If you or someone in your family suffers from an allergy to cats, you know that symptoms can be extremely unpleasant. Allergic reactions to felines are common—one study estimates that 10-20% of the world population suffers from cat-related allergies. So, if you or someone you know falls into this category, is it possible to be around cats or even welcome a cat into your home? Does a hypoallergenic cat breed exist? Which cat breeds are best for allergy sufferers?
Table of contents
- Cat allergies 101
- Do hypoallergenic cats exist?
- Allergy-friendly cat breeds
- Cats to avoid if you have allergies
- Bottom line on hypoallergenic cats
Cat allergies 101
If your nose runs and your eyes water or you start sneezing and wheezing after petting or playing with a cat, you likely have a cat allergy. Cats produce multiple allergens found on their fur and skin and in their saliva. The majority of people with cat allergies are actually allergic to the protein Fel d 1, which is contained in cat saliva. When a cat licks their fur and that saliva dries and becomes airborne, you breathe it in and experience a reaction.
Cat allergy symptoms range from mild to severe depending on your sensitivity and exposure to allergens, which may also influence how quickly you develop symptoms. Highly sensitive people can develop symptoms within minutes of touching a cat or entering a house with a cat. Symptoms can include:
- Sneezing or a runny or stuffy nose
- Facial pain from nasal congestion
- Coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and wheezing
- Watery, red, or itchy eyes
- Skin rash or hives
- Swelling around eyes and nose
Do hypoallergenic cats exist?
While there are a few cats that are known to be much less irritating for people with allergies, there is no such thing as a completely hypoallergenic cat.
All cats produce the Fel d 1 protein that contributes to allergic reactions in people. However, some cats produce and shed less of this protein than others. Additionally, veterinarian Dr. Tarina Anthony notes that female cats tend to produce less Fel d 1 than males, and neutered males less than intact males. So, when you hear a cat referred to as “hypoallergenic,” they are in reality only “allergy-friendly” and may be slightly less unpleasant for allergy sufferers to be around.
Allergy-friendly cat breeds
Here are some cat breeds that are low-allergen and low-shedding that could be a great fit for people with allergies.
Often referred to as the “longhaired Siamese,” the Balinese looks like an unlikely candidate for a hypoallergenic cat breed considering their full coat. However, this breed produces less of the Fel d 1 protein than other cats, causing fewer allergic reactions in allergy sufferers.
The coat on the Balinese is silky in texture and single coated. Despite their long coats, these cats are not frequent shedders and require minimal grooming maintenance. This is good news for those with cat allergies, as Balinese cats are known to be very affectionate and social, so you can expect to spend a lot of time up close and cozy with your Balinese.
Similar to the Balinese, Oriental Shorthairs are also members of Siamese family of cats. These cats are long, slender, and have silky coats that are easy to care for and don’t shed too much. Oriental Shorthairs are considered a hypoallergenic cat breed who only requires minimal grooming. Because they are highly social and affectionate, they will love weekly brushings as an opportunity to spend time with you and be the center of attention.
Like the Balinese, the Javanese sports a medium-long single coat that doesn’t mat. Originating from a cross between a Balinese and a Colorpoint Shorthair, these cats don’t have an undercoat, meaning they don’t shed much and only need a weekly brushing. Thus, they spread fewer allergens, which might work for people with mild cat allergies.
Javanese are affectionate and vocal, and will tell you when they want attention. They love to spend time cuddling with their people and often follow their owners around the house.
Of the two Rex cats, the Devon has both shorter fur and less fur. Although they have three coat layers, their hair is fine, short, and wavy with little flyaway hair. With this, the Devon Rex sheds less than many other cat breeds. You can wipe down the coat of this cat to spread the natural oils and keep it clean, but generally, the Devon Rex won’t require much grooming care.
They are curious, outgoing, and love to be involved in whatever you’re doing. The Devon Rex is usually eager to snuggle, so their allergy-friendly coat is good news for allergic owners.
Cornish Rexes have curly coats that sit close to their bodies. Their short, thin coats are wavy and low-shedding. They do require more upkeep than the Devon because these cats need frequent baths to mitigate the oil buildup on their skin.
The Cornish Rex is active and outgoing with a playful temperament. They are typically very affectionate lap cats who love to be the center of attention and will follow you around from room to room.
The hairless Sphynx is the cat most often associated with being an allergy-friendly cat breed. Being hairless does not mean they’re maintenance-free, however. Like all cats, the Sphynx produces dander. They need frequent baths to remove oil buildup on their skin, which can also help with limiting allergens.
Sphynx cats are friendly, outgoing, and playfully mischievous. This breed is also intelligent, curious, and loves attention. These cats will be willing to follow you around, showing dog-like loyalty and devotion.
Like the Balinese, the Siberian cat has a thick, moderately long coat, but is still considered allergy-friendly due to the lower-than-average Fel d 1 protein levels in their saliva. They do shed seasonally, during which time daily brushing will help keep their coats healthy, especially the undercoat, as well as minimize allergens.
Siberians are affectionate cats with lots of personality and playfulness. They are open to handling, and have a fascination with water, often dropping toys into their water dishes or splashing in bathtubs.
Recognizable by the color of their coats, Russian Blues have a short but dense coat. This hypoallergenic cat breed doesn’t shed much so there’s less dander floating around and they produce relatively less Fel d 1 than other breeds.
Russian Blues are gentle, affectionate, and happy to spend quiet time alone and with their families. Grooming is usually easy because these quiet and gentle cats often love sitting with their favorite humans to be brushed.
As a first cousin of the Siamese, the Colorpoint Shorthair is considered a low-allergen cat breed. Their low-maintenance coat doesn’t shed much. They generally love to be around their favorite humans as much as possible and are very curious. What they lack in grooming needs they make up for in play and activity, so be prepared to give them exercise and plenty of toys (and all the pets—they love affection!).
Cats to avoid if you have allergies
High-shedding cat breeds tend to be worse for people with allergies because the allergens get trapped in their coats and spread wherever they lose their fur. Some of these high-shedders include the Persian, Maine coon, Norwegian forest cat, Himalayan, Manx, and Cymric.
Bottom line on hypoallergenic cats
If you have mild cat allergies and want to be a cat owner, it’s still possible to adopt the right feline friend to join your family. Some cats don’t give off as many allergens as others, and while no cat is completely hypoallergenic, allergy-friendly breeds make excellent companions for those allergy sufferers. Look for cats with low Fel d 1 protein levels, as these cats will be less likely to trigger serious allergic reactions.