Are you having an allergic reaction to cats?

Medically reviewed by Neka Miller, PhD on September 21, 2020. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


Like all different types of allergies, having an allergic reaction to cats can be uncomfortable. From the itchy eyes to the runny nose, the list of symptoms may be something you’re all too familiar with.

But how do you know whether it's an allergic reaction to cats or something else—like a grass allergy?

In this quick article, we’ll dive into some of the signs and symptoms of cat-related allergies. We’ll also go over what causes them, how an allergy test kit can help you better understand your allergies, and some possible treatment options for a cat allergy—so keep reading.


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Signs and symptoms of cat allergies

The signs and symptoms of cat allergies can be broken down into 3 categories— inflammation of the nasal passages, asthma, and skin-related issues.

Nasal passage inflammation

When researching allergies, you may hear the word “rhinitis.” This term refers to inflammation of the nose, which can occur when your body reacts to irritants or allergens. As the cells of your body react to these allergens, they release histamine and other chemicals. This can result in a variety of different allergy symptoms. Perennial allergic rhinitis refers to allergens that are present all year—as opposed to seasonal spring allergies like many pollen-induced allergies—and is caused by factors like dust mites, mold, and animal dander.

Perennial allergic rhinitis may lead to:

  • Frequent sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Cough
  • Irritated, watery eyes
  • Nasal congestion
  • Itching nose, top of the mouth, or throat
  • Postnasal drip
  • Facial pressure and pain
  • Waking up in the middle of the night
  • Swollen skin under the eyes that can be blue in color

Allergy that contributes to asthma

Can allergies cause shortness of breath? In some cases, yes. Someone with asthma who has an allergic reaction to cats may experience the onset of some asthma symptoms, including:

  • Problems with breathing
  • Pain or tightness in the chest
  • Wheezing during exhalation
  • Difficulty sleeping (caused by an onset of shortness of breath, coughing, or wheezing)

Skin issues can also occur as part of an allergic reaction to cats. Known as allergic dermatitis, this immune system reaction involves skin inflammation for the allergy sufferer. Symptoms and their severity can differ from person to person, and issues can include:

  • Hives
  • Eczema
  • Itching skin

What causes cat allergies?

The immune system’s job is to fight invaders like harmful germs and toxins that put your health at risk. Those who experience an allergic reaction to cats and pets have an over-sensitive immune system that’s reacting to proteins found in pet urine, saliva, or dead skin cells (known as pet dander).

There are multiple ways someone can come into contact with irritating pet allergens— the substances that lead to an allergic reaction. Pet allergens can cling to clothing, furniture, and walls—sometimes staying there for months. This can mean—for example—that if you’re allergic to cats and you touch a couch where a cat was sitting, then you rub your eye, you may experience an allergic reaction.

Many people are surprised to hear that the allergic reaction doesn’t come from the dog or cat hair itself. Instead, the hair collects the urine, dander, and saliva that cause the allergies to kick in.

Pet allergens can also become airborne after vacuuming, petting, or grooming. After the allergens are airborne, they can stay aloft for some time, leading to sneezing or itchy/watery eyes for the allergic person.

How can you know if you’re allergic to cats?

If you think you’ve experienced an allergic reaction to cats, it may be time to get tested by an allergist. Healthcare providers typically diagnose a pet allergy based on a mix of your medical history, potential cat allergy symptoms, and test results. Skin prick tests are commonly used, where a small substance of a cat allergen is placed on the skin, then pricked to see how you react to it (such as whether or not swelling, redness, or other signs occur).

Additionally, you can take an allergy test from the comfort of home, which uses a finger-prick blood sample to check for antibodies in your blood that have high reactivity with pet-related allergens (including cat dander).

Management and treatment options

If you’re allergic to cats, there are a number of options you can try to help manage your allergy. Steering clear of cats is the most effective approach, but that’s not always possible or—let’s be honest—desirable. If you do come into contact with a cat, be sure to wash your hands as soon as possible, and try not to touch your eyes or nose. You can also invest in a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) cleaner to reduce allergen levels and a high-efficiency vacuum cleaner to remove allergens from carpeting.

Nasal sprays, antihistamines, bronchodilators, and allergy shots (known as immunotherapy) may all help relieve symptoms. Shots can be an effective treatment for allergies, as they inject doses of an allergen to help build your tolerance to it over time.

If you think you’re experiencing an allergic reaction to cats and would like to find out more, consider our at-home allergy test kit. It’s an easy way to check your antibody response to both indoor and outdoor allergens—including allergens from trees, grasses, dust mites, and (of course) pets.


Can allergies cause shortness of breath?


References

1. Nonallergic rhinitis. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed September 21, 2020.

2. Allergies and asthma: They often occur together. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed September 21, 2020.

3. Pet allergy. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed September 21, 2020.

4. Pet allergy - diagnosis and treatment. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed September 21, 2020.

5. Pet Allergy. American College of Allergy, Asthma and Imunology. URL. Accessed September 21, 2020.

6. Rhinitis (Nasal Allergies). Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. URL. Accessed September 21, 2020.

7. Pet Allergy: Are You Allergic to Dogs or Cats?. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. URL. Accessed September 21, 2020.

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