Why is one of my cats capable of causing great sneezing and burning eyes from mere contact, and the other seemingly powerless to cause more than a little itchy nose if hair is practically inhaled? Obligatory photos at the end.
When I was a kid I had some allergies, and I went through testing with an allergist that said I was basically allergic to everything under the sun. I remember having to go in frequently to get shots in the arm for this, but when they stopped I seemed to be fine being around most animals (though I never noticed issues before, my mom was hyper alert to such things). We always had pets, though, and barring my inability to handle exposure to rabbit fur (which would make me sneeze), I was pretty much fine. Sure, I had some minor sniffly times if I cuddled too long with our cats (we had a series of Siamese cats through my childhood as my mom was in love with them), but never anything major. When I went out on my own I stuck with shelter cats/dogs. Seven years ago I broke my long run of shelter pets to get a Bengal I named Pandora. It's probably the only time I'll ever skip the shelter to go to a breeder, but I was fascinated with Bengals. When I got her home, she had some eye issues (vet said infection from built up discharge, I was not impressed by the breeder, but had fallen in love with the cat) and we used eye drops, and it all cleared up. She gets little crusty bits sometimes and as appalling as it sounds, our other cat (also female, a shelter tabby cat named Daisy) cleans them for her. Other than that, which seems to be more of an "ew gross, eye bits again" and a quick clean up with a damp kleenex (if Daisy hasn't beat us to it), she has had no health issues. I wonder if this cat is Bengal and some major-allergen-producing breed? Could that be? She's an F4, as Bengals go, but I remember her father from when we picked her up. He was in a very large crate at the time, and was pacing like a tiger and mrrrowing like crazy - he was lithe, covered in clear rosettes, and gorgeous. Not much like my little fat furball. I saw her mother then as well, and for the life of me cannot remember anything about her.
The cats get along like wildfire, cuddling and grooming each other, etc. I'd had Daisy for a few years previous but they took to each other right away (as evidenced here with Pandora as a kitten)
. Daisy is an obsessive cuddler. She has slept on my head, in my arms, on my chest, around my neck, etc. I can pet her for hours and unless hair flies right into my face repeatedly, I experience no issues (even then, just a bit of an itchy nose is the result). I can pet Daisy and rub my eyes without even thinking, and suffer nothing from it. Then there is Pandora. I didn't notice it much when she was a kitten, but over the years I have learned to never, EVER, touch anywhere near my eyes after petting her. Because it will cause the greatest, most severe itching known to humankind. Seriously, I nearly want to take my eyes out and scrub them down with a good brush, they itch so badly. If she is next to me and I'm petting her, pieces of her hair need only float across my face and I find myself sneezing several times in a row, with that "need to sneeze" feeling lasting for ages afterward. If I have been petting her, and my nose itches, and I scratch it? Immediate sneezing. It's ridiculous, and easy to replicate, as it happens every single time. I still pet her, but I mind where the shed hair ends up, and make sure I don't waft it back my way if possible.
The interesting thing is that she affects everyone in the house in such a way (with varying severity - the sneezing seems more mine alone but the itching universal). My husband and son also have no issues with Daisy, but after petting Pandora - we ALL wash our hands. It's fairly common to hear my husband say, as he gets off the couch to go to the bathroom, "I have to wash my hands, my eyes have been Pandora'd." As far as I know, neither my son nor my husband have ever shown or experienced any cat allergies.
Pandora is a bit soft in the head, we think, but we love her dearly. Both cats are soft in the head, actually, but with Daisy it's more like, "Oh dear, I forgot who you are and will run away, but when you lie down I will climb on your chest and make you pet me til your hands ache." With Pandora it's things like her drifting into sleep while she has one leg in the air, mid grooming. Well, not sleep exactly, more like that smiley eyes shut drifty look cats get when they're happy. Only, you know, one hind leg up, the other straight out, front paws spread, and just....sitting there. She also seems to lack the judgement that allows most cats to know a safe jumping height or distance, and sometimes will attempt a couple times to jump onto things before making it (unless we see her, in which case she acts like she meant to do that). She has Bengal like markings, she is highly vocal like a Bengal, and she is not affectionate, or at least not in a standard way - she loves to purr up next to you and knead her favorite blanket, but if you pet her, she may just walk away and purr on the other side of the couch. In the last few years she has become more affectionate, and will actually sit still while we pet her, which we attribute to her finally deciding we are acceptable humans. Sometimes the skin on her back twitches when you pet it, and occasionally I wonder if we should get her skin checked, but with no other symptoms...I just haven't pursued that with the vet yet. She meows if you talk to her, meows if you pet her, meows if you are fetching her food, meows when she sees you walk in. She will converse at length on only one subject: Meow.
I've done some research and found articles positing that dark colored cats have more allergens. That male cats have more. She is neither (well a bit dark). Also I found several sites reporting Bengals have LESS allergens, and are safer for those with allergies. Which I find laughable in light of this one, Queen Pandora of the Sneeze mountains, master of all powers burning and itchy. I know Bengals are not really a "pure" breed, but a manufactured one by crossing Asian Leopard Cats with domestic felines, so if there is a cat that tends to produce more allergens, perhaps there's one in her family tree? The breeder is long out of business and I wouldn't know how to reach her, so that's not an option. I believe I had papers on her lineage (the cat's, not the breeder's) at one stage, but I've lost them over the years. In truth, I see her with many Bengal traits, and love her for being her, and it never crossed my mind to care much beyond that. She was spayed as soon as she was old enough for it, and I never considered breeding her.
As I've said, I love this cat, as I do all my animals, and would never dream of "rehoming" her. I'm fine living with it, and having her in my life is well worth the occasional discomfort and extra hand washing. But I am curious. Does anyone know if certain breeds produce more allergens? Is it worth trying to (thankfully she's not reading this) bathe her, or brush her, or anything, to make her less...itch inducing? Has anyone else had experiences like this with particular breeds?
tl;dr version: What is causing my Bengal to aggravate my allergies to stupid degrees and induce allergic reactions from others with no history of allergies? Anything I can do to make it better? Anyone else seen such an issue with Bengals or other breeds of cat?
Photo time -
Cute sleepy Pandora with her blanket.
And Daisy, being less than dignified.
Bonus video link: Mighty pen killer.