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Immunotherapy for Cat Allergies: Our Vet Explains How It Works

Written by: Dr. Karyn Kanowski BVSc MRCVS (Veterinarian)

Last Updated on June 24, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

Immunotherapy Diagnosis

Immunotherapy for Cat Allergies: Our Vet Explains How It Works


Dr. Karyn Kanowski Photo


Dr. Karyn Kanowski

Veterinarian, BVSc MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Do you love cats but are overwhelmed by the watery eyes, runny nose, and scratchy throat whenever they come near? Perhaps it is your loved one who is the cat lover and you’re worried how you’ll fare if they have to choose between you and the cat. The good news is that there are options available that may make it possible for you to share your home with a feline friend, despite your allergies.

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The Basics of Immunotherapy for Cats Allergies

It’s a common misconception that people who are allergic to cats are reacting to the fur, as this isn’t exactly the case. As with most allergies, the immune system is reacting to proteins, called antigens, found in tiny particles of dead skin cells (dander), saliva, oils, urine, and feces that cling to the fur and become airborne when cats shake, scratch, or groom themselves. Different cats can have different proteins, so some people with cat allergies may not be allergic to all cats.

If you are thinking about trying immunotherapy for your cat allergies, there are a few things to consider first:

Image Credit: Motortion Films, Shutterstock

Are You Definitely Allergic to Cats?

This is probably obvious to you, but there is always a chance that it’s not cats, or not just cats, that are causing your symptoms. You’ll need to talk to your doctor about allergy testing, so make sure they are testing for all environmental allergens, as well as the different types of proteins carried by cats.

Other Ways to Manage Cat Allergies

Before exploring immunotherapy to tackle this problem, there are some simple ways to minimize your allergy exposure:

  • Regular vacuuming with a powerful cleaner that uses a HEPA filter
  • Air purifiers to reduce airborne allergens
  • Keeping cats out of the bedroom
  • Regular cleaning of bedding
  • Talk to your doctor about strong antihistamines
  • Look into breeds that produce lower allergen levels
  • Keep your cat brushed and groomed regularly (preferably by someone else!)
young woman using an air purifier at home
Image Credit: Yuttana Jaowattana, Shutterstock

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What Is Immunotherapy and How Does It Work?

People who suffer from allergies are experiencing a hypersensitive immune reaction to the allergen(s). Essentially, their immune system is overreacting. This leads to a flood of inflammatory cells, including histamine, which is responsible for the swelling, itching, redness, and oozing that allergy sufferers are familiar with.

Antihistamines, decongestants, and corticosteroids can be used to suppress or mask the allergic response, but it is only a temporary solution that does not address the underlying problem.

Immunotherapy uses increasing doses to “train” your immune system to get used to the allergen, slowly and safely desensitizing it with controlled levels. This has traditionally been in the form of injections, but there are more options emerging.

Let’s take a look at some of the immunotherapy options that are available now, or those that soon will be.

Types of Immunotherapies for Cat Allergies

Allergen-Specific Immunotherapy (ASIT or AIT)

Following allergy testing, a formula containing the specific allergens required (which may be more than one) is created. There are two ways this can then be administered:

Subcutaneous Immunotherapy (SCIT) - Injections
  • Weekly injections increase in concentration until the full dose is reached. The injections are then given monthly for a period of around 3 years, by which time some people are able to stop the injections, while others need to continue regular treatments.
  • Usually covered by medical insurance.
  • Requires regular visits to the doctor’s office.
  • Higher risk of reactions/side effects.
Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT) - Drops or Tablets
  • Daily dosage with liquid drops or a tablet placed under the tongue. Can be started at the full dose, or with a short period of increasing from the low dose.
  • More convenient, as treatment can be done at home.
  • May not be covered by medical insurance.
  • Lower risk of side effects.

woman getting injected
Image Credit: HenadziPechan, Shutterstock

Combined ASIT and Tezepelumab

A recent study did a trial combining SCIT injections with the antibody Tezepelumab, which blocks the action of a specific protein that has been linked to asthma and allergic disease. Results have indicated that using a combination of Tezepelumab with SCIT for 12 months resulted in better, longer-lasting results than either method alone. This may be the next big step in managing reactions to numerous allergens, including cats.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How Do I Get Started?

Your first step is to talk to your doctor. From there, how you proceed will vary greatly based on the individual and your doctor.

How Long Will It Take to Feel Better?

Again, it depends on the individual. Some patients notice improvements within several weeks, while others won’t notice improvements for months.

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The Takeaway

If you suffer from cat allergies and want to do something about it, talk to your doctor. Even now, there are new methods being developed that can help allergy sufferers have a better quality of life, which can only be improved further if they can share that life with a cat!

Featured Image Credit: Marcelo Ricardo Daros, Shutterstock

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