Hairless cats may not solve allergy problems

A Sacramento Bee reader wrote in to pet columnist Gina Spadafori recently to ask which breeds of cat work best for allergy sufferers. We'd assumed Spadafori, or any other pet expert, would recommend a hairless breed – after all, no cat hair, no allergies, right?

Not so fast. You may not know that it's not cat hair that causes allergies to felines; it's an ingredient in the cat's saliva, which is deposited on its fur or skin when it grooms itself. The saliva helps to create cat dander, which is usually the biggest issue in pet allergies. So if you think you can talk your super-allergic husband into getting a Sphynx, know in advance that that may not solve the problem.

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Spadafori did mention that some individual cats seem to register less severely for those afflicted with cat-dander-related asthma and other allergies – lighter-colored female cats, for example, and some Siberian and Rex cats. Sounds kind of out-there, but the ingredient in cat saliva that prompts the allergic reaction is a protein known as "Fel d 1." Female cats produce less of that protein than males, on balance, and lighter cats produce less than darker cats. But this isn't always true, and individual cats' levels of the protein can vary.

Determined to have a kitty in your life, despite the risk of wheezing and red eyes? Experts recommend taking a few preventive measures to fight dander and keep allergens to a manageable level indoors, including:

  • Keep the cat clean. Bathing a feline sounds like far more trouble than it's worth to us – i.e., replacing the sneezing with bleeding – but is said to reduce dander levels. (Dr. Anna Feldweg of doesn't think it makes enough of a difference to bother with, so if your cat really hates water, skip it.) Regular brushing with a tool like a Furminator, or another specialty comb that collects dander as well as fur, may help control allergens as well.

  • Keep the house clean. Regular vacuuming of floors and furniture with a machine specially designed to target pet hair, coupled with an effective air purifier, can make a big difference for allergy sufferers. (Look for the word "HEPA.") Wash bedding in 140-degree water to get rid of dander and mites.

  • Ban them from the bed. Everyone loves a snuggle with a cat on a snowy day, but if your cats are like ours and sleep on your pillows, it's no surprise when you wake up swollen. At the least, lay a sheet or coverlet over the bed during the day so that dander doesn't get directly onto pillows and other surfaces.

  • Control other allergens. If other substances like dust or pollen affect you, reduce your exposure to those too. An allergist can recommend tactics for ameliorating seasonal allergy symptoms – and the most effective air purifiers, too.

  • Work with an allergist. Determine the severity of the allergy, and see if you can find a treatment or medication schedule that lets you live with felines without blowing your nose constantly.

If you want a Sphynx anyway, go for it – but no cat is hypoallergenic, so be prepared. And share your secret anti-dander weapons in the comments!

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