Source: The Healthy (Extract)
Posted: June 17, 2021

Most people have heard about hypoallergenic cats, or cats that cannot cause allergies.

But the truth is, no breed of cat or dog can truly be allergen free. Hypoallergenic means that something is less likely to cause an allergic reaction—but it could still happen.

“There is no such thing as a truly hypoallergenic breed of cat or dog,” says Maggie Brown-Bury, DVM, an emergency and critical care veterinarian and representative of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association.

The misconception comes from a misunderstanding about pet allergies.

“An allergy is a reaction to a protein,” she says. “So while people think they are allergic to pet fur, in fact they are allergic to pet dander, which contains proteins found in the saliva, which is all over the pet because they lick themselves.”

Dander is the dead skin cells that fall off of an animal and into the environment.

No animal can go without licking themselves. And any cat will drop dander when they shed. Because of this, even hairless cats can cause problems for people with allergies.

But some breeds may be a better fit for people with allergy than others. Here’s what you need to know about so-called hypoallergenic cats.

What about cats can cause allergies?

More than 90 percent of people allergic to cats have a sensitivity to a protein known as Fel d1, which is found in cat saliva, feces, and urine.

When people with cat allergies are exposed to Fel d1, their immune system creates Y-shaped proteins called antibodies. Antibodies stick to these pet proteins, neutralizing them and labeling them for destruction and removal.

If you’re allergic to Fel d1, your immune system will produce an antibody called IgE when it detects it, which can trigger an allergic reaction.

There are several other known cat allergies found in cat saliva, dander, urine, blood, feces, and hair, including Fel d2, Fel d3, Fel d4, and Fel d5. But most people with allergies are sensitive to Fel d1. And many people are only allergic to Fel d1.

Symptoms of minor to moderate cat allergies

Symptoms of cat allergies can vary. They often depends on exposure level and how severe the allergy is.

When cat allergens make contact with the mucus membranes that line the eyes and nose, they can cause swelling and itching, which can lead to a stuffy nose and inflamed eyes, explains Melanie Carver, chief mission officer of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

“It is common to get itchy eyes after petting an animal then touching your eyes,” she says. “If you have an animal allergy, a pet scratch or lick might cause redness in the contact area of your skin.”

Cat and dog allergens are also a problem because they are so small, says Darryl C. Zeldin, MD, scientific director for the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

This, in part, is one of the reasons cat and dog allergens are strongly associated with asthma. People with asthma experience swelling, narrowing, and increased mucus production in the airways, which can interfere with breathing.

“Because cat allergens are so small, they can stay in the air a long time, and it’s easy to inhale them, where they can get way down into the lungs,” he explains.

Outdoor allergen particles, like pollen, mold, and insect droppings, tend to be larger and more prone to causing symptoms where they get stuck, typically in the nose or throat.

Symptoms of cat allergies tend to develop within minutes of exposure. But people with more minor allergies may not develop symptoms until after days of exposure.

Because pet allergens can be found virtually anywhere, Dr. Zeldin says it’s often difficult to determine when or how someone exposed themselves. Carver says that most people have animal allergies for several years or their entire life.

Symptoms of severe cat allergies

People with minor cat allergies tend to develop minor symptoms. But for some, Carver says, exposure can cause serious symptoms, such as major breathing problems.

“Highly sensitive people might begin coughing, wheezing, and experience shortness of breath within 15 to 30 minutes of inhaling allergens like [those on] dander,” she says. “Sometimes highly sensitive people will get a serious rash on the face, neck, and upper chest.”

Cat allergen exposure can also cause asthma attacks, or severe periods of asthma symptoms when it can become very difficult to breath.

Dr. Zeldin points to a study he contributed to, in which high levels of cat allergens in the bedroom caused 30 percent of asthma attacks in participants with cat allergens.

Why are some cat breeds called hypoallergenic?

“Breeds that are considered ‘hypoallergenic’ are breeds with hair coats that do not shed, or shed very little,” says Dr. Brown-Bury. “Because they do not shed, the dander is not spread around the home the way it is with a pet that sheds a lot, and people in the home suffer fewer allergy symptoms.”

This doesn’t mean that so-called hypoallergenic cats produce fewer of the allergens humans can be allergic to. Instead, these breeds simply shed less, which reduces the amount of hair available to hold allergens.

Some cat breeds may actually produce less Fel d1. But more research is needed in order to determine precisely which breeds and how much less of the allergen they produce.

‘Hypoallergenic’ cat breeds

Cat breeds that are sometimes referred to as hypoallergenic are often those that tend to be hairless, shed infrequently, or produce lower levels of Fel d1.

All cats can cause symptoms in people with cat allergies. But here are some breeds that are less likely to cause symptoms or less likely to cause severe symptoms:


This hairless breed (Hollywood’s favorite supervillain pet) may be one of the best options for people with cat allergies for obvious reasons. These striking-looking cats require regular bathing to stay clean.

Cornish rex and Devon rex

These breeds have a downy, short coat that sheds less often. They also groom themselves less frequently than some other breeds, which means they may release less allergen-containing saliva.


Unlike many other long-haired breeds, Balinese cats only have one layer of hair instead of a double layer. Less hair means less shedding than other long-haired cat breeds.


Like the Sphynx, most mature Peterbald cats are hairless. Young cats often take a year or two to lose the fur they are born with. Because they have no hair to groom, Peterbalds need regular bathing to keep them clean but tend to produce less saliva.


This breed from Siberia seems to have a mutation in the gene responsible for producing Fel d1 that may make them produce less of the allergen. More research is needed to confirm this, though.

Russian blue

Russian blue cats produce lower levels of Fel d1. This breed has a characteristic dark gray coat with bright green eyes.


This breed can be almost hairless while it is molting twice each year. It often has patches of distinctive baldness around its face. These cats also shed less because they only have a layer of top guard hairs, not an undercoat of hair.