What is Hypoallergenic?
Up to 15% of us (or some 10 million Americans) are allergic to cats, and 40% of those with asthma are sensitive to these animals. Hypoallergenic cats are believed to produce fewer allergens than other felines. However, with few legal regulations or definitions, the word’s meaning can be difficult to pin down.
There are strong variations between cats in terms of allergens produced, and sometimes the same cat can have very different levels of allergens at different times. Equally, symptoms may only become apparent after long-term exposure to the animal.
Kittens tend to produce fewer allergens than cats, females fewer than males. Dark felines are more likely to cause allergy-related symptoms than those with light colored fur, although no-one quite knows why. Spayed and neutered animals also carry fewer allergens.
Perhaps the key word here is “fewer”, since no breed is completely non-allergenic. Hypoallergenic typically means cats which produce fewer allergens than most.
The Causes of Allergies
Most allergic reactions are caused by the allergens found in the sebaceous glands in the cat’s skin, such as the allergenic glycoprotein felis domesticus. This is also produced via saliva, and spread by cats when they lick themselves. It can attach itself to dust particles, clothes, the home, and is also found in the pet’s urine, dander, serum, feces, and hair.
Cat allergen is highly and stubbornly pervasive. Even after the cat has been removed, allergen can linger for up to six months in the home, and as long as four years in bedding. It can be transferred outside the home, and its size, 10 times less than dust particles or pollen, means it can penetrate the bronchial membranes easily.
Reducing Allergen Levels in Your Cat and Home
Your pet may not like it, but try to wash them a couple of times a week. Wash and rinse thoroughly. Pay particular attention to the face, where allergen levels tend to be higher. You can buy special allergy wipes, which may help.
Wash your hands after touching your pet, and keep them away from your face and eyes until you have done so. Also wash your clothes and bed linen often, and remember that wool absorbs more allergens than other fabrics like cotton. Keep your house clean, washing floors frequently and using a dust spray rather than just a cloth. Wood and other hard floor types are less likely to retain allergens than carpeted surfaces. Heavy drapes can also trap allergens.
Keep your feline away from your bedroom and clean clothes. Minimize other allergens, like dust and pollen, which can make allergic reactions worse.
Have your pet spend some time outdoors, and ventilate your home well. Equally, keep the kitty litter in a well-aired space. Dip rather than pour when emptying, and keep litter as dust-free as you can.
You will need to take into account several considerations when choosing a breed for your home.
But here are some options for cat lovers who want a low allergen animal:
- Balinese: Often also called “long-haired Siamese”, these make great family pets and the breed is also ideal if you haven’t owned a cat before.
- Oriental Shorthair: These are hypoallergenic, but good grooming (which should include wiping down as well as brushing) will help minimize dander.
- Javanese: This breed has a medium-long single coat which doesn’t mat. The lack of undercoat means less fur, which, in turn, means fewer allergens.
- There are also two “Rex” cats which are worthy of consideration for allergy sufferers: the Devon and the Cornish varieties. Both shed very little fur. Of these two, the Devon’s hair is shorter, and there’s less of it. This breed needs regular cleaning of paw pads and ears to remove oil build-up, although regular full baths are not needed, although the Cornish does need these.
- Sphynx: The hairless Sphynx is one of the breeds most commonly linked with being hypoallergenic. However, do not take hairlessness to mean no maintenance. Frequent baths are needed to remove the gummy build-up of oils on the skin, and the breed has big ears, which also need to be cleaned out regularly.
- Siberian: This breed has a relatively long coat, but their saliva has lower than average levels of enzymes. There are claims that three quarters of those with cat allergies do not react to the Siberian at all.
Remember to spend as much time as possible with the cat, or at least one of the same breed, before you take the animal home, to see if you develop any allergic symptoms. And remember, while hypoallergenic cats have fewer allergies, they may not be the panacea you were expecting.