What Is Cat Dander? Hint: It May Be Why Youโ€™re Sneezing

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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 the carpeting is a magnet for dander and can be difficult to clean thoroughly.
  • use pet wipes to remove cat dander and to keep your pet's coat moisturized.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to get rid of cat dander?

Brushing your cat regularly can help reduce the amount of loose hair and dander in your home. Make sure to use a high-quality brush designed for removing loose hair and dander. Regularly clean your floors, furniture, and other surfaces with a vacuum cleaner or a damp cloth to help remove any stray dander. Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to trap as many allergens as possible. Use an air purifier with a HEPA filter to help remove airborne allergens, including cat dander. While cats typically don't require frequent baths, giving them a bath once a month or so can help reduce the amount of dander they shed. If possible, try to limit your cat's access to certain areas of your home, such as bedrooms, to minimize exposure to dander. If you or someone in your household is allergic to cat dander, consider taking over-the-counter or prescription allergy medication to help manage symptoms.

Why is cat dander so allergic?

Cat dander is particularly allergenic because it contains a protein called Fel d 1, which is produced by the sebaceous glands in a cat's skin and is found in their saliva and urine. When cats groom themselves, they transfer this protein to their fur, which can then become airborne as dander when the cat sheds its fur. Fel d 1 is a small protein that is easily inhaled into the lungs and can trigger an allergic response in susceptible individuals. It can cause a range of symptoms, including sneezing, coughing, wheezing, runny or stuffy nose, itchy eyes, and skin rash. Some people are more sensitive to Fel d 1 than others, and even brief exposure to cat dander can trigger an allergic reaction. Some cat breeds, such as the Siberian and the Devon Rex, are known to produce lower levels of Fel d 1 than other breeds, which may make them less allergenic for some people. However, no breed of cat is completely hypoallergenic, and individual sensitivities can vary.

Is it normal for cats to have dander?

Yes, it is normal for cats to have dander. Dander is made up of tiny flakes of skin that cats shed as part of their natural grooming process. This shedding of dead skin cells helps to keep a cat's coat healthy and clean. While dander itself is normal, some cats may produce more dander than others. Factors that can affect dander production include a cat's breed, age, diet, and overall health. Certain medical conditions, such as allergies or skin conditions, may also increase the amount of dander a cat produces.

Is cat dander harmful?

For most people, exposure to cat dander is not harmful, but it can cause uncomfortable symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, and skin rash. However, for individuals with severe allergies or respiratory problems, exposure to cat dander can cause more serious health issues. Contact with cat dander can cause contact dermatitis in some people, which is a skin reaction characterized by redness, itching, and swelling. This is because cat dander contains the protein Fel d 1, which can trigger an allergic reaction in sensitive individuals. In addition, exposure to cat dander can also trigger asthma symptoms in people with asthma. When inhaled, the Fel d 1 protein can irritate the airways and cause wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. Hives, or urticaria, can also be caused by exposure to cat dander in some people. Hives are a type of skin rash that is characterized by itchy, raised welts on the skin.

Does coconut oil help with cat dander?

Adding olive oil or coconut oil to a cat's diet can provide them with essential fatty acids that are important for maintaining healthy skin and coat. Both olive oil and coconut oil are rich in monounsaturated and saturated fats, which can help to moisturize the skin, reduce inflammation, and support overall health. However, adding oil to a cat's diet should be done in moderation and under the guidance of a veterinarian. While healthy fats are important for cats, too much fat can lead to obesity, digestive upset, or other health issues. In addition, some cats may be allergic or intolerant to certain oils, so it's important to monitor your cat's reaction and stop feeding them if you notice any adverse effects. Coconut oil is a natural moisturizer that can help to hydrate and nourish the skin, which may help to reduce dryness and flakiness. However, coconut oil may not be suitable for all cats, particularly those with sensitive skin or allergies. Additionally, if your cat has a medical condition that is causing excessive dander production, such as an allergy or skin infection, coconut oil alone may not be enough to address the underlying issue.

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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