Tiger, lion, leopard, cheetah and so on, we refer to them as big cats.
It is true that they belong to the family of cats, but how many similarities do they actually have with our domestic cats?
To illustrate, let us first clarify the framework structure of the family of cats. Felidae is the family of cats. A member of this family is also called a felid. Living cats belong to subfamilies: Pantherinae – comprising the tiger, lion, jaguar, leopard, snow leopard and clouded leopards and Felinae – including all non-pantherine cats; ocelot, puma, domestic cat.
The question that interested us the most is whether an individual, who is allergic to pet cats, is likely to be allergic to “big cats” as well?
Grooming is one of the most common behaviors that greatly contribute to the domestic cat’s propensity to stimulate an allergic response in some humans. When the cat licks itself, it stimulates both its salivary glands as well as sebaceous glands in its skin, all of which produce a protein known as Fel d1. Another common allergen is Fel d4, which is primarily expressed via the cat’s saliva. While there are other potential allergens, these two are the primary things that cause an allergic reaction in some humans.
Since “Fel d1” can be found in cat saliva in large quantities and cats are almost always cleaning themselves, the allergen extends to carpets, beds, curtains and slowly but steadily throughout the house. Because this protein is produced by sebaceous glands in the cat’s skin, the general belief that cats without hair do not cause allergies is incorrect. Nevertheless, it is true that some cats produce more protein than others. Moreover, the emergence of Fel d1 is promoted by testosterone and therefore males produce more than females.
People are not allergic to cat fur but their saliva and protein in their skin
Allergy is therefore a response to the “allergen”. An allergen is a little foreign structure that somehow found itself in our body. The organism suspected that this little foreigner is quite threatening. Therefore, our immune system triggers an allergic response, which increases the production of histamine, which is very useful in fighting against diseases.
Now that we know what causes cat allergies in humans, does the same allergic reaction occur when humans are exposed to “big” cats?
In the study, the researchers focused on reactions to exposure to the hair of a variety of Felidae. They did so via examining blood samples from 11 patients strongly allergic to domestic cats. While a very limited sample-size, the team found that the domestic cat-allergic patients all reacted much more strongly to plain Fel d1, cat dander or cat serum, than they did to the big cat hair. However, most of the domestic-cat allergic people did react, at least a little, to the big cat hair, including the Siberian tiger, lion and snow leopard.
Interestingly the ocelot and puma, which are both closely related to the domestic cat, did not stir up stronger allergic reactions when compared with the lion and tiger which are in a separate sub-family. So at least with the limited data we have available so far, if you are allergic to domestic cats, it would seem you can expect to suffer lesser allergic reactions when encountering various big cats.
If you love cats but are allergic to them, you could consider purchasing a lion or a tiger, because they will cause less allergic reactions. Joke aside, we all know that wild animals must enjoy freedom and belong to nature!