There are many cat lovers out there who are allergic to cats and most of them think that getting their ideal pet means living with a runny nose and tearing eyes every single day. While this would certainly happen when they are exposed to most cats, there are some breeds that might not trigger the allergic reaction in them. These are called hypoallergenic cat breeds - but is there really a true hypoallergenic cat breed? No...but there could certain breeds that might still work for a human's allergies depending on what the person is allergic to.
These cat breeds have specific features that make them less of a threat for people suffering from cat allergies. While you might think that it is all related to the length of their fur, there are some other characteristics that play a far more important role, such as the presence of specific proteins that can generate the full array of symptoms.
What Are Cat Allergies?
Pet allergies are extremely common in the US. More than 10% of Americans are allergic to animals, and cats are the usual suspects. Cat allergies are far more common than dog allergies or to any other pets.
People who suffer from this type of allergy get an immediate reaction when they are around cats. From tearing eyes to runny noses and all the way to skin rashes, the reaction is simply impossible to ignore.
What Causes Cat Allergies?
Cat allergies are commonly associated with cat fur, but contrary to popular belief, this is not the main cause of the allergy. In most cases, the fur is merely the carrier. The main triggers are specific proteins found in the cat’s saliva and urine, and cat dander (dead skin). Out of these, the Fel D1 protein found in cat saliva is the most frequent allergen, responsible for most allergy cases.
People with allergies have overactive immune systems and when they are in contact with these substances (allergens), their bodies mistake these for pathogens and creates antibodies for them. The allergic reaction is the body trying to fight off this presumed pathogen, which is manifested as dermatological or respiratory issues.
When cats groom themselves, they spread saliva all over their fur, which makes the fur the vessel of the allergic reaction, but not the cause. As for dander, these small particles are spread all throughout the house. They can also be carried on anything from clothes to bedding. When allergic people come into contact with these, the allergic reaction is triggered.
Common Symptoms of Cat Allergies
Depending on the allergen that triggers the reaction, each type of cat allergy is manifested differently. These are the most frequent symptoms associated with this type of allergic reaction:
- Eye inflammation
- Stuffy Nose
- Skin rashes located on the face, neck, and upper chest
- Asthma attacks
- Increased body temperature/ Low-grade fever
Are Cat Allergies Treatable?
Like all other types of allergies, this is a condition that can be managed, but that can’t be cured. When exposed to the allergen, the array of symptoms will manifest again, but these will only be present during exposure. Eliminating the allergen leads to the suppression of the symptoms.
As for the treatment, this targets the symptoms of the allergy, but not the cause. This includes anti-inflammatory medicine (eye drops, nasal sprays, skin lotion) that can keep the symptoms at bay.
What Are Hypoallergenic Cats?
Hypoallergenic cats are specific breeds that produce less of the allergens associated with the pathology of cat allergies. They make good candidates for cat lovers suffering from this condition, but please note that there is always a transition period and that a perfect cohabitation is not guaranteed.
The Non-Allergenic Myth
The prefix “hypo” comes from Greek and it means “less”. The term “hypoallergenic” refers to something that would determine a less intense allergic reaction. It is very important to understand that these cat breeds would still trigger an allergic reaction, but a far less intense one than other breeds.
This makes it easier for people with cat allergies to be around them, but it does not guarantee that the reaction would be entirely absent. The non-allergenic myth built around hypoallergenic cat breeds has driven many animal lovers to bring cats of these breeds into their homes expecting that the interaction would be side-effect free.
As you can imagine, this has led to a lot of people rehousing or abandoning the cats when they realized that the reaction was still there. To avoid this type of situations, people suffering from cat allergies are advised to take in hypoallergenic cat breeds on a trial basis only.
The Main Hypoallergenic Cat Breeds
There are quite a few hypoallergenic cat breeds out there. Here are the ten breeds that have shown the best results:
The Sphynx is known all throughout the world as the hairless cat. This gives it an immediate advantage to the other hypoallergenic breeds because the fur-related issues can be eliminated. While the Fel D1 protein, the substance responsible for most cat allergies is still present, it is spread less throughout the body.
However, Sphynx cats are not entirely hairless and, aside from that, they do their grooming just like other cats. This means that the Fel D1 protein is still present on their skin, but in far lower amounts. Therefore, it still has some potential to cause allergic reactions.
On the other hand, the amount of dander eliminated by a Sphynx is somewhat larger than that eliminated by a cat with fur because the chemistry of its skin is different. With the skin exposed to the environment, the regeneration process in the outer layers of the skin is more intense.
To keep dander elimination to the minimum, Sphynx cats should be bathed regularly to reduce oil buildup. All in all, the Sphynx is the top choice for hypoallergenic cats because it presents the lowest potential for contact with the common allergens.
The Devon Rex is one of the world’s smallest cat breeds. It has short hair and it only has the undercoat layer, similar to Ragdoll cats. But what makes it a good hypoallergenic cat is the fact that it produces less dander than other cat breeds. Moreover, it is particularly well-suited for people whose allergies are caused by dander particles.
This cat breed also has patches of skin with less fur on them. Its short, soft coat makes it shed far less than other cats, which reduces the development of allergic reactions. As with the Sphynx, the fact that it has less fur does not guarantee the absence of the allergies. Devon Rex cats must be bathed and groomed on a regular basis to prevent oil buildup on the skin.
The Cornish Rex is very similar to the Devon Rex, but the characteristic that sets it apart is its wavy to curly fur. It also has a smooth and short coat, and it sheds far less than other cat breeds because it only has the undercoat layer.
While this is important, it is the low dander production that makes it a suitable candidate for the hypoallergenic cat list. This limits the allergic reaction triggered in people sensitive to cat dander.
This cat breed has a very short coat, which keeps shedding at its lowest. With a rigorous grooming routine, all allergies generated by this can be minimized. The Oriental Shorthair produces very little dander, which is an important asset for hypoallergenic cats.
The Russian Blue is an excellent choice for a hypoallergenic cat because it produces lower levels of the Fel D1 protein. This means that the allergic reaction it could trigger would be far less intense, and, with regular grooming, it could be eliminated altogether.
It has a very plush, but short coat, and it does not shed a lot. The thickness of its coat also minimizes dander elimination. If bathed on a regular basis, the oil buildup on the skin can be kept at very low levels. Overall, it is one of the best choices for a hypoallergenic cat.
The Balinese is yet another cat breed that produces less Fel D1 protein in its saliva. Although it has a longer coat and a foxy tail, it poses less of a threat to those suffering from cat allergies. This breed would require a more thorough grooming ritual than cats with short coats to minimize allergy symptoms, but the low Fel D1 levels make it a worthy candidate.
The lovely Siberian cat is yet another example of a long-haired hypoallergenic cat. It also produces low levels of Fel D1 protein, which means that its long gorgeous coat will not generate an allergic reaction.
It is still recommended that the grooming process is extremely thorough. Not only does this minimize shedding, which is also involved in triggering allergies, but it also reduces dander elimination. Along with regular baths, this can be kept to a minimum.
The Bengal cat has extremely fine fur that requires it to do very little grooming. Since the cat spends less time grooming itself, there is less saliva spread over its coat. This makes its allergenic potential as low as possible.
Its coat structure makes it very easy for owners to perform thorough grooming as well. By brushing it regularly, the self-grooming can be reduced even more. However, there is no evidence that the Bengal produces less Fel D1 protein.
If the Cornish Rex has a wavy coat, the LaPerm cat has actual curls. Aside from the aesthetic factor, this is extremely important as a hypoallergenic characteristic because it minimizes both dander elimination and contact with saliva.
Like the Devon Rex and the Cornish Rex only have the undercoat layer, Javanese cats only have the topcoat layer, which makes them excellent hypoallergenic cats. Their coat structure makes them shed less, but also spend less time grooming themselves. It also means less dander and a lower risk for people suffering from cat allergies.
Are Ragdoll Cats Hypoallergenic?
Ragdolls do not have the undercoat layer, which has made people think that they are hypoallergenic cats. While this makes them shed less than other cat breeds, this feature alone may not be enough to consider them a good choice for people suffering from cat allergies. Also, there is no evidence pointing out that they would produce lower levels of Fel D1 protein.
How to Choose the Right Hypoallergenic Cat
Choosing a hypoallergenic cat is very different from choosing a regular cat because there are far more factors to take into consideration. The physical appearance of the cat cannot be at the top of the list anymore. The best choice is based on the level of compatibility between the allergic owner and the cat.
While there are no guarantees that interaction with the cat will be allergy-free, there are a few things that might help people pick the best hypoallergenic cat breed for them. There are a few important factors that determine the compatibility between a pet owner with cat allergies and a hypoallergenic cat:
1. The Allergen
Knowing the specific allergen responsible for the reaction is the key element behind choosing a hypoallergenic cat breed. Your aim is to find the breed that has the least amount of allergen production. Your doctor can perform a series of tests to find out what this allergen is. This way, you will know what to look out for.
For instance, people whose cat allergies are produced by exposure to the Fel D1 protein should choose between cats that produce less of it, such as the Russian Blue, the Balinese, or the Siberian. On the other hand, it the issue is mainly related to cat dander, then the Sphynx, the Devon Rex, or the Cornish Rex might make far better choices.
2. The Severity of the Pathology
People with severe cat allergies are advised to minimize contact with cats, regardless of the breed, because constant exposure could lead to very serious health issues. However, those suffering from mild to low-grade reactions have far better chances of being able to cohabitate successfully with a hypoallergenic cat.