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Eleven million people are allergic to cats alone. About 15% of us are allergic to animals.
People who love pets and don't have allergies should not become complacent. "You can develop an allergy at any time," Derek K. Johnson, MD, director of allergy and immunology at Temple University Children's Medical Center, tells WebMD. "That's why it's important to know what causes pet allergies. It's the flakes from the animal's skin, called dander, not the fur. So even if it's a bald cat, you can be allergic."
The animal's saliva on the fur from cleaning itself or on your skin from slobbery kisses can also incite a reaction. Pet urine can also be a culprit.
"To be exact," Pamela A. Georgeson, MD, a board-certified allergist at the Kenwood Allergy and Asthma Center in Chesterfield Township, Mich., tells WebMD, "a lot of people are allergic to a cat protein called FEL-d1 found in dander and saliva."
Allergies are more commonly caused by cats, says Dean C. Mitchell, MD, a board-certified allergist in practice in New York.
"I have had people come to me from all walks of life," he continues. "Some people can't even go to Thanksgiving at a house with a pet. I see veterinarians with allergies, pet groomers."