Pet allergies are pretty common, but if your fluffy house cat leaves you sneezing and dabbing your watery eyes, does that mean you’d also be allergic to big cats in the wild?
It’s more than likely. While there’s not a lot of research on this, there is evidence that big cats like lions, tigers, and cheetahs have similar allergens to domestic cats.
To understand why, you first need to understand what makes you allergic to cats. The trigger isn’t actually their hair, but rather dander (dead skin cells which cats shed.) Cat dander contains a protein called Fel d 1, which can be found in the sebaceous glands of their skin, as well as their saliva and urine.
Since cats groom themselves by licking, that protein constantly gets released into the air, where unlucky humans get exposed to it and it triggers an immune response.
A study from 1990 found that the dander from big cats contains a similar protein. The study, which was published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology looked at eight different cat species from the Felidae family — ocelot, puma, serval, Siberian tiger, lion, jaguar, snow leopard, and caracal. The researchers then exposed people to the dander to see what would happen.
Those who were allergic to cats also had an allergic reaction to the dander from the big cats, although it wasn’t as strong. If you’re an allergy sufferer, that means you’re most likely fine to take a trip to the zoo. However, there have been cases of people struggling to breathe even around big cats so you might not want to get too close — for more reasons than one.