Pet allergies can cause absolute misery for sufferers and can be especially problematic in babies and small children. Sneezing, coughing and skin rashes are very unpleasant for little ones — and more serious conditions such as asthma are even worse. If you’re considering bringing a British Shorthair into a home where there’s a baby or toddler, it’s important to consider the impact allergies may have.Do British Shorthair cats cause allergies in babies? If the baby doesn’t have a cat allergy, it’s unlikely that he’ll develop one from exposure to this breed. If the infant has an existing allergy to cats, a British Shorthair will probably trigger a reaction just as any cat might. You can take steps to minimise an allergic baby’s problems by administering antihistamines as recommended by your paediatrician and by reducing exposure to the British Shorthair’s hair, dander and saliva.
Keep reading to find out more about allergies and the British Shorthair. Allergies can be quite serious so it’s important to have good information to hand. In this article, we’re going to dispell some of the myths around pet allergies and answer some of your pressing questions. What are cat allergies? How do they manifest and what actually causes them? Are British Shorthair cats especially likely to cause an allergic response? To learn about these questions and how you can minimise the negative effect of pet allergies, read on.
Allergies and the British Shorthair: the long and short of the issue.
Do British Shorthair cats cause allergies in babies? It depends on what you mean by “cause”. If a baby doesn’t have a cat allergy, then early exposure to any cat, including the British Shorthair, will not induce one. On the contrary, there’s some evidence to suggest that this kind of early exposure may actually help prevent the development of allergies to cats later on.
If the infant is already allergic to cats, however, then the presence of a British Shorthair is apt to trigger an allergic response: sneezing, coughing and so on. To understand this a little better, we first need to understand the mechanics of an allergic reaction.
An allergy is a malfunction of the body’s healthy immune response. For reasons that science has not entirely been able to ascertain, the immune system sometimes decides that some innocuous substance is a dangerous pathogen and attacks it in much the same way as it would a microbe. In this case, the immune system has mistaken a protein found in cat dander for a dangerous disease germ and has gone on the offensive.
Note that it is usually the cat’s dander (dead skin cells) rather than the fur itself that is the trigger. Cat hair generally triggers allergies because of the dander clinging to it. This means that breeds with longer or thicker hair tend to be more allergenic, simply because their fur traps more dander. Some people may also respond badly to a cat’s saliva, which tends to coat their fur with microscopic particles of the allergen in question. The results can be anything from a mild sniffle and itchy eyes to a major asthma attack.
Skin conditions may also be triggered by contact with cat dander or saliva; these include eczema, dermatitis, hives and other problems. In order to develop an allergic reaction, an individual must first be sensitised to the allergen (in this case, proteins in the cat’s dander or saliva). It’s not completely clear how this happens but there does seem to be some connection between age at first exposure and how likely a person is to develop an allergy.
There are various other factors involved, such as the person’s state of health, whether they have an existing allergy to something else and so on — but as with many issues involving the immune system and the allergic response, there’s a great deal of mystery surrounding the matter. All we can really say is that a non-allergic baby will probably stay non-allergic if you bring home a British Shorthair and may even enjoy a measure of protection against acquiring an allergy in later life. A baby with an existing cat allergy will react as to any other cat.
One of the first things to ascertain, though, is whether there’s any actual allergy present. Is your baby really allergic to cats? Sometimes a simple cold can look a lot like an allergy. There are many other allergens in the average home, from tobacco smoke to fragrances. There are simple tests to determine which substances Baby is allergic to; it may be a good idea to check before blaming the cat.
Are British Shorthairs especially allergenic?
There’s some dispute over this. Some people hold that because this is a shorthaired cats need plenty of attention from their humans to be happy. Remember, this is the same breed they produce less allergenic material than breeds with longer fur. Others insist that because the British Shorthair’s fur is so remarkably dense, it follows that they generate and retain more of the allergenic proteins. Purely anecdotally, I don’t find them especially allergenic. I have a mild cat allergy myself (although I refuse to let a few sniffles get between me and my feline friends – that’s why we have antihistamines).
I honestly don’t find my British Shorthairs any more bothersome than my friend’s Maine Coon or Persian mix. One thing I can attest to and that’s the quantity of hair this breed produces. They definitely shed more than most other shorthaired cats, which makes corraling the allergens in one part of the house tricky. In the case of a small baby, you’ll want to keep the infant and the cat away from each other as much as possible anyway – but a British Shorthair won’t make the child any sicker than any other breed.
How can I know if my baby is really allergic to my British Shorthair?
We’ve touched on the possibility of another explanation for your baby’s symptoms. Let’s now delve into this topic a little more deeply. We’ll assume that the baby was exposed to a British Shorthair and thereafter began to show symptoms that suggested an allergy. Does this happen every time Baby goes near a cat or was it a one-off? Did the symptoms stop after the cat was removed or is the baby still sick? If the problem only occurred once or the symptoms persisted after the supposed source of allergens was removed, you may be dealing with an infection rather than an allergy. Colds and infections of the respiratory tract often have symptoms that are virtually identical with an allergy, at least at first.
Once the infection has gone on for a while, you’ll see the difference – allergies produce a thin, clear mucus while infections cause thick, opaque discharges. Once an infection has been ruled out and an allergy ruled in, the next question is whether the British Shorthair is to blame.
There are a multiplicity of other allergens in and around the average home. Other pets are an obvious culprit. Featherbedding was my personal Kryptonite as a child, while wool blankets spell misery for others.
- Dust and house dust mites
- pollen from outdoors
- mould from indoors
- cleaning products
- fumes from paint
- varnish or glues used in furniture
These are all potent allergens. Your doctor may be able to arrange tests to find out what’s behind your baby’s symptoms.
My baby is allergic to cats. How can I prevent allergic reactions from occurring?
Assuming you’ve checked to ensure that there’s really an allergy present and that cats are the culprit, you will need to keep your baby away from cat hair and dander as much as you can. If the baby or the British Shorthair is only visiting, it may be enough to keep the cat isolated in one part of the house while the baby stays in another.
Using the vacuum cleaner and the lint roller liberally will also help. Clean down all the surfaces in the room where the child will be staying and remove or thoroughly vacuum and soft furnishings. The infant’s carers should pet and handle the cat as little as possible and must wash their hands before touching the baby. (This should go without saying even if the child is not allergic – cats can carry very nasty germs that an infant’s immune system isn’t set up to deal with – but I’ll mention it anyway.)
Giving your cat a bath is recommended if easier said than done. Your paediatrician may be able to give you a safe antihistamine to prevent an allergic reaction from getting out of hand; always double-check with both doctor and pharmacist when giving medicines to the very young. Regrettably, I can’t advise trying to keep a British Shorthair or any other cat if you have a child with a cat allergy in the house. It’s simply not fair to either the infant or the cat, who must surely face a very limited indoor environment. If you don’t have a cat, don’t get one; if you do, consider finding another loving home.