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It is a common myth that Sphynx cats are suitable pets for people with allergies because they are mostly hairless. Even though some people who are allergic to cats report having fewer allergies to sphynxes, they are still cats, and no feline can truly be labeled as hypoallergenic.
Sphynx cats are not hypoallergenic and, like other felines, produce the cat-allergy causing protein, Fel d 1, in their saliva, skin, and urine. Some people report having fewer allergies to sphynx cats; however, regularly bathing your sphynx, frequently vacuuming your home, investing in an air filter, and taking medication will help prevent mild to moderate allergies.
In this article, we will explore what causes some people to be allergic to cats, how that applies to sphynx cats, and what you can do to help keep your allergies at bay if you own a sphynx and happen to be allergic as well.
What Causes Allergies To Cats In Humans?
The protein Fel d1 is the allergy-inducing culprit (allergen) found in the saliva, urine, perianal glands, the sebaceous glands, and most importantly, in the dander of cats. Dander is a mixture of dead skin cells and sebum, a substance secreted by sebaceous glands in the skin.
People who are allergic to cats experience a hypersensitivity reaction involving Immunoblubulin E (IgE, the antibody most commonly involved in allergic reactions), in which their immune system identifies this harmless protein as something dangerous and initiates an immune response when this protein is detected. A reaction can occur via direct contact with your skin or through inhaling allergenic particles.
Allergies to cats are extremely common worldwide, and they also increase the likelihood of asthma or allergic rhinitis in an individual. The severity of the symptoms varies depending on how sensitive an individual is and the amount of allergen they are exposed to.
Those genetically predisposed to allergies may develop an allergy to cats when exposed to cats; however, children who are exposed at a young age may build up a tolerance.
Symptoms of an allergy to cats are the side effects of the body’s response to the protein (allergen) and can occur minutes to hours after exposure to a feline friend. They include the following:
- Itchiness and redness of the eyes
- A rash or hives
- Itchiness where there has been direct contact with the cat (e.g., stroking the cat and then rubbing your eyes, or where the cat has licked you)
- Asthma and lung inflammation can develop with more severe allergies
Why Are Sphynx Cats Not Hypoallergenic?
All cats shed dander and produce the Fel d 1 protein in their physiological secretions, including sebum, saliva, and urine.
In addition to having Fel d 1 in their sebaceous secretion (skin oils), sphynx cats have a much higher density of sebaceous glands on their skin. They, therefore, produce more allergen-containing sebum compared to furry cats. This is also why sphynx cats need to be bathed every so often.
In addition, despite their hairless appearance, sphynx cats have many hair follicles producing thin, short hairs that shed easily.
Sphynx cats are hairless because they express the gene for altered hair production. These hair follicles still produce fine short hairs that grow at a slower rate. The genetically altered hair follicle also causes the hair to be dislodged from the follicle easily. This means that even though the hairs that your sphynx cats shed are much harder to notice, she definitely still does shed.
If you would like to learn more about the unique skin of sphynx cats, please have a look at this article.
How Does Cat Hair Make Allergies Worse?
Cats are fastidious groomers, and the cat hair we find on our furniture and clothes likely has trace amounts of cat saliva on it – including the Fel d1 protein found in feline saliva. Hair facilitates the allergenic protein’s entry into the environment and makes an allergic person more likely to encounter it!
Long-haired cats shed large amounts of long hair and thus need to be bathed and groomed frequently to reduce the hair load in the environment. The same applies to short-haired cats, although they shed less than long-haired cats.
I Already Have A Sphynx, And Now I Am Allergic. So what Do I Do Now?
Ideally, those with cat allergies should not keep a cat and should avoid contact with cats as much as possible. For example, when staying at a friend’s house, request that they do not allow their cat into your room for a week or so beforehand, to reduce the allergen load. However, many of us do not realize we have an allergy (or do not develop an allergy) until we are frequently exposed to cats or when we have one as a pet.
1. Confirm That You Are Allergic To Your Cat And Not Something Else
There are several ways to manage an allergy to cats when you already happily own a sphynx. The first thing to do is confirm that your allergy is, in fact, to cats rather than to another environmental allergen such as dust or pollen. Although some of the management is the same (for example, cleaning and vacuuming the living areas), you will save yourself from regularly bathing your cat if your allergy is, in fact, to pollen instead!
Your doctor may do a blood or skin test, or they could require you to separate yourself from your cat for a trial period to ascertain if your allergy improves in their absence. Once you have confirmed that your allergy is to cats, here are some things to do:
2. Regularly Bath Your Sphynx
Washing your sphynx regularly with appropriate shampoo and warm water will also remove the excess dander and hair and will ensure they shed less; thus, fewer allergens will enter your environment. If you are severely allergic, you might want to have this done by a pet groomer.
Since bathing is a routine part of sphynx care, they are often used to being bathed from an early age. Bathing is also essential in preventing and treating cutaneous yeast infections (from the yeast, Malassezia), which they are prone to.
3. Keep Your Sphynx Out Of Your Bedroom
Reduce your contact with your cat and keep them out of your bedroom. As difficult as this may be, it is worthwhile to ensure there is no cat hair or dander on your pillow so that your symptoms will not be exacerbated overnight. The less you handle your cat, the less likely you are to develop symptoms.
4. Wash Your Hands
Although allergic symptoms are also brought about by the inhalation of the allergens, washing your hands, as well as the site of contact, reduces the skin reaction. It also ensures you don’t rub dander into your eyes!
5. Clean, Clean, Clean
Cats are constantly shedding dander and hair, and the tiny allergenic proteins have the ability to get everywhere! Using hot water and soap to clean surfaces, floors, and curtains helps to remove the allergen from the environment. You should also wash and change your and your cat’s bedding regularly. Most cats enjoy lounging on the furniture – ensure you clean your couches and carpets too.
6. Get a Special Filter For Your Vacuum
While sweeping and mopping certainly help to remove cat hair, vacuuming with a specialized filter ensures you remove the dander from your carpets and furniture. Unfortunately, normal filters do not necessarily trap the tiny particles we are targeting thus, investing in a filter such as the HEPA filter (high-efficiency particle air filter) ensures that you both effectively remove the particles but also that you reduce the number of particles being resuspended into the air during the vacuuming process, thus reducing your chance of an allergic response due to inhalation of particles. Read more about the HEPA filter.
7. Install A HEPA Air Filter
Inhalation of particles in the air can cause asthmatic symptoms or coughing; thus, filtering the air in the areas used most commonly by your cat in the house could also reduce the allergen load. You can also look into getting a portable HEPA Air filter, such as the HATHASPACE Smart Air Purifier.
8. Remove Dust-Collecting Household Objects
If you know that the upholstery of your third favorite armchair seems to attract dust, instead swap it for a less dusty piece of furniture such as a leather couch, or get it re-upholstered with another material that is easier to clean. The same goes for carpets and curtains.
9. Don’t Forget The Urine
The allergenic protein Fel d 1 is also shed in the urine. If your cat is an outdoor cat, allowing it to urinate in the garden means that you have less contact with the allergen as you do not have to clean it up. However, if your cat is an indoor cat or it simply prefers its litterbox, it is desirable for another member of the household to clean it so that the allergic person can reduce their potential contact with the urine. Alternatively, you can wear gloves to minimize direct contact.
10. Ask Your Doctor About Medication
There are a variety of medical options for you as a cat owner.
What are my medical options?
Your doctor will be able to recommend the best course of action for you. The first course of action is always to minimize exposure to the allergen, i.e., avoid contact with your cat.
However, here are some medical options to ask about:
- Antihistamines: Reduce the effect of histamine, which is an immune mediator in the hypersensitivity (allergic) reaction. You can take these in either tablet form or as a nasal spray.
- Corticosteroids: Dampen the immune response. They also come in tablet form or as a nasal spray; however, the nasal spray will likely have fewer side effects.
- Nasal decongestants: Reduces nasal secretion and makes it easier to breathe through your nose. They are only for short-term use as prolonged use may worsen your allergy symptoms.
- Leukotriene modifiers: Block certain immune chemicals from doing their job, thus reducing inflammation.
- Nasal irrigation: Use a prepared saltwater solution to flush mucous from your sinuses.
- Allergy shots (immunotherapy): Shown to have variable efficacy; however, the principle is injecting small amounts of allergen on a regular basis to allow your immune system to tolerate it, rather than overreact to it.
Managing any allergy needs to have a holistic approach. Keeping your home clean, as well as brushing or grooming your cat regularly, will have a huge impact on decreasing the allergen load in your home. It is also important to consult your doctor to ensure you are getting the treatment that is right for you. Ultimately, it’s about keeping you and your cats happy and healthy.
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