Are Hairless Cats Hypoallergenic? (The Answer May Surprise You)

Cats can be wonderful pets — funny, lovable, and anywhere from completely relaxed to memorably energetic, depending on either the cat or the time of day. However, not everyone can feel comfortable getting a cat, thanks to how easily and severely they can trigger allergic reactions. The first possibility that comes to mind as a possible pet for an allergic cat-lover is usually a hairless cat, an option that seems like it would avoid the issue. Although this can be true, the whole truth is a little more complicated.

What causes allergic reactions to cats?

When people think of pet allergies, they often think of it as an allergy to fur or dander. This is easily supported by the observation that dogs that don’t tend to shed cause less reactions than dogs who do, and the fact that exposure to an object with cat hair on it can cause a reaction even if the cat is nowhere nearby.

The actual trigger, though, is not the fur itself, but proteins found on and in these pets. This can be found on fur, but also principally in the saliva of cats. The most common trigger is a protein called Fel d 1, which cats can spread while cleaning themselves or when leaving dander and fur around the house. By nature, any cat will carry these proteins, whether they have fur or not. However, that doesn’t mean that a hairless cat must be ruled out as a hypoallergenic pet.

Will getting a hairless cat keep you safe from these triggers?

The principal appeal of a hairless cat is the idea that they don’t shed, which seems like it would curb the spread of allergens around the house and in the air. Luckily, this does indeed play out as expected. A hairless cat like a Sphynx will not be leaving fur and dander with the Fel d 1 protein all over your carpet and couches, making it much easier to walk around your apartment or house without experiencing symptoms of allergen exposure.

However, like all other cats, a hairless cat will still produce the protein in its saliva and in the sebaceous glands of its skin, and will spread it over itself when grooming. If you’re particularly sensitive, this means that you could still have some kind of reaction to a hairless cat. If you have a cat allergy and are concerned with the potential that even mild exposure could cause symptoms, your best bet might be to spend some time around a hairless cat and see how you do, should you find the opportunity. Many people will not have this option, though.

Unfortunately, there is just no way to say that a hairless cat is completely hypoallergenic. No cat is. If your allergy is severe, you’re still likely to have some trouble with the exposure. If your allergy is minor, and you seem to do fine with limited exposure to cats, then a hairless cat might be a viable option for you, since you won’t be met with fur and dander spreading allergens to your furniture and floors at every turn.

What should I do when getting a hairless cat?

The first step when getting a hairless cat is, of course, picking out the cat. Although there are actually a number of hairless cat breeds now in the mix, the Sphynx remains the most popular, and the most widely available. The Peterbald cat, for example, is a modern hairless breed that can only be acquired from a small and select number of breeders. Of course, even a more common Sphynx cat may not be as easy to find as a tabby or a black cat.

Nonetheless, there are a larger amount of Sphynx breeders, as well as shelters that may have a hairless cat in need or rescue, or even specialize in them. Starting local is always a great idea. Call up veterinary clinics to see if they know of any that might be up for adoption, for example. There are also websites you can use to look for shelters or rescue groups that might have one available.

If you end up finding a hairless cat and feel comfortable taking it in, there are certain steps you can take to possibly minimize exposure to allergens. Cleaning any areas that might receive some trace exposure, particularly your cat’s bedding which will come into the most direct contact, can minimize the amount of the protein present in your home.

Bathing your cat weekly will also reduce the amount of allergens present on the skin, and is generally good for the cat, as without fur they will have less means of getting oil off of their skin. As with many allergies, an air purifier can also help. No matter what, make sure you’re prepared to give the cat the love and care that it needs.

Air purifier and allergy pills

You can alleviate the symptoms of cat allergies in two ways – get the allergens out of the air with a good HEPA filtered air purifier, and with some good old-fashioned allergy pills.

A few commonly asked questions

How much is a Sphynx cat?

If you’re looking to buy a Sphynx cat directly from a breeder, your wallet may not like it. Since they’re a less common breed that is in particular demand from allergy sufferers, you’re likely to pay at least $1,500 dollars for one. It’s possible to pay several times that, although you’re unlikely to be pushing the upper end unless you’re looking for extremely selective or specific breeding.

Are hairless cats worse for allergies?

No! Even if someone highly sensitive to cat allergens comes into contact with a hairless cat and has a reaction, it won’t be of a greater severity than other cat breeds. The lack of fur makes for an easier allergen experience overall.

Do Sphynx cats smell?

Sphynx cats can sometimes smell like their diet, or accumulate smells if not bathed with regularity and proper procedure. However, they do not have any strong odor that should be bothering you just from having them in the room.

In summary

If you’re desperate for a cat and wanting to find a breed that won’t send your allergies into overdrive, a hairless cat might genuinely be the choice for you. However, since the principal allergen trigger for cats lies not in the fur but in a protein that all cats share, no cats are truly 100% hypoallergenic. Make sure you understand what you’re getting into, and that you feel comfortable with the amount of exposure you may have to potential allergens. If you’re ready for the task, there’s plenty to love about hairless cats, and plenty of happy owners out there.

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