Allergic to Cats? Probably Allergic to Lions and Tigers Too.

Lion Heart of Africa Columbus Zoo

A long time ago, when my nephew was still in a stroller, he is now in law school, our family spent the day at the Cincinnati Zoo.  It was a particularly hot and crowded day.  I volunteered to sit on a bench in the shade outside the Cat House with my nephew and wait for my parents, sister and brother-in-law to finish looking at the big cats and exit the building.

After about ten minutes, there was a ruckus at the Cat House exit, someone came running out of the building hands in the air, parting the crowd and gasping for air. My nephew’s curiosity piqued, he tilted his head and squinted his eyes to see who or what was causing such excitement. He then turned to me with wide eyes and a look that crossed between awestruck and amusement and blurted out, “It’s Grandpa!”

And sure enough, as I looked away from my nephew towards the running figure, it was my dad. He arrived at the bench and breathlessly whispered, “It smells like cats in there.”  My nephew Paul spoke up and said, “Like BIG cats.”

When I read an article discussing the probability of being allergic to big cats, if you are allergic to your house cat, the article brought back this fond memory.  My dad always claimed he was allergic to cats and his wild exit from the Cat House remained a story we shared and laughed about for years.

I am allergic to cats. Over time I build up an immunity to the cats that share our home and just over the last few months, I have reached co-existence with Annie, Eddie and Mercy without the need for daily allergy medication.  I still must wash my hands after petting or holding or I can break out in mild hives if I forget and touch my face or rub my eyes. I have not experienced allergic symptoms when up close to cheetahs or ocelots or when on the outside of a tiger or lion enclosure.

Allergic to Cats? Probably Allergic to Lions and Tigers Too.

Annie grooming comfort zone

Annie and Eddie grooming

In a study, scientists investigated the cross-reactivity pattern of IgE and IgG4 antibodies to the major feline allergen, Fel d 1. With house cats, a single protein in cat dander (dead skin cells) called Fel d1 is typically the cause for an allergic reaction.  Fel d 1 is secreted in cats’ saliva and skin. When the cat grooms, cells containing Fel d 1 become airborne and can irritate those with sensitivities.

They tested 11 cat-allergic patients against Fel d 1-like structures in eight members of the Felidae family: ocelot, puma, serval, siberian tiger, lion, jaguar, snow leopard, and caracal.  Hair from the big cats were collected, extracted, and used in a RAST system and histamine test. The results showed that all patients had cross-reacting IgE antibodies to seven of the Felidae tested. No IgE antibodies were reactive with the caracal.  Eight of the 10 patient with IgG4 antibodies directed to cat dander also had IgG4 antibodies  directed to several Felidae species, including the caracal.

In general, those with cat allergies also showed an allergic response to big-cat dander, but it wasn’t as strong. Your cat allergies should not deter you from visiting a zoo or sanctuary.  You will be kept a safe distance from the big cats. The study found that this mild big-cat allergy doesn’t usually affect the patients’ lives. There are always exceptions, my dad perhaps one of them.

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  1. I never thought of it, but it only makes sense there might be an allergic reaction with big cats if the human is allergic to us small cats.

  2. da tabbies o trout towne says

    totally lee off topic, but the lion is giving us the raspberry !!! 🙂