Cat Allergies: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments

Learn many household and lifestyle tips to help you keep the pet cat you are allergic to.


Allergic to the family cat, but still want to keep him around? Join the club. It is estimated that nearly 15% of the population is allergic to cats and/or dogs. Even so, approximately 1/3 of those who are allergic (roughly 2 million people) will still keep the very cat they are allergic to. How is this possible, and what things can an allergic family do to make cohabiting with their furry friend a reality?

First off, one must understand cat allergies. Contrary to popular belief, a person is normally not allergic to a cat’s hair or fur. It is the cats dander (dandruff, dried saliva, dried urine, etc.) that is on the hair or skin which often stirs up the allergy. When you know this, you will realize there are no safe breeds – an individual can be allergic to any breed of dog or cat, even short or hairless breeds. Sometimes it seems to depend on the animal itself. A certain cat in a specific breed may be irritating to an individual, but a different animal of the same breed might be just fine.

But aren't cats more allergy-causing than dogs? It depends on how you look at it. Some claim that people are more allergic to cats, but it may only be because cats are constantly self-cleaning, which puts more (dried) saliva on their fur. It might also simply be due to the fact that cats tend to be indoor cats, and being indoors makes the allergens build up faster. Some think that dogs are easier to tolerate, especially those with longer, soft, and constantly growing fur. But this may only be because they are bathed more frequently, and have a better chance of eliminating some of the dander.

When dealing with possible cat allergies:

First, make sure that it is the cat you are allergic to. People with allergies are often allergic to more than one thing. If you assume it is your cat causing your allergic reaction, you might be forgetting about certain dust or mold in your home or any number of environmental allergens.  It’s easiest to determine this by having an allergy test done.

If you have not purchased a cat yet, its a good idea to spend time with a friend’s animal to guess if you might have an allergy. cat allergies are one of the top five reasons that individuals surrender cats to humane societies so if you can lessen this possibility, you 'll be helping the cat population out immensely! Spend a couple of days with your friend's cat, playing, grooming, sleeping, feeding…see if you have any reactions. Not having reactions does not guarantee you aren’t allergic, but it might give you a better idea as to your risk.

If it has been determined that you are in fact allergic to your cat, but you still want to keep it, there are several things you can try:

Buy an air purifier. This will help clear out ANY impurities in your air, not just cat allergens.

Decorate your home in easy to clean surfaces. Tile, vinyl, leather, and other smooth things are ideal ways to decorate in a home where cat allergies flare.

Get rid of as much carpet as you can - carpet has been known to hold the dander of a cat for 6 months to 3 years after the cat has been removed from the home.

 If you have upholstered furniture, consider buying plastic slipcovers.

Vacuum frequently, but make sure your cleaner has a HEPA filter. If it doesn't, you're doing nothing but stirring up the allergens instead of sucking them away.

Groom your cat daily, but do it outside. If you have a family member or friend who is not allergic, ask them to do it for you. If you must do the grooming, wear a mask, change clothes immediately after finishing, and wash your hands. Some suggest bathing your cat as often as once a week but note that you should be careful of your cat getting dry skin from such frequent bathing. Others advise that bathing your cat once every 6-8 weeks will be plenty, regardless of how allergic you are.

Since you sleep for almost 1/3 of your life, keep your cat out of your bedroom if you are allergic! Bedding is one of the biggest traps for cat allergens. And more often than not, bedrooms are carpeted, which makes your bedroom virtual heaven for dander to hang out! Start having your bedroom be an off-limits area. If Fluffy does make it into your room, be sure to wash all bedding thoroughly and clean your carpets.

Try dividing the house into areas the cat can and can't be. By restricting the animals access to all but a couple of rooms in your house, you will significantly decrease the spread of dander around your living space. This will hopefully reduce your allergic reactions.

Talk to your vet. Perhaps they can suggest something to deal with cat allergies. Also talking to your (human) doctor could be helpful – there are several medications on the market to help alleviate the symptoms of cat allergies.

These suggestions may seem to be a lot of work, but for someone who has cat allergies, it can mean the difference between getting to keep their cat and having to find him another home! Keep trying…and good luck!