Cats produce allergens that may cause an allergic reaction in some people. This can trigger asthma symptoms.

If people notice that they have asthma symptoms, such as wheezing or coughing, after being around a cat, they may have allergic asthma resulting from a cat allergy.

Those who live with a cat may have chronic wheezing and asthma. It may be more challenging to connect these symptoms to the cat because the person experiences consistent exposure.

This article looks at the link between cats and asthma and steps people can take to treat and manage cat-related asthma.

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Allergens in the fur, skin, and saliva of cats can cause an allergic reaction in some people, which can trigger symptoms of asthma such as wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath.

Allergic asthma develops when the immune system mistakenly recognizes cat proteins as allergens. This commonly results from immunoglobin (IgE) antibodies to cat proteins.

When a person inhales the cat allergens, IgE that is present on the allergens causes a release of certain chemicals, which experts refer to as allergy mediators.

The release of mediators can cause the lining of a person’s airways to swell and produce mucus. It can also cause the airways to spasm.

This results in the narrowing of the small airways in the lungs and leads to symptoms of asthma, including:

  • wheezing
  • difficulty breathing
  • chest tightness
  • cough

With intermittent exposure, these symptoms will begin or worsen quickly. With more frequent, daily exposure, the symptoms may be more chronic, or ongoing.

Allergic asthma is the most common type of asthma. It occurs when an allergen, such as pet dander or pollen, triggers asthma symptoms such as:

  • wheezing
  • shortness of breath
  • coughing, particularly during exercise, when laughing, or at night
  • difficulty breathing
  • chest tightness

Allergens that may trigger allergic asthma include:

  • pet dander
  • dust mites
  • pollen from trees, grass, or weeds
  • mold

Mice and cockroaches can also trigger allergic asthma.

Allergic asthma commonly worsens with nonallergic factors, such as:

  • irritants in the air or pollution
  • stress
  • certain medications and food additives
  • certain weather conditions
  • viral respiratory infections
  • exercise

All cats produce many allergens, a type of proteins that cause an allergic reaction in some people. These allergens occur in cat dander (dead skin cells), urine, and saliva.

Allergen levels will be higher in homes that have more than one cat. Factors such as the length of a cat’s hair, the amount of hair shedding, the sex of the cat, and the amount of time the cat spends indoors do not affect levels of allergens inside a home. All types of cats produce allergens.

According to a 2020 study, cat dander has multiple allergens, but Fel d 1 is one of the key allergens that produces an allergic response. Fel d 1 triggers more than 60% of IgE antibodies involved in an allergic reaction to cat dander.

To determine whether a person has allergic asthma relating to cat allergies, a doctor or allergist may first assess symptoms and when they occur, as well as a person’s medical history.

Certain tests can help doctors find out whether a person is allergic to cats. The most common test for a cat allergy is a skin-prick test.

A doctor will take a small sample of a cat allergen extract and place it on a person’s skin. They will then make a small prick in the skin to allow the allergen to penetrate the surface of the skin.

If swelling, redness, or another symptom of an allergic reaction occurs within 15–20 minutes, it may indicate that the person has an immune response to cat allergens that is triggering asthma.

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, avoiding cats is the best way to manage an allergic response to cats.

If a pet cat is triggering asthma symptoms, treatments may help people manage symptoms without rehoming the cat. Treatment for cat-related asthma may include:

  • antihistamines
  • nasal rinses, which may help rinse allergens from the nose and reduce mucus
  • leukotriene modifiers, a type of medication that blocks the release of certain chemicals that occur with an allergic reaction and helps keep the airways open
  • cromolyn sodium, a nasal spray that prevents the body from releasing certain chemicals that cause symptoms of an allergic reaction and prevents swelling in the airways
  • daily inhalers, which can prevent asthma attacks

People can use other inhalers to rapidly relieve asthma symptoms when they develop.

A doctor may also suggest immunotherapy, or allergy shots. A doctor will inject a small amount of a cat allergen extract into a person’s skin. Over time, they will increase the allergen amount. This allows the immune system to slowly adjust to the allergen. In most cases, this treatment can reduce allergy symptoms.

If people have a cat in their home, they can take some of the following steps to manage cat-related asthma:

  • Keep the cat away from the bed and bedrooms and off any fabric furniture.
  • Ideally, have a person without a cat allergy brush the cat outside and wear gloves and a mask while grooming the cat or changing a litter tray.
  • Use towels or pet-safe wipes to clean the cat of any urine and pollen before it comes inside.
  • Change any clothing and wash hands after holding or petting the cat.
  • Try feeding the cat a type of food that reduces cat allergens, such as Purina Pro Plan LiveClear, which neutralizes the Fel d 1 allergen in cat saliva.
  • Use a damp cloth to wipe down surfaces. This will reduce the amount of cat dander and fur released into the air.
  • Have non-fabric furnishings where possible.
  • Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter.
  • Wash rugs weekly in hot water.
  • Use an air purifier with a HEPA filter for at least 4 hours every day.
  • Replace carpets with hard flooring where possible, or choose low pile carpet.
  • Bathe the cat once a week to reduce airborne allergens.
  • Wipe blinds with a damp cloth.
  • Wash or vacuum curtains.
  • Cover air vents in bedrooms with a light fabric, such as cheesecloth.
  • Use filters designed to help with asthma and allergies on air conditioning and central heating to help reduce airborne allergens.

Anyone with asthma should consider seeing an allergist to identify potential triggers, even when there are no obvious examples of symptoms worsening with allergen exposure.

The worsening of symptoms around the allergen may not be obvious because of a person’s frequent exposure to a cat.

However, people may experience symptoms when they are around a cat, such as:

  • wheezing
  • coughing
  • chest tightness
  • shortness of breath
  • runny nose
  • congestion
  • itchy eyes, nose, or mouth
  • sneezing
  • irritability
  • fatigue

People may be able to manage cat-related asthma without rehoming a pet cat. An allergist can carry out tests to find out what is causing a person’s symptoms and help them create a treatment plan to manage cat-related asthma.

Cats produce multiple allergens in their dander, saliva, and urine. In some people, these allergens can cause allergic asthma.

Allergic asthma happens when the immune system produces certain antibodies in response to an allergen. This allergic reaction can cause inflammation and swelling in the airways, leading to asthma symptoms.

People may have cat-related asthma if they experience wheezing, coughing, or shortness of breath when they are around a cat.

Those with chronic asthma who live with a cat can also have a cat allergy, even if they do not experience worsening symptoms. Allergy testing can help clarify whether a person is allergic to cats.

Avoiding cats is one of the best ways to manage cat-related asthma, but if people have a cat at home, treatments and cleaning practices may help them manage symptoms.

Asthma and allergy medications, immunotherapy, air filters, and keeping a cat away from bedrooms may all help.