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Do Hypoallergenic Cats Exist?

By Daphne Sashin
WebMD Pet Health Feature

President Barack Obama's much-publicized search for a dog that wouldn't trigger daughter Malia's allergies put a spotlight on hypoallergenic dogs.

But less attention has been paid to cats, even though cat allergies are twice as common as allergies to dogs, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

Recommended Related to Cats

Shedding in Cats

Shedding is a cat’s natural process of losing dead hair. Outdoor cats may lose more hair in the spring and fall and retain more fur in the winter, while indoor cats can shed all year round. Regularly grooming your cat and vacuuming hair from your house should minimize the inconvenience of shedding. However, if you see bald patches in your cat’s fur or notice a significant loss of hair, the underlying cause may be a health-related problem and should be investigated by a veterinarian.

Read the Shedding in Cats article > >

So is there such a thing as a hypoallergenic cat?

The short answer is scientists don't know. If you have allergies and want a cat, it may be possible to find one that won't bother you. But experts can't explain why.

Anatomy of an Allergy

People with cat allergies react to a protein in the animal's saliva, skin, and urine. The allergen collects on the cat's fur when the animal licks itself and comes off in tiny flakes of skin that glom onto walls, carpet, and furniture or stay in the air. A cat's lick or scratch can cause skin welts or itchiness. In the nose and lungs, the protein causes itchy, watery eyes and nasal congestion and can lead to asthma.

The allergens are so powerful that they can hang around for months, causing effects long after the cat is gone.

Some cats secrete less of the protein, some cats put out less saliva, and some cats produce less dander. But all cats make the allergen in some form -- and a tiny amount can cause a lot of symptoms, depending on how clean you keep your house and how often you're around the animal, says Robert Zuckerman, MD, an allergy and asthma specialist in Harrisburg, Pa.

"Even a cat that has a little bit of allergen can cause allergy if you have enough exposure to it," Zuckerman says.

The other variable is your immune system. Maeve O'Connor, MD, an allergy, asthma, and clinical immunologist in Charlotte, N.C., says one person can hold a cat and have no symptoms, while another has an asthma attack standing near a person with cat dander on his or her clothes.

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