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Fur Facts. Why am I allergic to cats but not dogs?

September 13, 2017

PetSafe® Expert

Amy Shojai, CABC

Fur Facts. Why am I allergic to cats but not dogs?

Hot summer months as well as wintery weather can mean more time spent indoors avoiding the sun or cold for both people and pets. For allergy sufferers, that may mean an increase in symptoms. Even if you aren't directly allergic to your cat or dog, they act like furry dust mops that trap and hold allergens like pollen and dust that do set you off.

Why Am I Allergic to My Pets?

Kittens on bedKittens on bed

About 2 percent of the US population is allergic to cats themselves. About one-third of cat-allergic folks love kitties so much, they're willing to put up with the sniffles. Allergy symptoms include itchy eyes, coughing, wheezing and/or hives.

People can also be allergic to dogs, and the symptoms are similar. In addition, some folks become sensitized to dog saliva, so canine kisses can leave the person with an itchy rash or even hives. In the most severe cases, cat or dog allergies can make asthmatic people suffer dangerous asthmatic episodes, so pet allergies are nothing to sneeze at.

Why Am I Allergic to Cats but Not Dogs?

Cat allergies are twice as common as dog allergies, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. So if you react to cats, you may not have a problem with dogs at all. It doesn't really matter if your dog or cat has long or short fur, or differences in breed. There are some individual differences even among dogs or cats of the same breed. Here's why.

Sensitive people don't react to the pet hair at all. Instead, a specialized protein produced by dogs and cats causes the reaction. It's found primarily in the skin dander, but secondarily in the saliva and urine. In cats, this protein is designated Fel d1 (Felis domesticus). A similar protein, Can f1 (Canis familiaris) is produced in dogs. Any pet may provoke an allergic reaction--there's no such thing as a "hypoallergenic" pet, despite marketing claims you may hear.

That said, many allergic people appear more able to tolerate the Siberian cat breed because these kitties produce much less of the Fel D1 protein. You may also be able to tolerate individual pets, but not others--who knows why--and hopefully that's one of your own fur-babies.

You're more likely to react to cat dander because Fel d1 is one of the smallest, stickiest allergen molecule. It measures only 1/10th the size of a dust allergen. That allows the cat's Fel d1 protein to float around the air much longer than other allergens, making them more readily available to inhale and thus cause a reaction.

Also, people with allergies may already be more sensitive to other allergens, so the dust in cat litter may add to your cat-centric allergy attacks. While it's miserable to suffer allergies, many pet lovers don't want to give up their pets. Of course, your own physician can guide you about human health concerns. But there are steps pet owners can take to feel better, without having to give up their special cat or dog.

6 Ways to Reduce Pet Allergy Symptoms

Create a "pet free zone" such as the bedroom, and make it off limits to the cat or dog. That gives you eight or more hours a day of reduced exposure.

Brush and/or comb your pets thoroughly to get rid of hair otherwise shed in the house. Have a non-allergic family member take care of this duty.

Cat people may react more to the dusty perfume-y litter than to the cat. This is a great excuse to have one of the kids take on pet potty cleaning duties, so the allergy sufferers avoid exposure. An automatic cat litter box may also help cut down on dust exposure.

Washing the pet weekly in plain water dramatically reduces allergic reactions by rinsing away the dander. If like my dog Magic, your dog may welcome a dowsing with the hose to cool off in this hot weather. Should your pet also be plagued with allergy (itchy-scratchy symptoms), rinsing off allergens trapped in the fur can relieve pet symptoms.

For cats, simply take a wet wash cloth and wipe down the fur every day. Avoiding the cat's face will help prevent the kitty from taking offense.

Also, if you are allergic to pets it's likely you're also reactive to other allergens. Simply reducing the "dust load" or other issues can help drop you below your sneeze-threshold, and make it more likely you can tolerate your pets. Invest in a HEPA filter or vacuum that helps capture allergens, for example, and reduce the wooly blankets, carpeted areas and pet beds that collect and hold dust.

After all, getting rid of our furry companions isn't something I can easily recommend. Purchasing extra allergy medicine may be an easy trade off to keeping your cats and dogs.

Written by

Amy Shojai, CABC

Amy Shojai, CABC

Pet Expert

PetSafe® Expert

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