Do Hypoallergenic Cats Exist?
Still, some allergy sufferers find their symptoms don't flare up around certain cats. Maybe they can tolerate domestic shorthairs but not oriental breeds -- or vice versa. Some can pet a white cat but start sneezing as soon as they touch a dark gray or black one. Many patients report they can only handle being around Siberian cats.
But research offers only clues, not answers.
"There are no scientifically validated studies to show that any particular breed of cat, whether it's Siberian or anything else, is 'hypoallergenic,'" says Martin Chapman, PhD. He's the president of Indoor Biotechnologies, an allergy testing company that provides the kits for most of the world's studies on allergen exposure.
Short of scientific proof, breeders have noted that Siberian cats seem less likely to trigger allergies.
Jen Van Horn Jeffers of New Hampshire suffered the classic symptoms for years. Picking up most cats left her with hives, shortness of breath, itchy, watery eyes, and a scratchy throat. But surrounded by about 20 Siberian cats at a breeder's home, her symptoms were gone.
"I couldn't believe it," says Jeffers, 37, who recently purchased her second Siberian. "I love cats. When you've never been able to have one, it's like 'Wow, this is so cool.'"
Siberian breeders have submitted samples to Chapman's company and found relatively low levels of the offending protein in their saliva. But Chapman cautioned against generalizing, in part because the lab didn't test samples from breeders of other cats to compare.
The short-haired Devon Rex and Cornish Rex cats are thought to be less allergenic because they have less hair to shed, resulting in fewer saliva-coated particles in the air.
Some people with allergies can also tolerate the hairless Sphynx. That's likely because the cat needs to be bathed or wiped down frequently, which reduces its allergen-carrying dander, says Lorraine Jarboe, DVM, president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners.
Making a Hypoallergenic Cat
In 2006, a company called Allerca made headlines when it announced that it had bred the world's first hypoallergenic cat. Now known as Lifestyle Pets, the company says its cats -- which cost $8,000 to $27,000 -- naturally produce a modified protein that doesn't trigger most allergies.