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Can You Build Up an Immunity to Cat Allergies? What You Need To Know!

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	Dr. Lorna Whittemore Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Lorna Whittemore

Vet, MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Cat allergies are frustrating, especially when the sufferer is a cat lover. Cat allergies can cause discomfort in skin rashes, nasal congestion, and asthma.

A common wife’s tale is that exposing yourself to cats can help you build immunity to cat allergens. But there’s no scientific evidence that simply exposing yourself to a cat in your home will make your allergies disappear, quite the opposite. Understanding how allergies work and what treatments are available can help hopeful cat parents best treat their allergies in a way that allows them to live with their furry companions.

While immunotherapy shots increase your immune system’s tolerance to an allergen and allow you to tolerate being around cats, simply living with a cat is not an acceptable form of immunotherapy!

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Common Symptoms of a Cat Allergy

Think you may have a cat allergy? Check out the following list of the most common symptoms of cat allergies and see if it checks out. If you have a lot of signs on this list when you’ve recently met a cat, you might want to contact your doctor and have an allergy panel done!

  • Coughing and wheezing
  • Hives or a rash on the chest and face
  • Red, itchy eyes
  • Redness of the skin where a cat has scratched, bitten or licked you
  • Runny, itchy, stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
a kid sneezing
Image Credit: Luisella Planeta Leoni, Pixabay

How Do Allergies Work?

Allergies are a result of an overactive immune system in humans. Our immune systems are intended to identify harmful pathogens like bacteria, viruses, and parasites and eliminate them before they can take residence in the body. When the body identifies a threat, the immune system kicks in and attacks and kills the threat.

Allergies happen when the immune system identifies a harmless substance as a threat and attacks it as if it were a virus. Allergies are common and range in severity from causing some mild discomfort to being deadly.

When your body detects an allergen, the immune system will produce histamines. Histamines help your body remove the allergen from the system by having you sneeze it out, itch it off, or any of the other symptoms you may experience when having an allergic reaction.

People can have all sorts of allergies, from fragrances to cats and even to water! There are many allergens produced by cats that can cause an allergic reaction, but cats’ most common allergen is found in dander, saliva and urine- Fel d 1.

The most severe kind of allergic reaction is called anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a potentially life-threatening condition that can put a patient in a condition known as anaphylactic shock. When in anaphylactic shock, the blood pressure will crash, airways narrow, and the person may go into cardiac arrest.  Fortunately most cat allergies are not this severe but can still make life miserable.

Allergic symptoms may develop right away when an allergen is introduced to the system. In other cases it may take hours for the allergic symptoms to surface.

Cat allergies are among the most common allergies in humans. Additionally, 20–30% of people with allergic asthma will experience a flare-up when introduced to cat dander.

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How Are Allergies Treated?

There are many different methods of treating cat allergies that range from non-invasive to somewhat invasive. There is currently no cure for cat allergies; those who have cat allergies will have to deal with them for their whole lives. The following methods can reduce allergy symptoms both before and during an attack.

Woman sneezing beside a cat
Image Credit: Motortion Films, Shutterstock

Antihistamines

Antihistamines reduce the impact that histamines have on the body and reduce the allergy symptoms for the sufferer.

Decongestants

If you have trouble with your nose getting stuffy after you breathe near a cat, you might want to look into a decongestant to clear that up for you.

Nasal Steroid Sprays

Nasal steroid sprays are a standard allergy treatment and are available over-the-counter in many places under the brands Flonase, Rhinocort, and Nasacort Allergy 24HR. But we recommend that you don’t self medicate without discussing with your doctor first.

These are all medications that dampen down the effects of an allergic reaction, but they don’t treat the underlying allergy. The immune system will continue to overreact when the drug is out of the system.

Suppose you’re looking to reduce your long-term allergy medication usage. In that case, you’ll want to either start avoiding situations where cats might be or look into Allergen-Specific Immunotherapy if avoidance isn’t possible or is unacceptable to you.

Related: Is it True that Cat Allergies are Genetic?

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What Is Allergen-Specific Immunotherapy?

Allergen-Specific Immunotherapy (AIT) is when purified concentrates of the allergen in question are introduced to the person’s system through an injection or under the tongue tablet. They desensitize the immune system to the allergen and allow the person to tolerate gradually larger introductions of the allergen.

AIT has an efficacy of 85%–90% when reducing a person’s allergen sensitivity. However, this is a long process that can take 3–6 months before any allergen relief is notable and 12–14 months before complete relief from symptoms is achieved.

AIT is also a considerable time commitment. For the 12–14 months that therapy is necessary, you will have to get your allergen shot every week religiously, or you may not see relief from your symptoms. Additionally, AIT may have waning efficacy over time as some patients have to return to clinics for booster shoots because their allergy symptoms return.

Can Cat Allergies Be Prevented?

There is no way to prevent someone from getting cat allergies but being around cats as a child does reduce the likelihood of cat allergies. Allergies can develop at any time of life so just because you weren’t allergic as a kid, doesn’t mean you can’t be as an adult.

New advances are being made all the time and scientists are looking to try and reduce and eliminate Fel d 1 antigens from cats.  Feeding special foods to your cat can help too such as Purina Liveclear.

Are Hypoallergenic Cats Real?

There’s no such thing as a truly hypoallergenic cat. While some cat breeds produce less dander than others, no cat is without dander. They all shed dead skin cells because they’re all covered in skin!

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Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, you can’t beat your immune system over the head with an allergen until it becomes desensitized to it. Even pharmacological intervention has limited efficacy when dealing with allergies. But hope is not lost for our allergic cat lovers out there! New developments with treating cat allergies are being made every day, and with the advances in immunotherapy already, they’re looking very promising!

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Featured Image: Pormezz, Shutterstock

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