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Cat Dander: 8 Things You Didn’t Know


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If you are a cat owner or are in the process of getting one, you are probably familiar with the word “dander”. Pet dander refers to tiny, microscopic flecks of skin that peel off and get scattered wherever your furry friend goes; on the carpet, upholstery, and even on your clothes, and bedsheets.  

More often than not, dander comes up whenever we are discussing allergies, especially those that are caused by cats and dogs. However, there are several little facts about cat dander and allergies that you probably are yet to find out. That’s what we’ll be talking about in the next couple of minutes.

Pet Dander Itself Does Not Cause Allergies!

After all the nasty experiences we’ve had with cat dander allergies, claiming that it’s not responsible for all the sneezing, runny nose, and itchy, red eyes may seem perversely counterintuitive. That’s the truth, though.

The tiny particles of skin that fall off the cat don’t cause any problems. However, they act as a carrier for 2 types of proteins that are actually the primary culprits for the allergies; Fel d 1 and Fel d 4.

Fel d 1 protein is the primary allergen in cats and kittens. It is found in high levels in cat saliva and sebaceous glands.

Kittens and female cats produce Fel d 1 in slightly lower amounts than unneutered (uncastrated) male cats. Neutered males and both unsprayed and intact female cats produce pretty much similar levels of this protein.

The second protein, Fel d 4, on the other hand, is mainly found in the saliva. It ends up on the skin when the cats lick themselves when grooming.

Do You Know How These Cat Proteins Trigger Allergic Reactions?  

Having understood that it’s the Fel d 1 and Fel d 4 that cause allergic reactions in sensitive people, you could ask, how exactly do these proteins cause an allergy? Well, this is a little bit complex, but we’ll try to explain it in the easiest way possible.

First, you probably know as well as we do that an allergy is an unpleasant condition in which an individual’s immune system reacts in a strange way to a foreign substance that is perceived as dangerous, right?

Now, a group of researchers from the University of Cambridge, University of Massachusetts, and Karolinska Institute in Sweden wanted to find out what exactly happens between exposure to cat allergens and the onset of allergic reactions.

They learnt that the protein Fel d 4 itself does not directly trigger the TLR4 (molecules that activate immune reactions in our bodies). Instead, this protein first has to bind to another molecule called LPS (lipopolysaccharides). Next, the LPS molecule relies on the help of another protein called MD2 to be able to link to the TLR4 successfully.

As soon as the LPS binds to TLR4 molecules, the latter recognizes the Fel d 4 protein and triggers a cascade of signals ultimately leading to an unwanted immune response.

Cat Dander is Ubiquitous

Perhaps one of the most interesting facts about cat dander is that it’s found everywhere. By this we mean you’ll find this allergen both in homes that have cats and those that don’t have them. That’s the sad truth if you’ve failed to get a cat as a way of limiting your contact with dander.

The reason for its widespread presence has to do with its size. While all animal dander is generally tiny, that of cat is microscopic and ranges between 10 microns to 2.5 microns. At these sizes, cat dander remains suspended in the air for longer times. Its lightweight nature coupled with the fact that it’s adhesive makes it possible for cat dander to find its way into homes, offices, schools, and numerous other places where felines have never been.

Cat dander Allergies are Twice as Common as Dog Allergies

Here is another intriguing fact about cat dander. Most households around the globe have more dogs than cats. In the USA, at least 36.5% of homes currently have dogs, whereas only about 30.4% have cats.

Surprisingly, cat dander allergies are 2 times more prevalent than dog allergies. The first primary reason for this is what we’ve just talked about above. Cat dander can stay airborne much longer than any other animal dander, including that of dogs. Secondly, cat dander is sticky, and this makes it possible to attach to pet owners’ clothes and be ferried around.

Lastly, a study recorded in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found out that cat dander causes a more severe allergic reaction than dog dander.

Gets in Your System Through the Nose, Mouth, or Skin

Have you ever wondered how cat dander (or pet dander, in general) finds its way into your system? Well, most of it is inhaled through the nose thereby causing an allergic reaction, which mainly consists of sneezing, runny nose, and itchiness around the nose.

Another amount is inhaled through the mouth and gets into bronchial tubes and lungs where it can trigger uncomfortable and even dangerous asthma attacks.

The problematic cat proteins can also be administered through the skin either through the cat licking you or when dander falls on a raw patch.

Hypoallergenic Cats Don’t Exist- Sorry

Pet dander sufferers are often advised to avoid going for the fluffiest cat and instead consider hypoallergenic breeds.

When people talk of hypoallergenic breeds, they refer to unusually short-haired cats, including Oriental Shorthair, Siberian, and Peterbald breeds that don’t shed a lot. For that reason, they are argued to be a safer option for allergic cat owners. Cat geneticists say that this can’t be further from the truth.

While it’s true that some cats shed their fur more than others, what most people tend to forget is that it’s the proteins in the saliva and urine that cause allergic reactions, not pet hair. As it turns out, all cats have saliva and urine.

Allergic People Can Own Cats Comfortably!

Another thing that you probably don’t know about cat dander is that it shouldn’t limit you from adopting a cat. If you are planning to open your doors to a feline friend, the first thing that you want to do is to get rid of other allergens, such as mould, dust, and dust mites. Next, you’ll need to build up your resistance to dander by getting up close with cats. You could consider visiting friends who have cats, going to a major cat show, or visiting your local animal shelter. However, check with your allergist or physician first for advice on how to start this process.

You Can Reduce the Amount of Cat Dander in Your Home

While there’s nothing like hypoallergenic cats, the good news is that it’s possible to reduce the amount of pet dander in your home by bathing your friend frequently, vacuuming carpets and area rugs often, and regularly changing and washing your bed sheets.

Importantly, never underestimate the ability of an air purifier to minimize pet dander and other types of allergens. On this note, if you are considering getting an air purifier, Airhonest recommends getting a model with a True HEPA filter, which can trap 99.97% of air pollutants and allergens down to 0.3 microns.

Final words 

In summary, people who are allergic to cats don’t react to the fur, but to proteins that are carried by pet dander. However, although harmless, you can’t leave out cat fur as you try to minimize dander. This is because most of these allergen-containing skin flakes cling to cat hair and later fall to your surfaces. So, remember to combine a pet-specific vacuum cleaner and an air purifier for excellent pet dander removal. 

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