Self

7 Signs You’re Allergic To Your Cat & Don’t Know It

Because it’s not always pollen.

Woman working at home with cat walking across her laptop
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Owning a cat is truly wonderful. Sure, they can be a little moody and tend to do whatever they want, but they are also super cuddly, sweet, and adorable companions that will always make you smile. Unless, of course, you're allergic to them. In that case, you'll still be smiling, you'll just also be sniffling a whole lot too. Unfortunately, though, many people don't even realize they're allergic to their cat, which is not ideal, so, here are the signs of a cat allergy for the sake of your own health.

Pet allergies are very common: in fact, a third of Americans are allergic to cats and dogs, and allergies to cats are twice as common as allergies to dogs. Allergies are caused by the protein in cat saliva, which ends up on their skin when they, for want of a better phrase, lick themselves. And, again, many people don't even realize they're suffering from this. When you think of someone who is allergic to cats, you might assume that they start sneezing the moment a cat goes near them. These are symptoms of pet allergies, but they certainly aren't the only ones. In fact, “on very rare occasions, people can actually have a severe anaphylactic-type reaction to their kitties,” says Dr. Ashley Randall DVM, owner of the West End Animal Wellness Center in Atlanta, Georgia, so it’s important to be on the lookout for potential triggers.

Plus, in a lot of cases, the symptoms of a pet allergy mimic the signs of any other type of allergy, Dr. Tierra Price DVM, founder of BlackDVM Network, and shelter and emergency vet in Los Angeles, explains to Bustle. This can cause issues due to the fact that the reactions are so similar. “Sometimes, these reactions are missed by people, and they won't necessarily recognize it as an allergy,” says Dr. Randall.

It's easy to overlook some of the symptoms that could easily be explained by something else, especially if you don't want to admit you're allergic to your cat. But having an allergy to pets doesn't mean you can't own one. In fact, Dr. Price says it’s completely fine to live with your cat “if your allergy is mild and you can still go about your daily life.” There are tons of ways to make the experience better, from over-the-country allergy medications to weekly shots from a doctor. Plus, as Nature reported in 2020, the race is absolutely on to “deliver the hypoallergenic cat.”

It’s also important to note that you can develop cat allergies at any time, even if you've never been allergic to anything else before. If you do, it can be a difficult ride when they’re severe, with Nature reporting that cat allergen treatments “cost US$800–1,000 annually, require up to 100 injections over 3–5 years, and are not always permanent or wholly effective.” Interestingly though, a 2018 study in Sweden found that children who had cats and dogs when they were young were far less likely to develop allergies in adulthood, so if you have small children, that’s something.

So, all this is to say: allergies are common and you might have them even if you didn’t have allergies to cats when you were younger. Herewith, the signs and symptoms to look out for.

1

You Feel Exhausted All The Time

When you think of allergies, you probably think of sneezing, wheezing, and rashes. Those are very common symptoms, but they aren't the only ones! Cat allergies can also cause fatigue, leaving you feeling exhausted all the time. In fact, Healthline reports that experts give this type of fatigue a specific name — “brain fog”— and it’s all to do with the inflammation.

“People with allergies experience inflammation,” ays Mark Aronica, MD, from the Cleveland Clinic. “That inflammation leads to a congested nose, disrupted sleep patterns and not getting good rest.” It’s an easy symptom to overlook, as fatigue can have a variety of causes, but if it's combined with some of the below symptoms, it could be a sign of allergies.

2

It Feels Like You Have A Constant Sore Throat

Pet allergies will generally make you feel like you're living with a cold that won't go away, and can result in sneezing and coughing. Cat allergies can also lead to a post-nasal drip, a condition in which you produce more mucus which is also thicker in volume, causing it to slide down your throat and create the sensation of a constant sore throat.

One symptom of this type of allergic reaction is that you might also notice that it comes and goes. It could be worse in the morning and at night, or only really bad whenever you're home. If you always feel like you have a cold, but no fever or any other symptoms, see an allergist.

3

Your Face Feels Swollen & Slightly Painful

Another sign of allergies that you might overlook is your face feeling kind of swollen, puffy, and sightly painful. This can happen when you're very congested. Sometimes that congestion doesn't come out as a sniffly nose; instead it just causes head congestion that leaves you feeling swollen, foggy, and kind of odd.

4

Your Eyes Are Red & Itchy

Watery eyes are a common symptom of pet allergies, as are red, dry, itchy eyes. A lot of people think this is just a result of general allergies from being outside and being exposed to pollen, but that itchy feeling in your eyes can also happen after you're around your cat, especially if you pet them or hold them and then touch your eyes.

“We see a lot of people getting a stuffy nose or red, itchy, watery eyes. And for some people, that can happen from a distance, so if even there's just a cat in the room, these symptoms can still happen,” says Price. In particular, it’s the cat dander that sets this particular type of allergic reaction off. These are — and brace yourself, because this can sound a little gross — “microscopic pieces of dry cat skin that become airborne, landing on bedding, curtains, carpeting, and other surfaces, including humans' skin and clothing,” per The Spruce Pets. So, not an easy one to avoid.

5

You Experience Shortness Of Breath

Another annoying symptom of cat allergies is feeling like you just can't catch your breath. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) says, "Many airborne particles are small enough to get into the lungs. For some, this exposure can cause severe breathing problems. Highly sensitive people can begin coughing, wheezing and have shortness of breath within 15 to 30 minutes of inhaling allergens."

6

You Have An Asthma Attack

Most of the time, pet allergies are just annoying. Sometimes, though, they can get more serious. The AAFA says that being around a cat can trigger a severe asthma attack in up to three in 10 people with asthma. So, if you have asthma, and you have an asthma attack, it could be because of the cats. However, Randall says “unless there's some kind of deathly allergic reaction happening, I definitely don't suggest, giving up the cat.”

Also important: cat allergies, when left untreated, can actually lead to chronic asthma. That's why you need to go to a doctor. However, if you live with asthma and just want to find a way to manage it, Asthma UK recommends taking steps like allowing pets to spend time outside, and keeping them out of parts of the house that have carpets.

7

You Notice Redness On Your Skin

Cat allergies can definitely cause an obvious rash, and even hives that leave your skin super itchy and inflamed. But you should also look out for general redness on the skin, especially on areas of your skin that have had contact with your cat. In particular, London’s Allergy and Immunology Center reports that you should especially look out for “hives or a rash in the area of the face and neck.”