What is dander – understanding cat allergies

It is a common misperception that cat allergies are caused by a cats fur and shedding in specific. But when it comes to cat allergies there’s only one real culprit and that is dander. Cat dander to be precise. But what is dander really?

What is dander really?

Well for one it’s nothing like dandruff. Cat dander is invisible to the human eye. It’s actually just microscopic pieces of dry cat skin. When airborne, those pieces will scatter, similarly to dust, and land anywhere. That includes us humans (gross but true). Now, those pieces of dry skin AKA dander would be harmless if they didn’t contain one component – the Fel D1 allergen. Fel D1 is a glycoprotein found in the cat’s sebaceous glands (located under it’s skin), in it’s saliva and urine.

Does a cat’s fur have any effect on allergies at all?

It does, but not the way you think. A cat’s fur doesn’t cause our cat allergies, but it does facilitate the spreading of dander. When a cat licks itself some of the saliva allergen is transferred onto the cat’s fur, adding to the existing allergens in the cat’s skin. When the fur is then shed dander and saliva allergens remain on it and that is how it spreads.

To conclude, cat dander for people who are allergic to it is like what wheat is for people with celiac’s disease – remove the gluten, or in this case the Fel D1, and it’s completely harmless. But since there’s no real way of removing Fel D1, cat dander remains the number 1 cause for cat allergies.

Tip: Sometimes a good air purifier is all you need to significantly lower the amounts of dander in your home and manage your allergies.

Related articles: How to get rid of cat allergies and Are Sphynx cats hypoallergenic?