What is cat allergen?
An allergen is a material that is capable of provoking an allergic reaction, such as pollen grains, dust mites or foods. Cat allergen is not cat hair, but a protein present in the dander and saliva of cats. These allergens become airborne as microscopic particles that can produce allergic symptoms when inhaled into the nose or lungs.
Although individual cats may produce more or less allergen, there is no relationship between the pet’s hair length and allergen production, and no such thing as a non-allergenic breed.
Where is cat allergen found?
Cat allergen is present in the largest amounts in homes with cats, but has also been found in homes where cats have never been present, and in offices or public spaces where animals are not allowed. Cat allergen is particularly sticky and is carried on clothing to other locations. It is almost impossible to not be exposed to some level of cat allergen. Of course, levels of exposure will be much higher where cats are present, and these levels are more likely to cause allergic symptoms.
Because cat allergen particles are particularly small (1/10 the size of dust mite allergen), they remain airborne for prolonged periods of time. Cat allergic individuals are more likely to have a rapid onset of symptoms when entering a room with cats, because the allergen will be in the air and can be easily inhaled. Opening windows, using exhaust fans and using high-efficiency air cleaners can decrease airborne allergen levels.
Soft furnishings, such as carpets, sofas and mattresses, will hold cat allergen even after a cat is removed from the home or banished from the bedroom. It has been shown that it can take as long as 20 weeks for levels of allergen in carpets to decrease to the levels found in a home without a cat, and up to five years for cat allergen levels in mattresses to decrease to such levels. Removal or treatment of the carpet and sofa, and encasing of the mattress, will reduce the continued exposure to these reservoirs of allergen.
Cat allergen is also found on vertical surfaces such as walls. Attempts to decrease cat allergen exposure in a home should include wall cleaning. If the cat is removed to a restricted area of the home, it is important to realise that airflow through the duct system in a hot air heated home could spread the allergen. Efficient vent and furnace filters could help trap the allergens and reduce this spread.
What can be done to reduce cat allergen?
If possible, keep the cat out of doors all or some of the time, or limit it to a single area of the house. Keep cats out of the bedroom at all times.
Ventilate the home. Very insulated, "energy efficient" homes actually trap animal dander inside. Opening windows and using exhaust fans can help increase air exchange and decrease airborne allergen. Use a HEPA (High Efficiency Particle Arresting) air cleaner. Air cleaners of this type can reduce the level of airborne cat allergen by about 50 per cent. It is important to place the unit away from furnishings and not directly on the carpet so as not to disturb settled allergen.
Mattresses and pillows are also a reservoir for cat allergen and should be encased in allergen-impermeable covers.
Cat dander settles onto carpets and soft furnishings, which act as a reservoir for the allergen, releasing it back into the air when touched. Remove the carpeting, if possible, and replace upholstered furnishings with furniture that can be wiped clean. If carpeting cannot be removed, a denaturant solution can be applied after the pet has been restricted to another room.
Use a face mask when brushing the cat or changing the kitty litter. Wash your hands after touching the pet, and change your clothing after contact with pet.
Studies have demonstrated that washing of cats with water removes much of their surface allergen, and significantly reduces the amount of future cat allergen produced.