Sorry to disappoint you if you had your hopes up, but Persian cats are not hypoallergenic. Before you let that rule out a Persian as your choice of pet, though be aware: no cat is truly hypoallergenic. All cats, whether they have long, silky fur like a Persian or the downy fuzz of a hairless Sphynx, produce allergens. These allergens are virtually impossible to avoid, as we’ll see below.
The real question a perspective Persian owner should ask is not whether the cat is hypoallergenic, but whether the level of allergens is manageable for an individual’s situation.
Allergens and Cats
Websites that list the best hypoallergenic cats refer to cats with the lowest production of a hormone called “secretoglobin Fel d 1,” the allergen most likely to cause a reaction among humans. All cats make it to some degree, and surveys have shown it to be in 99.9% of American homes, even though less than half of those homes had a dog or cat. A similar survey in Sweden showed that in a public school, every room tested showed significant amounts of the allergen present, and one in Poland showed it lurking even in the cars of non-pet owners.
Since it’s virtually impossible to avoid exposure to feline allergens, regardless of the breed, let’s look a little closer at the question of severity.
BasePaws, a site dedicated to discussions of cats and genetics, points out that the lists on many websites, including those of cat breeders and sellers, claiming to know which cat breed produce the lowest amount of allergens, are misleading. Allergen production varies even within a breed. They sum up the question nicely: it’s not that a cat breed is hypoallergenic, but that some breeds are more likely to have cats that won’t cause allergic reactions.
The fact remains that we know very little about the Fel d 1 hormone. We don’t know it’s purpose, although theories abound, and we don’t know why some cats produce more or less. As this is a fairly new field of study, there is a lot of speculation presented as fact, but the only real findings so far have been that some breeds are more likely to produce less, and within any breed, intact males produce more than females and neutered males. Even within the so-called hypoallergenic breeds, though, cats may still produce high levels of Fel d 1.
Is It the Fur?
For years, the conventional wisdom has been that it’s the shedding that causes allergies, and many have turned to the hairless breeds to avoid an allergic reaction. The more we learn about Fel d 1, however, the more we realize the fur has very little, if anything, to do with it! The allergen is produced in saliva and sebaceous glands, meaning it is part of the cat’s natural skin oil. Cats with little or no fur require frequent bathing, which reduces the dispersal of the allergen; it is not the lack of shedding fur that reduces allergic reactions to these cats, but hygiene practices.
Turning to PetMD for a list that is written and approved by veterinarians instead of breeders, we see ten cat breeds less likely to produce high levels of allergens, and they range from hairless to double-coated long-haired! Contrasting myths remain pervasive that long-haired cats are either more likely to trigger allergies because the longer hair produces more dander to them being less likely because they shed less often, but now we know to leave out hair length from the equation.
Is there any visible trait that can tip us off to a cat’s allergen production? Possibly. Past studies suggested that darker colored cats were worse for allergies. Recent studies, however, have not replicated this, and so the question of color remains a question.
What About the Persian?
Sadly, Persians are constant shedders. Although no published studies have examined the content of Fel d 1 in Persian cats specifically, the amount that they do generate is frequently dispersed into the air, onto carpets and furniture, and into the clothing of their loved ones.
How Can I Reduce Allergens For My Persian?
If you suffer mild cat allergies and still want a Persian cat, it can be manageable if you are willing to put in some extra work.
Bathing too frequently is bad for a cat’s skin, but regular grooming, including daily brushing and cleaning of your Persian’s flat face, can reduce the dispersal of the allergen into your home.
Air cleaners with HEPA filters have not only demonstrated success in removing particles from the air, but effectively reduced the number of asthmatic events for cat owners with allergic asthma. Select a quality air clean, and also ensure that you vacuum and clean your upholstery frequently.
Keep your kitty out of the bedroom! This prevents your bedding from wrapping you in allergens all night long.
Consider a cat food with egg protein. This has been shown to reduce the production of Fel d 1 in cats of all breeds and coat types.
Before adopting an adorable puff ball Persian kitten, consider fostering an adult Persian. Older cats produce less Fel d 1, so you can have a trial run to see if moderate amounts, combined with other mitigation methods, are acceptable to you.
Yes. Fel d 1 can also trigger asthmatic reactions. The same factors that affect allergies hold true for asthma, as well as the same mitigation factors.
This depends on how much work you want to put in for your cat’s daily routine! The Siberian Forest Cat has undergone significant testing regarding its Fel d 1 levels, which are lower than the average. They are also easy cats to maintain, needing only occasional brushing. If you don’t mind extra work, though, a Sphinx cat diffuses very little Fel d 1 and is perhaps the closest thing to a hypoallergenic cat, but requires a high level of skin care, including regular bathing, sun protection, and clothing for warmth.
Not yet, but a company in Switzerland has one in development, and early findings are positive!
All cats produce allergens, although some more than others. Be wary of myths regarding hypoallergenic cats! If your allergies are mild to moderate and you are willing to put forth extra effort, you and your Persian can live a happy life together. Try a test-run, cat sitting or fostering, if you’re not sure about your allergy level and have your cat brush ready!
Photo by Dan Wayman on Unsplash