What Is Cat Dander And How Does It Affect Allergies?

Last Updated on March 20, 2021 by Julia Wilson

Dander refers to the minute particles of dead skin that are constantly being shed from your cat (and other mammals).

Dander and allergies:

The actual cause of allergies is a protein known as Fel D1 (which stands for Felis Domesticus 1) which is produced by the sebaceous glands in the skin and is also present in your cats’ saliva and to a lesser degree in the urine. Your cat is constantly shedding minute particles of dander containing the Fel D1 protein and also transferring the same protein via the saliva to his fur when he grooms himself, which is also constantly being shed.

Due to the minute nature of dander, it can remain airborne for several hours after it is shed into the environment, after which it settles on walls, carpets, furniture etc. Cat dander can be found even in places where cats haven’t been such as schools and other public buildings. The main reservoirs of cat dander in the home are carpets, soft furnishings such as sofas and bedding. We then breathe in these particles through the nose and mouth, leading to an allergic reaction to susceptible individuals.

Studies suggest that up to 50% of people suffering from cat allergies have never owned a cat. Allergies don’t develop the first time you encounter the allergen, it takes time for a reaction to build up. Often people have owned a cat for several years before they develop an allergy.

Male cats produce more of the Fel D1 protein than female cats, but neutering males significantly reduces levels. It has also been suggested that dark coloured cats may produce more Fel D1 protein than light coloured ones.

Allergy symptoms

  • Itchy, red, watery eyes
  • Sneezing and/or a runny nose
  • Rash
  • Wheezing
  • Asthma

Reducing dander in the home

  • Keep cats out of bedrooms
  • Desex your cat
  • If possible, replace carpeting with floorboards or tiles
  • If you can not replace carpeting, vacuum frequently and steam clean often
  • The use of HEPA filters around the house can help to reduce levels of dander from the air
  • Use a vacuum cleaner with HEPA filters
  • Wash your cat weekly to reduce dander levels
  • Keep cat litter trays in a remote area and have somebody who doesn’t suffer from allergies take care of litter tray duties if possible
  • Wash clothes in the hottest setting if they have been in contact with dander

Related: Hypoallergenic cat breeds

Frequently asked questions

How long does cat dander remain?

Cat dander can remain in the home for 20-30 days before levels drop to those of cat-free households.

What is the difference between cat dander and dandruff?

Dandruff consists of skin flakes that are constantly shed from the skin. Dander is a protein called  Fel d 1 which is primarily produced in the saliva, and also the sebaceous glands located in the skin and is present in the urine.

Does Lysol kill pet dander? 

Lysol can’t kill pet dander because dander is a protein and not a living thing. Lysol disinfectant wipes can remove 95% of allergens (including dander).

What foods reduce cat dander? 

Until now, no food was able to reduce cat dander. However, Purina has recently developed Pro Plan LiveClear that contains a protein sourced from eggs binds to Fel D 1 and inactivates it.

Does washing clothes remove cat dander? 

One study found that washing clothes in laundry detergent at 25 C removed almost all allergens after five minutes.

Does brushing reduce cat dander? 

Brushing helps to remove loose hair from the coat, which means there will be less shed hair in the environment, but it cannot eliminate dander in the home.

Julia Wilson is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care. Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. She enjoys photography, gardening and running in her spare time. Full author bio Contact Julia