Cat allergies are a fairly common phenomenon, one that is being seen increasingly often. Many people assume they understand the allergic reaction in relation to pets, however, recent science has shown that we are just beginning to understand the real nature of cat allergies.
What are Cat Allergies?
Though many people believe their cat allergy has to do with the catís fur, but this is not always the case. Cat allergies are most often a response to the proteins found in the catís urine, saliva and the dander in their fur. When people have a cat allergy, they have an immune system that is working overtime, trying to protect against what it perceives as a threat. The body interprets the proteins as dangerous and responds with what we commonly understand as an allergic reaction. The allergic reaction is called a histamine response. There are four other causes of histamine responses for cats, and they are albumin, lipocalin, secretoglobin, and cystatin, also found in cat urine, saliva and dander.
How Prevalent are Cat Allergies?
As more research is done, we are finding more and more people have some level of cat allergy. Some people have symptoms that are so mild they can only be seen with extreme exposure, where others can have an allergic response from very little contact. It is estimated that up to 10% of the population of the United States has cat allergies. Cat allergies are so common they are actually twice as prevalent as allergies to dogs. Asthma, as an allergic reaction to cats, has been growing steadily over the last few decades and has become an increasingly large problem with young people. As homes become more sterile and we become less accustomed to airborne bacteria, this is sure to increase.
In recent years, there has been a movement away from the traditional house cat toward an allergy friendly form of cat. These hypoallergenic cat breeds, though often expensive, are being seen more frequently in homes as both asthma and allergies are on the rise. Though cats are marketed this way, some scientists remain sceptical that these felines are, in fact, hypoallergenic, and consider the breeds to produce less offensive protein, making it appear as if they do not produce allergies. Example breeds include: Devon Rex, Russian Blue Cats, Abyssinian Cats, and Siberian Cats.
Some scientists hypothesize, contrary to popular belief, that it is not just breeds of cats that tend to be less allergenic. Studies are showing that you can accurately predict the level of protein in cats based on their gender. Female cats produce less of the protein than their male counterparts, and male cats that have been spayed produce less than males who are still in-tact, but still more than females. Recent studies are also suggesting that the color of fur on a cat may also be a good predictor. Research has shown that people who own or are near dark colored cats are more likely to report allergic symptoms that those who are exposes to lighter colored cats.
Having a cat allergy is a common problem, but it is important that people understand the real nature of the affliction. Cats are wonderful pets and with the correct precautions, it is possible for many people to enjoy the company of a furry feline friend.