Hypoallergenic Siberian Cats
Got Cat Allergies?
Do regular cats make you or one of your family members sneeze? You may have heard that Siberian Cats are considered to be "hypoallergenic". Perhaps that is the reason for your visit to this site? On this page you can find information about cat allergies, the reason why the Siberian breed is considered by some to be hypoallergenic and our experiences working with Siberian cats and allergy sufferers. If you still have questions after reading this, feel free to email us.
What is an Allergy?
The term allergy is used to describe an exaggerated response of your immune system to a substance that your body wrongly perceives as hostile. These substances are called "allergens". All allergens contain protein and almost anything can be an allergen for someone! House and dust mites, grass and tree pollens, moulds and nuts are all common allergens. Allergens themselves are not harmful but if you are an allergy sufferer, it is your immune system's overreaction to these proteins that can cause a lot of misery, inconvenience, discomfort and in its worst case fatality.
During an allergic reaction your immune system believes allergens to be damaging so it produces a special type of antibody (IgE) to attack the invading material. This process leads to other blood cells releasing further chemicals (including histamine) which together cause irritation, inflammation and the symptoms of an allergic reaction. The histamine dilates your blood vessels, causes your mucous membranes (lining tissues of the nose and airways) to swell and stimulates the glands in the nose and your respiratory passages to produce mucus. Substances that cause the muscles of your respiratory passages to contract can also be released along with the histamine. If this occurs it becomes difficult to breathe and if you are an asthmatic, an asthma attack may follow.
Allergy symptoms can include:
- Runny nose
- Itchy eyes, ears, lips & palate
- Shortness of breath
- Sinus problems
- Nettle rash/ hives
- Sickness, vomiting, & diarrhoea
- Asthma attacks
The Basics of Cat Allergies
A number of different allergens have been identified in cats, but only one of these, called "Fel d1", is specific to cats alone; the others can also be found in other mammals such as dogs, hamsters, and horses.
The Fel d1 protein is created in the saliva, skin and anal glands of the cat. It is spread onto the cat's fur during grooming and once dry, it easily becomes airborne. It is not therefore the cat's fur that you may be allergic to and hence long haired or short-haired and even hairless cats can all cause reactions in allergic individuals.
The Fel d1 production is regulated by the cat's hormones. It used to be thought that females produced lower levels of Fel d1 than males however recent research has dispelled this myth and it has been showed that both male and female Siberians can produce very low levels of the allergen. The level of Fel d1 does however increase as the cat matures and hormones increase and thus spaying/neutering will reduce the allergen levels produced by the cat. The increase of Fel d1 with age may explain why some people adopt a kitten only to find that they are allergic when the kitten grows up! That said, when living with a cat the repeated exposure to cat allergens may also reduce an individual's reaction to the cat. It is thought that high levels of exposure to the allergen may induce the production of "regulatory T cells" in the body. Researchers believe that immune system responses are normally kept under control by these special cells. (2005) Cats and Allergies. PLoS Med 2(3): e94
If you suffer from allergies to dogs and other animals as well as cats, chances are you will still have an allergic reaction to a Siberian cat. Siberians are low in the Fel d1 protein which is specific to cats, so if you react to other animals it is not just the Fel d1 you are reacting to. The Siberian Research Inc, a not-for-profit corporation, believes that if you are allergic to cats and not any other animals you are most likely only allergic to the Fel d1. They believe that Fel d1 accounts for around 60% of allergic reactions to cats.
Hypoallergenic Siberian Cats?
Research has shown that all cats produce some Fel d1, but some cats produce considerably less than others. The Siberian Cat breed is thought to produce some of the lowest levels of Fel d1. There is strong anecdotal evidence from Siberian breeders and owners to support this theory, but scientific data is currently limited. The UC Davis University of California has however now begun researching the hypoallergenic nature of Siberian cats and cats can be tested for the level of Fel d1 in their saliva.
The Siberian Research Inc has found a strong correlation between allergen levels in cat saliva and allergic reaction experienced by cat allergy sufferers. They have found that this trait for lower Fel d1 levels found in Siberian cats is genetic and is thus passed on to offspring.
You must remember that "hypoallergenic" means having a decreased tendency to provoke an allergic reaction, as opposed to the term "non-allergenic" which means having no tendency to provoke an allergic reaction. Siberians therefore produce less allergens than a regular cat NOT no allergens. As such, some individuals allergic to Fel d1 will still react to the Siberian breed. Whether you react will depend on the severity of your allergy and the level of Fel d1 produced by the particular Siberian cat. It may also depend on the time of year and the amount of other allergens you are coming in contact with. The histamine response that your body produces when it attempts to counter an "invading" protein, has a cumulative effect in your body. So if it is hay fever season and you are affected your histamine levels will be up, then if your carpet is dusty that adds to the trouble, then if you eat high histamine food (yeast, aged cheese, processed meats etc) or drink alcohol) these add up too. Eventually you reach your tipping point where your body can't break down the histamine quick enough and your allergies start playing up. It is therefore important to use techniques to reduce your allergies even if you adopt a low allergen cat.
Snowgum Allergy Experiences
Here at Snowgum, both my husband and I suffer from mild cat allergies. Our symptoms when cuddling other cat breeds include sneezing, itchy eyes, ears, nose and throat. I usually find myself reaching for an antihistamine tablet. My mother also suffers from cat allergies and Asthma. All of us are however fine when interacting with our Siberian cats. When my mum comes to stay she does not wheeze or sneeze as she did for many years while living with our family's pet Abyssinian cat. Mum now happily shares her home with their gorgeous silver Siberian boy "Snowgum Percy".
In the past we have provided fur samples and performed allergy test visits for many individuals considering adopting a Siberian cat. We found the fur sample test results to be inconsistent with allergy visit results and thus decided that sending fur samples was an ineffective test method. Most allergy testers who came to visit had acceptable results with little or no reaction, but some did not. The response seemed to depend of the severity of the allergy. We usually found that a severe allergy sufferer would still have an unacceptable response to the breed. People with mild to moderate allergies were usually fine and went on to have no trouble sharing their homes with a Siberian kitten (or two!).
Since 2008 we have placed a large number of kittens successfully with people who usually suffer from cat allergies. In fact, all the kittens pictured on this page and more, now live comfortably with cat allergy suffers!
When considering adopting a kitten from us, please let us know if you or your family members have cat allergies and we can advise which litters would be best for you to adopt from.
We advise of the following precautions for allergy sufferers when collecting your kitten:
- Purchase a cat tree/climbing frame for your cat to sleep/play on
- Purchase machine washable beds for your kitten to curl up in and wash them regularly
- Purchase washable throw rugs for them to use when on the sofa and wash them regularly
- Purchase a HEPA filter vacuum and use it regularly
- Hard floors are better than carpet as allergens are more easily removed
- Leather and other washable upholstery is better than fabric upholstery which can trap allergens
- Place the kitten's litter box in an area easily cleanable and not in your main living area. Dust from litter has been known to provoke allergic reactions
- Use a clumping litter and clean the litter box daily. Change the litter regularly as Fel-d1 and other allergens are found in urine and faeces
- Choose a litter that does not provoke your allergies. We find the wood pellets or the recycled paper litters to be the best for allergies.
- If you are also allergic to feathers, be careful when selecting toys for your kitty as most toys contain feathers!
For people that experience strong allergic responses to other allergens, monthly bathing of the cat and early neutering is advised. Daily wiping of the cat's coat with a damp cloth can also reduce reactions.
Our Cats' Fel d1 levels
It is possible to test a cat to determine the amount of Fel d1 they produce. It is a very tricky process that is done most accurately by testing the saliva of a mature cat. To do this you need to extract at least 1ml of saliva from the cat and send it frozen to the US for testing. This is no easy task so we have tested a number of our breeding cats and we use our personal cat allergies to gauge the levels in our other breeding cats.
A regular moggie will usually test at around 8 μg/ml. It is said that most individuals with mild allergies will not have a reaction with a cat who produces less than 4 μg/ml. We have tested some of our breeding cats with a specialist lab in the USA and their results are as follows:
These are brilliant results and it is great to have some scientific evidence to show what we already knew- that Snowgum Siberian Cats are lower allergen cats! As this low allergen trait is genetic, it is very likely that the kittens produced from our low allergen cats will also receive these incredible genes which enable people with cat allergies the ability to live comfortably alongside these gorgeous creatures :-)
We no longer provide allergy testing. This is partially due to our busy family life (we have two small children as well as the cats to take care of!) but also because we want to find our kittens stable, permanent loving homes. Allergy results vary a lot depending on the individual, the cat, the age of the cat, the time of the year, what other allergens you are in contact and even life events for example if you are pregnant! So you may not react while testing with our cats but what happens if you then adopt a kitten and find when it grows up that you are reacting to it? We bring these kittens into the world so it is our responsibility to find them the most secure loving homes possible.
What does this mean for allergy sufferers? If you suspect from your previous interactions with cats that you will likely have a reaction that is unacceptable to you, then a Snowgum Siberian is not the cat for you. You may not have a reaction, but we don't want to risk the kitten's chance for a stable home and lifelong happiness. If you have previously experienced mild reactions to cats and are looking to reduce the likelihood of reactions or the severity of your reactions then a Snowgum Siberian might be perfect for you. You have to remember that no pet is allergen free; all pets have some level of allergens and Siberian cats have lower levels of allergens, not no allergens. So if you are realistic about your allergies, and allergen reduction and allergy management are your goals rather than complete allergen avoidance, then we would be happy to place a kitten with you. We have successfully placed many kittens into homes with allergy sufferers since we started breeding in 2008. Most have experienced no reaction at all and a small number have had mild reactions which have diminished over time (an effect similar to that seen in allergy immunotherapy), however this does not mean that a Siberian cat is the answer for every cat allergy sufferer.
If you are uncertain about your allergy status and you wish to adopt from us, we require you to have a back up home (a close friend or family who has agreed to take your kitty) organised just in case it does not work out for you. We have never had an allergy home have to call upon their backup but we do like to know that our kitties will have a loving home should it not work out with your allergies.
It is also worth noting that allergy immunotherapy is a useful tool for those who still experience reactions to cats with lower levels of Fel d1 (and indeed to other allergies such as dustmites, grass pollen etc). Immunotherapy can be performed by sublingual drops taken daily or injections at decreasing frequency. Both methods have a similar level of success and can be a powerful tool in combating your allergy symptoms. Some of the cost for allergy immunotherapy is covered by Medicare. Ask your GP to refer you to an allergy specialist.