What are some symptoms?
More people are allergic to cats than to any other animal. In fact, an estimated one in five people worldwide experiences allergy symptoms ranging from sneezing and itchy eyes to coughing, wheezing, and hives when exposed to cats. Many people mistakenly believe that their allergic response depends on how much fur the cat has. But studies have found that the amount of fur is irrelevant and that some of the most hypoallergenic cats actually have lush, long hair.
What causes allergies to cats?
When people develop allergy symptoms around felines, they are reacting to a protein called Fel d 1, which is present in cats’ skin, saliva, and urine. When a cat licks its fur, the saliva containing the Fel d 1 dries into lightweight particles that are carried through the air. Eventually, they land on human hair, clothing and furniture, and can linger for weeks or months, says veterinarian, Dr Kelly St Denis.
The amount of Fel d 1 varies widely among cats, and even within cats at different times of year. “There are not really cats that are 100 percent hypoallergenic,” explains Dr St Denis. “There are some breeds that are thought to produce less of the allergen. Some of the other breeds just shed less hair or dander. So cats might have reduced allergen because they make less or they shed less of their coat into the environment.”
Typically, female cats produce less of the protein than male cats, and neutered males produce less than those who haven’t been fixed. In general, though, the following cute kitties are commonly considered to be the most hypoallergenic cat breeds.
This elegant breed of cats was named after the graceful dancers of Bali but actually originated in the United States after a spontaneous genetic variant of Siamese cats resulted in kittens with long hair. Unlike most longhaired cats with two or three layers of fur, Balinese cats have only one coat of their lush, silky mane, so it usually doesn’t mat or tangle. What’s more, they are believed to produce less Fel d 1 than most other breeds. They tend to be vocal, alert and affectionate, as well as extremely intelligent. The closely related Javanese cat also seems to trigger less of an allergic response.
With its leopard-like markings, the Bengal is an exotic-looking house cat that charms people with its intelligence and playfulness. The Bengal originated in the United States when a researcher crossed domestic cats with hybrids – the hybrids themselves being the result of breeding African leopard cats with domestic cats. The Bengal’s soft, dense fur is noted for its extraordinary rabbit-like softness and its limited shedding. In addition, Dr St. Denis says that while most cats spend up to 25 per cent of their time grooming themselves, Bengals tend to engage in this activity less often, so they spread less of the allergen around. Bengals range between three and seven kilos in weight.
This is considered a “man-made” breed because it was developed by crossing a Siamese with a red tabby American Shorthair in the mid-1900s. Like the Siamese, its body is a light colour, but the “points” on its ears, face, tail and paws can come in any of 16 different colours. This breed sheds very little, and for that reason, it is often recommended as a good pet for people with cat allergies. It is also considered one of the most affectionate cat breeds. Like the Siamese, it’s very vocal, intelligent, and playful. A related breed, the Oriental Shorthair – a cross between a Siamese, an American Shorthair, and an Abyssinian – also tends to produce less of an allergic response.
Like the Balinese, the Cornish Rex is the result of a genetic mutation, and it is still considered a rare cat breed. In this case, a kitten with short, curly hair was born among a litter of British Shorthairs. The kitten was then mated strategically to create the new breed. Now, it’s hailed as a great choice for cat lovers with allergies because its single coat of soft down hair doesn’t shed as much as some other cats’ fur. Still, the Cornish Rex does develop oil build-up on its skin and therefore requires frequent bathing. This cat’s egg-shaped head, giant ears and long legs give it a distinctive, almost aloof appearance. Get to know a Cornish Rex, though, and you’ll find it’s a playful, intelligent and outgoing companion. Its cousin, the Devon Rex, is another good choice for people with cat allergies.
Believed to have originated in the northern hinterlands of Russia, this cat exudes grace and beauty with its muscled body, brilliant green eyes and triangular head. Its short, bluish coat, tipped with silver, rarely sheds; what’s more, the double coat is believed to trap allergens closer to the cat’s skin, preventing them from becoming airborne in the environment. The Russian Blue is also thought to produce less Fel d 1 than other breeds, Dr St Denis says, though no conclusive studies have been done. For all these reasons, the Russian Blue is considered one of the top hypoallergenic cat breeds. The Russian Blue is intelligent and loves to play – it will even “fetch” – and is sweet and affectionate with its humans.
Despite its triple coat of dense fur that ranges from medium to long, the Siberian cat seems to produce less Fel d 1 than most other breeds, making it the closest thing to a truly hypoallergenic cat breed, according to a Smithsonian Magazine interview with cat geneticist Leslie Lyons. This fluffy cat, originating in the forests of Russia, has been around since at least the year 1000. Siberians are intelligent, athletic and generally quiet though affectionate, and they love to play in water.
With deep blue eyes, a long-tapered tail, regal stature, and a sleek, short coat, the Siamese cat reminds us of its origins in the temples of Thailand. Its coat is typically a shade of cream, while its face, ears, paws, and tail are usually a darker colour, ranging from lilac to deep brown. The Siamese cat is known for being extremely vocal, mischievous and intelligent, and it tends to shed less than other cats. If you adopt one, keep a close eye on it – Siamese cats are among the breeds that are stolen most often.
Often thought of as hairless, the Sphynx actually has a fine, fuzzy layer of what is sometimes called “peach fuzz” in humans. It may also have short hair on the nose, ears and tail. Because it has little to no hair to shed, the Fel d 1 allergen’s distribution in your home is limited. This cat is just as cuddly as other breeds, and some liken its skin to suede or chamois. The Sphynx is a loyal kitty companion and will delight its humans with acrobatic stunts….when it’s not relaxing in a warm, sunny spot by the window, that is.
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