Cat Dander – 7 Answers to Questions About Cat Dander

Cat dander is an infamous allergy and asthma trigger that often stands in the way of a cat lover owning or even fully enjoying their cat. Here are 7 answers to questions about cat dander that will help you deal with it more effectively, own a cat, and allow you to enjoy the cat you already love even more.  

What is cat dander? In two words– dead skin. All warm-blooded animals produce it, and it is nature’s way of making room for new and healthier skin that is more able to resist disease and infection. Your cat will continue to produce dander as long as it is alive.  

Can you see it? Contrary to what many believe, dander is invisible with the naked eye. The human eye is able to see substances that are approximately 30 microns and greater. Dander ranges in size from .5 to 10 microns with a micron being defined as one millionth of a meter. And to give you an example of a micron’s size-it takes more than 25,000 microns to make an inch.   

What makes it such a strong allergy and asthma trigger? It is actually the protein found at the hair roots and under the tongue (Felis domesticus allergen I) that triggers sneezing, itching, congestion and other symptoms that indicate varying degrees of sensitivity to it. As your cat grooms itself by licking its fur, saliva is deposited on its coat. When dry, it flakes off and can go airborne, or fall on everything in your home from sofas to curtains to the carpet on the floor. Inhalation of these sub-micron size particulates then causes a reaction.  

Are there cats that don’t produce dander? All cats produce dander, and there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic cat. It is widely believed that some breeds produce less dander than others, but in an article by Steven Steinberg of The Dallas Morning News, Dr. James R. Richards, director of the Feline Health Center at Cornell University says, “I am unaware of any studies that show that any one breed is less allergenic than another, or that one breed produces lower levels of Fel d 1”.  

Can I still own a cat? The answer to this question is a resounding maybe. The best way to tell whether owning a cat is a possibility is to spend some time with the cat you’re thinking about adopting at various times of day, as allergy and asthma tend to be worse at night. If you are able to tolerate its presence without adverse side effects, then go for it. Just be aware that your tolerance level may change for better or worse, and that your tolerance level will differ with different cats.  

What can be done to lessen sensitivity to dander? There are a number of methods to reduce your symptoms including prescribed, and over the counter medication. You may also be a candidate for allergy shots that reduce sensitivity by slowly increasing the dander allergen over many months. The hope is that your body will react to it as less of a threat, allowing you to tolerate dander more comfortably.  

Can anything be done to  keep the dander down?   Fortunately, there are a number of steps that you can take. Consult your vet about shampoo and frequency of baths, and bathe your cat. Use a HEPA vacuum to remove it from the floor, furniture, and window treatments. Use a HEPA air purifier to remove cat dander from the air.