Being allergic to cats causes heartache, not to mention health risks, to a substantial proportion of the world’s cat lovers.
With approximately 10 to 15% of people reported to have some level of allergy to cats, it’s no wonder searches for a hypoallergenic cat are popular.
There are rumors abound that Maine Coons are hypoallergenic yet there is no hard evidence to support such claims. Just how true are they?
Maine Coon cats are not hypoallergenic: here’s why
Maine Coons produce substances known as allergens therefore can’t be classed as hypoallergenic. The fact is, no cats are truly hypoallergenic. Cat allergies differ from one person to the next and the only way to know for certain if a Maine Coon triggers your allergies is to spend time with one.
This doesn’t mean there’s no hope for those who suffer in their presence as there are ways to reduce a Maine Coon’s allergen levels, as we explain in a moment. And scientists are working hard to control allergies to cats.
Why Maine Coons are not hypoallergenic
Maine Coons produce three common allergy-inducing substances officially referred to as allergens:
- Dander (loose skin flakes)
To be classed as hypoallergenic a cat must produce a very low level of these substances. As Maine Coons are not free of any of these products, they simply cannot be classed as hypoallergenic.
All of these allergens contain a protein known as Fel d 1 and this is the main culprit behind the suffering of many cat allergy victims.
The amount of dander Maine Coons produce
As dander is essentially loose skin flakes, it is produced by all cats, Maine Coons included. Younger Maine Coons tend to shed less dander than older cats which means allergy sufferers may have more of a reaction to a mature Maine Coon than a kitten.
The Fel d 1 protein that causes allergic reactions is present in a secretion known as sebum produced by the sebaceous glands in each of a cat’s hair follicles. It is present in every skin flake plus the root of each hair that is shed.
Petting a cat causes hair and dander to loosen, transfer on to hands and into the air where they will cause problems for those allergic to them.
How Maine Coon saliva triggers allergies
Maine Coon saliva contains the protein Fel d 1 which triggers many people’s cat allergies. As cats are constantly licking their fur, it is easy to see how people easily come into contact with this allergy-inducing substance.
If your cat licks you, it transfers Fel d 1 straight to your skin, so allergy sufferers often react by stroking a cat or if one licks them.
Allergies to Maine Coon urine
The common allergy-inducing protein Fel d 1 is present in Maine Coon urine. Every time a cat uses its litter box allergens are released in a great quantity and can affect allergy sufferers. Cats can also have traces of urine on their fur which are released during petting.
A dust-free, clumping litter is the best choice to limit this problem. Try Arm & Hammer Clump & Seal Litter as it doesn’t send up a cloud of dust during use and as a bonus, it seals odors in really well too.
Why some people are allergic to Maine Coons and some aren’t
When it comes to allergic reactions to cats, it’s our immune systems that are at fault, not the cat itself.
We rely heavily on our immune system to fight our corner and protect us from harmful substances. Occasionally, it makes an error of judgment.
For some reason, certain people’s immune systems decide to defend them against totally harmless proteins produced by cats. They produce antibodies to attack the perceived enemy or allergen.
Unfortunately, this is the cause of the symptoms allergy sufferers experience which include but are not limited to itchy eyes, constricted airways, wheezing, hives and general feelings of illness.
It isn’t known precisely why some people have unnecessary immune responses to cats but it is most likely inherited. So, we can blame our genes – or our parents!
Maine Coon allergy symptoms
These can vary from person to person but the main symptoms are:
- A tight chest leading to wheezy breathing and shortness of breath
- Runny nose
- Itchiness where a cat comes into contact with skin
- Itchy eyes
- Redness or swelling of the skin where a cat licks, scratches or bites
- In severe cases, anaphylaxis
How to reactions caused by cat allergens
I have cat allergies yet have lived with cats my entire life, including the last 15 years spent with two Maine Coons.
There are many things you can do to lower the chances of having an allergic reaction to a Maine Coon cat.
Here are 13 to try:
1. Vacuum daily with a HEPA filter model
Reaching for the vacuum to remove cat hair might seem like the ideal solution but often you just stir up the problem and fill the air with the very enemy you’re trying to eliminate.
Most vacuum cleaners pick up fur perfectly well but small particles are expelled into the atmosphere. Look for one with a HEPA filter which removes virtually all particles from the air.
The Dyson V11 Torque Drive Cordless Vacuum removes 99.97% of microscopic dust from the atmosphere and goodhousekeeping.com considers it the best cordless model on the market.
2. Keep your cat off your bed
Many of us are guilty of this so don’t try to deny it! We let the cat snuggle up with us at night.
If you have even mild cat allergies, the build-up of allergens on your bed linen will not do you any favors so it’s best to keep your cat out of your bedroom whilst you’re in bed.
During the day, shut your bedroom door to keep the cat from napping on your bed (or anywhere in the room).
3. Wash your cat’s bedding regularly
Provide your cat with blankets to sleep on it ist bed or wherever it likes to nap and wash these regularly to prevent allergen build-ups.
Use a washing powder or liquid with as little fragrance as possible so that your cat isn’t put off sleeping on the blankets.
4. Change its litter box as soon as it’s used
Every time a cat uses its litter box, it releases allergens into the atmosphere. The quicker you (or another member of your household) clean it out the better as this will stop the irritants from becoming airborne and spreading around your home.
5. Ventilate rooms
The more you allow air into a room, the quicker you allow allergens to exit the atmosphere. Crack a window open as often as possible to help remove any particles that may cause an allergic reaction.
6. Buy a female cat
Female cats are widely believed to release fewer allergens than males. It may be wise for allergy sufferers who desperately want a cat to choose a female.
7. Neuter Males
Most people have their male cats neutered and find their allergies ease. So if your kitten is causing you to have allergic reactions, you may find things get easier once you have it neutered.
8. Groom wearing gloves
Regular grooming (daily if possible) will reduce loose fur and dander and the allergens associated with both. Wear gloves if you find your hands itch and keep your hands away from your face.
You may find you inhale too many allergens as you groom in which case ask someone else to take on the job for you. Dispose of fur carefully and vacuum up thoroughly afterward.
9. Try cat grooming wipes
Grooming wipes can be used to remove dander from a cat’s fur. Choose a brand carefully to ensure it is safe to use on pets.
Remember how often cats lick their fur and be sure they will not be ingesting anything harmful.
I recommend Burts Bees dander reducing wipes for cats as they contain all-natural ingredients, are sulfate-free, paraben-free, cruelty-free and recommended by vets.
10. Bathe your cat
I’m not a great fan of bathing cats but it is a way to remove dander and saliva from their fur.
You’ll have more chance of your cat accepting being bathed if you start when it’s a kitten and never make it a hurried or stressful process.
Bear in mind that when you bathe a cat its allergen levels return after 2 days so you’ll have to repeat the process every 3 days which can be quite stressful for a cat and is not particularly good for it.
If you do bathe a cat, use a suitable shampoo that’s as natural as possible, such as Pro Pet Works All Natural Organic Oatmeal Pet Shampoo
11. Wash your hands and don’t touch your face
The best advice I can give is to wash your hands thoroughly after every petting session and after touching anything your cat has been on.
Also, never touch your face, particularly your eyes before you’ve washed your hands. Keep antihistamine medicine in the house and soothing eye drops too.
12. Use your prescribed medicine
As it’s actually your immune system that’s at fault and not the cat, make sure you take any prescribed medication regularly.
You might have antihistamine tablets or inhalers to prevent reactions. These help you build up resistance if taken as prescribed.
13. Try immunotherapy
It is possible to have a course of injections that help allergy sufferers build up a resistance to allergies, including cat allergies.
This involves regular shots to build-up gradual resistance over several months or even years.
Speak to your doctor to find out the details as this treatment depends on several factors including the severity of your reactions.
14. Exposure can build up a resistance – I’m living proof!
This is where I can speak from experience. As a child, I was allergic to certain animals such as horses and rabbits. We always had several cats and I was fine around them.
When I moved into my own place and didn’t have cats around me, I began to react to them every time I visited my parents’ house.
Though my reactions were bearable, I was devastated and had to use an inhaler every time.
Being cat lovers, my husband and I bought two Maine Coons as they seemed to cause only a slight reaction in me.
I very quickly found I was perfectly OK with them. It was as if I became resistant again.
I researched the subject and found that it is possible for some people to overcome their allergic reactions by exposing themselves to their allergen. It all depends on how seriously you react and obviously those who are at risk of experiencing anaphylaxis should not take such a risk.
However, contrary to popular belief, it is not a cat’s fur that causes allergic reactions in people. Allergies are caused by proteins that are found in a cat’s dander, saliva, and urine.
Which cat is the best for allergy sufferers?
Allergen levels do vary between cat breeds but it is not possible to guarantee any breed will be OK. Allergen levels can vary from cat to cat and the more cats you have in the house the higher the allergen levels will be.
The best way to find out if a Maine Coon will trigger an allergic reaction is to spend some quality time with one to see what happens. If you do this, carry the necessary medication in case you react.
There is no evidence to suggest a Maine Coon cat is more or less hypoallergenic than any other cat breed. In fact, there are three main factors that dictate how much of a reaction a sufferer will have:
- The number of allergens that an individual cat produces.
- The person themself. each person’s reactions are different.
- The number of cats. The more cats under one roof, the higher the allergens will be and the worse the potential reaction will be.
Are Maine Coons Hypoallergenic? – Conclusion
A Maine Coon may cause allergic reactions in some people but not in others. If you’re keen to own one, the only way to discover if one will trigger your allergies is to spend time with it.
As it produces known allergens, a Maine Coon is not a hypoallergenic cat.
If you’re thinking of getting a Maine Coon this Complete Guide to Maine Coon Cats is invaluable.