If you are among the 15 percent of Americans who suffer from pet-related allergies, here are strategies for reducing the potential for a reaction.
Some people develop an immune reaction to a certain protein produced in the sebaceous glands of a cat's skin. This allergen is found in a cat's dander -- the minute scales of dead skin that cats are constantly shedding. Allergens are also present in a cat's saliva and urine and are deposited on her fur when she licks herself. When the fur dries, the microscopic particles flake off and become airborne, making it easy for them to get into your nose (and lungs).
Cat allergens are very sticky, adhering to clothing, furnishings, and walls. The allergens can also stay in the air for hours and remain potent for weeks.
If you are experiencing allergic symptoms such as wheezing, sneezing, or rashes, consult an allergist. There are many types of allergies, and yours may not be pet-related. If you turn out to be allergic to cats, your allergist can design an appropriate regimen of medications, alternative therapies, or allergy shots to alleviate much of your suffering.
In addition, the coping tips on the next page can help you minimize your symptoms.
Though there is no cure for allergies, you can make life a lot more pleasant by adhering to these simple guidelines:
All cats produce dander, even if they don't have hair, so there are no truly "hypoallergenic" breeds. Some breeds have gained a reputation as hypoallergenic, probably because they tend to be bathed and groomed more frequently than other breeds, leaving less dander to be cast into the air.
Still, cats that shed profusely may cause more problems for allergic owners, simply because their loose hair -- contaminated with dander and dried saliva -- is more plentiful, and ends up on furniture, in rugs, and just about everywhere. For this reason, there may be some benefit to these breeds that shed little or no hair:
It's also worth noting that male cats generally produce more allergens than female cats do.