of-the-line vacuum cleaner, the kind with a HEPA filter that prevents dust being blown back into the air, and use it daily. Regularly vacuum your soft furnishings and wipe down surfaces where your cat sits. Brush your cat regularly to cut down on loose hair and dander (I find it helps to wear a bandanna over my face when I do this).
You’ll also need to keep her out of your bedroom. Change your bedding frequently, especially your pillow-cases. With these measures, I find I get along with my cats just fine.