August 8, 2022

Are You Allergic to Your Cat? Signs, Symptoms, & Tests

Key Takeaways 

  • 30% of people in the U.S. have allergic reactions to cats and dogs. Cat allergies are twice as common as dog allergies. 
  • Pet allergies are not from a pet’s hair, fur, or even feathers. Most often, you are allergic to the dander (dead skin) a pet sheds. 
  • It’s possible to be allergic to cats but not dogs, and vice versa. 
  • A radioallergosorbent test (RAST) is a type of allergy test. It measures the amount of immunoglobulin E (IgE) in your blood.

Do your eyes water when you see a cat? Do you reach for the tissues after playing with a dog? We all love our pets, but these types of reactions might not be love - you likely have a pet allergy.

What Are Allergies?

Allergies arise when your immune system reacts to a foreign substance. Your body identifies the allergen as harmful, even though it is not, and produces antibodies to counteract its presence.

Allergies can come in many forms, from those that cause a life-threatening reaction to medications, such as penicillin, to those that cause a reaction to a particular food, such as nuts and shellfish or by animal dander and mites. Some people are allergic to insect stings, while others suffer from allergic rhinitis caused by plant pollens.

If you are living with an allergy, especially one that involves a furry pet, you know how difficult it can make life. Consequently, each time you come into contact with the allergen, your immune system can cause one or more allergy symptoms to display.

Are Cat and Pet Allergies Common?

Pet and cat allergies are extremely common. Considering, as of 2022, 70% of U.S. households have some kind of pet, it should be no surprise that pet allergies affect 10-20% of the global population.

In the United States, as many as 30% of people have allergic reactions to dogs and cats. Additionally, cat allergies are nearly twice as common as dog allergies.

To break down pet ownership even further, 45.3 million U.S. households own a cat, while dog ownership is higher with 69 million U.S. households owning a dog.

Common Pet Allergy Symptoms

Most pet allergies are similar to that of a cold or hay fever, like a runny nose and sneezing. It’s also important to note that pet allergies are not from a pet’s hair, fur, or even feathers. Most often, you are allergic to the dander (dead skin) a pet sheds.

Because pet dander circulates in the air, it can land on the membranes that line the eyes and nose, or inhaled into your airways. It can also live on surfaces throughout your house, like ceiling fans, tables, and chairs.

The symptoms and severity of pet allergies vary from individual to individual. In some cases, allergies can be life-threatening if not treated quickly, leading to anaphylactic shock. Fortunately, pet allergies are not generally fatal, but they can sometimes trigger anaphylactic shock, which can be life-threatening.

The most common pet allergy symptoms include:

  • Hives or other skin condition, like dermatitis or eczema
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen lips, face, or tongue
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sore, watery eyes

It’s also possible for pet allergies to contribute to asthma, in which case, it may trigger additional symptoms like:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Pain or tightness in the chest
  • Wheezing sound when breathing or audible whistling
  • Difficulty sleeping due to shortness of breath, coughing, or wheezing

Why Am I Allergic to Cats but Not Dogs?

If you react to cats but not dogs, it's not personal. You can also be allergic to dogs but not cats. Why? Because of the specific proteins produced by each animal.

The primary cat allergen protein is Fel d 1. It’s produced in the saliva and a cat's sebaceous glands. The glands coat their skin with this protein and because cats spend close to 30% of their time grooming, this protein spreads all over their body. That’s why cats appear to be more allergy-causing than dogs.

Dogs, on the other hand, produce a protein called Can f 1 in their saliva. This protein can cause an allergic reaction in certain people, but, unlike cats, dogs do not produce this protein in their skin. However, when dogs lick their fur or skin, it can spread the protein to the fur.

In other words, different proteins, but similar problems.

Can You Still Live With a Pet You’re Allergic to?

To quote Jurassic Park, “Life, uh, finds a way.”

Depending on the severity of your pet allergy and your level of sensitivity, it is possible for pets and your pet allergies to coexist. You’ll just need to stay on top of the allergen and make lifestyle adjustments to minimize exposure to the pet dander.

For instance, frequent vacuuming and dusting to remove the dander from surfaces, and keeping pets out of bedrooms or off furniture. Grooming pets with dander removing products to minimize dander  and using cleaning solutions to neutralize allergens on surfaces are also effective.

Medical treatments for pet allergens vary, depending on the symptoms and severity. It’s best to speak to an allergist to help determine which course of action is best to treat your particular pet allergy.

Allergy shots, or immunotherapy, is also an effective treatment by gradually building up a tolerance through injecting doses of an allergen over time.  

Blood Allergy Tests for Cat and Pet Allergies

Fortunately, there are allergy blood tests available to help diagnose pet allergies.

A radioallergosorbent test (RAST) is a type of allergy test. It measures the amount of immunoglobulin E (IgE) in your blood. This substance is an antibody that is made by your body in response to an allergen. If you have an allergic reaction, you will have more IgE in your blood than you normally would.

There are two types of IgE tests:

  • Total IgE Test: This test is performed to measure the total amount of IgE antibodies in your bloodstream.  Though it can indicate if you have an allergy, it cannot tell you what the allergen is, nor how serious your allergy may be.
  • Specific IgE Test: This test measures the amount of IgE your body produces in response to a specific allergen. This test cannot show you how serious your allergy is.

IgE tests are powerful tools for identifying allergies. You can have an allergy blood test taken at your healthcare professional’s office or you can opt for home testing with a mobile lab service, like Getlabs.

Want to learn more about allergy blood tests? We cover the topic more in depth here.

Get At-home Blood Allergy Tests with Getlabs

If you suspect you may be allergic to your cat or any other pet in the house, then it might be time to take a blood sample to find out - and Getlabs can help.  

You can easily book an appointment online and we will send a local phlebotomist to visit your home and collect your sample. They will then take your sample to a nearby lab for analysis. All you need to do is relax and wait for your results. Getlabs are dedicated to providing reliable diagnostic tests in person.

This page is provided for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute the provision of medical advice or professional services. The information provided should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, and those seeking personal medical advice regarding any of the tests and conditions referenced above are advised to consult with a licensed clinician. Always seek the advice of your qualified health provider regarding a medical condition and do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of any information on this page. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call 911 or go to the nearest urgent care center or hospital.

Book an at-home lab collection

Getlabs sends a nearby medical specialist to you to collect your labs for Labcorp and Quest. Available same-day, nationwide.

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