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What Is Cat Dander?

Hint: It May Be Why You’re Sneezing

By Meredith Alling. March 10, 2014 | See Comments

A Cat Peering Out From Under A Piece of Furniture

Cat dander consists of almost invisible skin cells that flake off of cats. Although we cannot see it, most people who are allergic to cats definitely experience the symptoms that come along with being exposed to cat dander. Learn more here about how to lessen cat dander in your home.

Have you ever picked up a furry feline and walked away with a sniffy nose and itchy, watery eyes? If so, you might be allergic to cats. When you have cat allergies, what you are really allergic to are proteins in the cat’s urine, saliva, and dander. But what is dander, and how can you minimize it on your cat and in your home? We’ll answer those questions and more here.

What Is Dander?

Dander is made up of tiny bits of dried skin that flake off your cat’s body and become airborne. This may sound like dandruff, but it’s actually much, much smaller and invisible to the human eye.

These bits of skin contain a protein called FelD1 that is responsible for the allergic reaction. FelD1 is found in a cat’s urine, sebaceous glands, and saliva. When a cat licks their body, the protein attaches itself and dries, and when the dander flakes off, the allergen becomes airborne.

Dander can linger in the air, land on furniture and curtains, and attach itself to clothing and human skin. Inhalation or physical contact can trigger an allergic reaction. The effects can include sneezing, runny nose, congestion, watery eyes, itching, hives, skin rash, and asthma.

How to Minimize Dander from Your Cat

You can reduce your cat’s shedding and thus the amount of dander they send into the air with regular baths and brushing. Try to do both at least once a week.

How to Minimize Dander in Your Home

Here are some steps you can take to reduce the amount of dander in your home.

  • Keep your cat out of the bedroom. It may be hard to break the habit of sleeping with your cozy cuddler, but dander in the bed is bad news for allergy sufferers. You may also want to think about banning your cat from other rooms or pieces of furniture that you occupy frequently.

  • Clean your house! Sweep, mop, and use a vacuum with a HEPA filter that will capture microscopic particles. You can also use an air purifier to clean the air -- look for one that will capture hair and small dust particles.

  • Clean yourself! Always wash your hands after petting a cat. You should also avoid touching your face or eyes after contact.

  • Limit the amount of carpeting in your home, as carpeting is a magnet for dander and can be difficult to thoroughly clean.

Low-Dander Cat Breeds

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a completely hypoallergenic cat. However there are some breeds that produce less of the irritating FelD1 protein, and cats with short coats can also be a good choice as they introduce less dander into the air. In general, female cats produce fewer allergens than male cats.

Some good cat breeds for allergy sufferers include the Balinese, Cornish Rex, Devon Rex, Korat, Oriental Shorthair, Siberian, and Sphynx.

Even though some of these cats may be tolerable for allergy sufferers, it is always a good idea to consult with an allergist and test your allergic reaction before bringing a cat home.

More on Pet Allergies

Can a Dog Be Allergic to a Cat?
What Causes Cat Allergies?
Hypoallergenic Cats for People With Allergies

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Cat Dander at a glance

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  • 1Dander is made up of microscopic particles of skin that contain FelD1, which is responsible for allergies
  • 2Minimize dander on your cat with regular washing and brushing
  • 3Minimize dander in your home by cleaning frequently and banning your cat from frequently used areas
  • 4While no breed is totally hypoallergenic, there are some cat breeds that are more tolerable to allergic owners