There are indeed some cats that cause less sneezing, itching, and sniffling for pet owners with allergies or asthma. But here’s what experts want you to know when it comes to ‘hypoallergenic’ breeds and picking the right pet.

By Tracey L. Kelley
August 24, 2020
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Approximately 3 out of 10 people with allergies or asthma also have reactions to dogs and cats, according to The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Cat allergies, however, are much more common, so it’s no wonder that so many people are excited about the idea of hypoallergenic breeds said to have a special type of fur or aren’t as prone to shedding. But according to experts, it’s not actually fuzzy fur you need to be concerned about if you’re allergic to cats—it’s a special protein all cats produce.

“There are several proteins cats shed that people react to: Fel d 1 through Fel d 7,” explains Tarina L. Anthony, DVM, owner and medical director of Aurora Cat Hospital and Hotel. “Fel d 1 is the most common allergen and mainly presents in saliva and dander. These little proteins are inhaled or come into contact with skin, eyes, and noses and cause hives, itchiness, sneezing, and watery eyes.”

With that in mind, here’s what experts want all prospective pet owners with allergies to know when it comes to buying a cat.

Are Certain Cat Breeds Really Hypoallergenic?

Unfortunately, no. According to Anthony, this definition is simply not true. What’s more accurate is that each person has a different allergy threshold. One person with allergies might not be greatly affected by one type of cat, while another could react to the very same ‘hypoallergenic’ breed if they’re sensitive enough, she explains. Anthony also notes that female cats tend to produce less Fel d 1 than males, and neutered males less than intact males. 

And if you’re really smitten with a certain cat? Ask a veterinarian to test your favorite’s Fel d 1 protein before bringing him home.

The Best Cats for Allergies

Since everyone reacts differently, experts recommend fostering or visiting with different cat breeds to see how you react. Here are some of the best breeds to start with:

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Balinese

Since this intelligent, energetic cutie produces a little less Fel d 1 and has a single layer coat, he’s often a great choice for people with mild cat allergies, even though he’s a little fluffy. As a member of the Siamese family, he’ll likely be quite talkative.

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Javanese

A cousin of the Balinese, this loyal animal doesn’t have an undercoat, which means he has less fur to primp and will spend more time cuddling. He’s quite smart, great with children, and easy to train, too!

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Russian Blue

Here’s another strikingly attractive kitty that has less Fel d 1 than other breeds. Even though a Russian blue has a dense, luxurious coat, he doesn’t shed much so there’s less dander floating around. He’s also a loveable furball—forever dispelling the myth of aloof cats. 

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Siberian

Although his glamorous long coat requires brushing throughout the week and sheds a little more than other cats, you won’t have to worry too much about sneezing and itching. Siberian cats are irresistible for many reasons, including their playful sweetness and reduced allergen production. 

Cats That Don’t Shed (Much!)

Low-shedding means there’s less chance of irritating airborne particles from the dried Fel d 1 protein. However, proper grooming, a no-cat zone bedroom, and air purifiers might still be necessary to enjoy the company of these kitties. 

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Bengal

With his unusual short, spotted pelt, a Bengal looks like a little wildcat. He doesn’t shed as much as other breeds, which is a good thing because he’s quite playful and craves constant affection from his human companions. 

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Cornish Rex

This sociable, athletic kitty is ready to play anytime, anywhere—he’ll even fetch! A Cornish rex has a wavy, downy soft fur but no coarse layer. He does require occasional baths to reduce oil buildup, but those will also help minimize Fel d 1 allergens. 

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Devon Rex

Cute as a pixie and just as mischievous, the playful Devon rex has three coat layers, but his fur is short and wavy with little flyaway hair. He’s curious, intelligent, and eager to snuggle. 

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Oriental Shorthair

You’ll hear a lot of purring from this adorable feline, as he’s quite fond of his people and wants to be with them all the time! An Oriental’s coat is fine and silky to touch, but he doesn’t shed much as long as you brush him regularly, which he’ll love. 

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Sphynx

Probably the closest thing to a hypoallergenic breed, the sweet, lively, and funky Sphynx is a highly-affectionate charmer who’s essentially hairless. However, his suede-like covering does need your help to control skin oil with frequent towel rubs and occasional baths.

More Tips for Cat Owners with Allergies

Anthony says diet and grooming are also helpful tools for reducing allergic reactions. “Keeping a cat's coat healthy with fish oil or omega-3 fatty acids reduces the amount of the allergic protein present on a cat's body,” she says. “Bathing also minimizes the level of proteins, but shampooing cats has its challenges. Remove dander with a fine-tooth comb and hair with regular brushing, although this aerosolizes the proteins, so it’s best done outside or by someone who doesn't have cat allergies.” 

And if you’re suffering? Hit the pharmacy. While scientists are working on hypoallergenic solutions—such as special feline medicine and food that reduce the protein culprits—Anthony says it’s easier to treat the human. 

“There are many antihistamines, hyposensitization treatments, and other remedies that help people coexist with cats more comfortably,” Anthony says.