Living with cat allergies, and cats

black and white cat with flowers

When someone is allergic to cats, the most common advice given by physicians is to get rid of the cat. Allergies are also one of the top five reasons why cats are returned to shelters. However, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, nearly 10 million people choose to share their homes with cats and dogs despite being allergic.

Contrary to what most people believe, cat allergies are not caused by cat hair, but  by a protein found in a cat’s saliva, urine and dander (dried flakes of skin). How could one tiny little protein cause the wheezing, sneezing, runny eyes, hives, asthma and even breathing problems that some people experience when they’re around cats? People with allergies have oversensitive immune systems that mistake harmless things like cat dander for dangerous invaders, and mount the same response as they would against bacteria or viruses. The symptoms of the allergy are the side effects of the body’s battle against the perceived threat.

Even though you may never be able to get rid of your allergy symptoms, you don’t have to give up your cat. There are a lot of things you can do to help you cope with allergy symptoms and still enjoy the love and companionship of your cat.

Petfinder.com offers the following tips:

    1. Designate your bedroom as a cat-free zone. Begin your program of allergen reduction by washing bedding, drapes and pillows. Better yet, replace them. Use plastic covers that are designed to prevent allergens from penetrating on your mattress and pillows. Allergen-proof covers are available from medical supply outlets. Don’t expect results overnight. Cat allergens are one-sixth the size of pollens, and it may take months to reduce them significantly.
    2. Restrict your cat’s access to designated areas inside your home. If you have a safe outdoor enclosure, allow your cat some time outside where dander will waft away in the wind. Brush your cat in the fresh-air enclosure to prevent loose, allergen-carrying hair from dispersing through your home.
    3. Eliminate allergen traps such as upholstered furniture and rugs. Carpet can accumulate up to 100 times the amount of cat allergens as hardwood flooring, so replacing the wall-to-wall with wood will keep allergens from accumulating as much. If ripping up the carpet is not an option, have it steam cleaned as often as needed.
    4. Vacuuming blows as many allergens through the air as it removes, so when you vacuum, use an allergen-proof vacuum cleaner bag or a vacuum cleaner with a high efficiency particulate arresting (HEPA) filter.
    5. Get some fresh air. Highly insulated homes trap allergens as well as heat, so open the windows to increase the ventilation in your home, and run window fans on exhaust. (But remember to always screen windows so kitty stays safely indoors.) Also, clean the air inside your home. Although nothing will remove all of the allergens present, running an air cleaner with a HEPA filter will help.
    6. Wipe the dander away. Bathing a cat often is suggested as a way to reduce the dander, but experts disagree on its effectiveness. “Bathing a cat was once believed to be helpful,” say Dr. Robert Zuckerman, an allergy and asthma specialist in Harrisburg, PA, “but the cat would have to be washed almost daily.” Instead, daily use of products such as Pal’s Quick Cleansing Wipes™ will remove saliva and dander from your cat’s hair and are less stressful for felines who prefer not to be rubbed in the tub.
    7. Spray allergens away. Anti-allergen sprays are a convenient way to deactivate allergens, including those produced by pets. Allersearch ADS, made from plant-based, non-toxic substances, can be sprayed throughout the house to take the sting out of household dust by rendering allergens harmless.
    8. Clean the cat box. Cat allergen is found in urine and is left in the litter box when your cat makes a deposit. To help prevent allergic reactions to the litter box, use a brand of litter that is less dusty and have someone in the household who is not allergenic clean the box.
    9. Take your medicine. Over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines, decongestants, eye drops and aerosol inhalers will help reduce the symptoms, although they do not eliminate the allergy. If you prefer to take a holistic approach, try Nettle tea, a bioflavinoid called quercetin or acupuncture. In recent studies antioxidants such as Vitamins C and E have demonstrated significant anti-allergen effects.
    10. Get tested. An allergy specialist can determine the exact source of your allergic reactions by a simple prick of the skin on your arm or back.
    11. Look at the whole picture. Because allergies rarely come individually wrapped, other culprits, such as dust mites and pollen, may be causing reactions, too. “An individual rarely has a single allergy,” says Zuckerman. “A cat owner may be able to tolerate contact with the cat in winter, but when spring arrives, all the allergies together may prove unbearable.”
    12. Build up resistance. There is no cure for allergy to cats, but immunotherapy may help increase your tolerance. Immunotherapy involves getting allergy shots once or twice weekly for up to six months, then monthly boosters for three to five years. Some individuals develop complete immunity, while others continue to need shots, and still others find no relief at all.

There may also be hope in the form of a vaccine for allergy sufferers. Science Daily reports that researchers have developed a vaccine that successfully treats people with an allergy to cats. The vaccine, developed by immunologist Mark Larché, professor in the Department of Medicine in the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine and Canada Research Chair in Allergy & Immune Tolerance, is said to be effective and safe with no side effects. Read the entire report about the vaccine on Science Daily’s website.

Are you living with cat allergies and cats? What has helped you?

Image: morguefile.com

Related reading:

Natural allergy relief

Allergy relief from a Neti Pot

 

22 Comments on Living with cat allergies, and cats

  1. Shannon
    September 2, 2011 at 7:09 pm (6 years ago)

    Excellent post. I’m mildly allergic to my cats, but have developed immunity to them (though I still get allergic to other people’s cats sometimes.) I am successfully following many of your tips – I have tile floors which are swept and mopped weekly, animal bedding is laundered weekly, and the cats are not allowed in the bedroom.

    I’ve also had success with some of the anti-allergen sprays available (spraying on upholstery.) Haven’t tried the pillow covers idea yet, but that will be next!

    It *is* possible to live with cats and allergies! It just takes a little bit more work is all.

    Reply
  2. Rick
    September 1, 2011 at 6:56 am (6 years ago)

    I spent most of my life allergic to cats and therefore hated them even though I would never hurt one. It wasn’t until I had a mini-stroke that they found a cyst in my sinus cavities that was reacting to cat dander. Controlling the cyst (can’t be removed) controlled the allergies and now i have two beautiful fur-buddies living with me, both rescues. Sometimes it takes severe turns in one’s life to find things otherwise missed. I know it’s odd to say you are grateful for something bad but the mini-stroke gave me a chance to enjoy something I never could before, a cat’s love.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      September 1, 2011 at 7:20 am (6 years ago)

      I’m sorry that it took a mini stroke for you to find out that you could live with cats, Rick, but I’m so glad you now get to experience the love of not just one, but two cats.

      Reply
  3. jen
    August 29, 2011 at 3:57 pm (6 years ago)

    i am allergic to everything (dust, pollen, spores, trees, shrubs, grasses, and all animals) and i’m asthmatic. i get hives when dogs lick me, or when i’m exposed to any allergen especially when my immune system is low. i’ve tried all kind of over-the-counter and prescription medications. i am a petsitter though (i grew up with animals and i love them to death, so i deal w/ my allergies). but anyways, what i found really helps is i have a hepa room air filter and i use the neti-pot. i keep the room air filter in my bedroom, and i’m only in there to sleep usually. my two cats sleep with me on the bed (one even snuggles up to my face – which the doctor is horrified about but i can’t say no to my cats! haha). just with those two things i don’t have to take any OTC meds anymore. i still keep zyrtec on hand, but i don’t need to use it regularly (at one time, an allergist had me taking it twice a day!). what a difference an air filter and doing the neti pot regularly makes! 🙂

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 29, 2011 at 4:58 pm (6 years ago)

      I swear by my Neti-Pot, Jen. Even though I’m not allergic to cats, I do occasionally have an allergic reaction to something outside. A quick rinse with the Neti Pot removes the offender. I also haven’t had a cold in years, I regularly use my Neti Pot during cold and flu season.

      Reply
  4. Anna
    August 29, 2011 at 3:36 pm (6 years ago)

    We don’t have any allergic people in my family, thankfully (we’re all cat lovers and cat parents!), but thank you so much for all the precious advice… you never know! And it may come in handy when I hear people saying they have to get rid of a cat because their child/husband/wife/boyfriend is allergic! It’s great to read so many comments from your readers who have found ways to fight their allergies while living happily with their beloved cats!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 29, 2011 at 4:57 pm (6 years ago)

      Yes, please pass this on to anyone who thinks that being allergic means having to give up your cat, Anna.

      Reply
      • Mairi
        May 23, 2012 at 4:02 am (5 years ago)

        I just found out that my son is allergic to both cats and dogs and that his asthma is most likely being caused by our cat who lives indoors with us. Our dog spends most of the day outside but spends a lot of time indoors with me too. The doctor didn’t tell me to get rid of the cat but he said he didn’t recommend having it in the house so I was quite upset. Now that I’ve read this article though it gives me hope. Thank you so much. I live in Japan and wonder if immunotherapy shots are available here. I will have to do some more research on the topic because I love animals and I want my children to love them too.

        Reply
  5. Montana
    August 29, 2011 at 2:25 pm (6 years ago)

    I have asthma and am allergic to cats but I’ve been able to coexist with Montana in our home since we adopted him at nine weeks old. I’ve been doing immunotherapy (shots) and take an OTC recomended by my allergy/asthma doc and have no problems. I didn’t follow the advice of keeping him out of our bedroom because he’s slept with us since he was tiny and I’ve still been ok and since he’s an inside only cat we hate restricting him.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 29, 2011 at 4:56 pm (6 years ago)

      I think the advice of keeping cats out of the bedroom is probably the most ignored advice by allergy sufferers, Montana. I couldn’t do it, either.

      Reply
  6. Rachel
    August 29, 2011 at 12:27 pm (6 years ago)

    I am allergic to cats and dogs. And I live with two cats and a dog.

    I take OTC allergy medicine, have a HEPA air filter and use a HEPA vaccuum when I have the time. I also try to brush all the animals regularly so the shedded fur can be contained.

    I think it’s been working pretty well, although I don’t find it intolerable to live with a bit of a runny nose all the time. I’d prefer to breathe clearly of course, but given the tradeoff, I’d much rather have my animals.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 29, 2011 at 4:55 pm (6 years ago)

      I’m glad you found ways to manage your allergies, Rachel.

      Reply
  7. Mary S.
    August 29, 2011 at 8:57 am (6 years ago)

    I’ve used Homeopathy for years to successfully control my allergies. And you are very right that it is rarely just a cat allergy. My main offender is dust mites and tree/ragweed pollen. Cats were a very small part of the allergy equation. And the doctor had the nerve to tell me to “get rid” of my cats! I highly suggest finding a certified homeopath to work with as they can better determine the correct remedy for your specific needs.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 29, 2011 at 12:03 pm (6 years ago)

      Homeopathy can be a very powerful remedy and I would definitely consider it for allergy relief. I agree that working with an experienced homeopath is the best way to go about it.

      Reply
  8. caren gittleman
    August 29, 2011 at 8:12 am (6 years ago)

    thank you for this most informative post! I have read blogs in the past month where the writers had mentioned the possibility of having to give up their cat due to allergies and were wondering what to do.

    now I have your blog post to refer them to!

    Have a fabulous day!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 29, 2011 at 12:02 pm (6 years ago)

      Thanks, Caren. You have a wonderful day, too!

      Reply
  9. Marty
    August 29, 2011 at 8:04 am (6 years ago)

    I used to be very allergic to cats (hence why we never had them as pets) but my allergy is almost gone. I still get slightly sniffly and a scratchy throat, but no red itchy eyes, no wheezing, no sneezing! I am allergic to many outdoor plants and trees as well as dust mites and mold and some of that has been reduced as well. I had almost a year of allergy shots so perhaps that helped.

    I have a question. Cami had a yeast infection in her right ear and we got rid of that but then it started up in her left ear. Is this common in cats and what causes it? We’re currently treating it with antibiotic ointment but her ear is obviously sensitive and it’s a struggle getting the medicine where it needs to go, she shakes her head and squirms.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 29, 2011 at 12:01 pm (6 years ago)

      Marty, yeast infections have a tendency to recur if the underlying problem isn’t addressed, which can be anything from medications to diet to allergies. I’d take Cami back to your vet if this isn’t clearing up.

      Reply
  10. Rumpy Drummond
    August 29, 2011 at 7:06 am (6 years ago)

    My human doesn’t have allergies to cats, but she does have allergies. We’re going to try the nettle and see if it helps. Thanks!!!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 29, 2011 at 11:59 am (6 years ago)

      Let us know if that works for your human, Rumpy.

      Reply

1Pingbacks & Trackbacks on Living with cat allergies, and cats

  1. […] The San Francisco Chronicle reported on a new vaccine that can help reduce cat allergies in humans. The goal is to alter (and lessen) a person’s overall immune response to the protein in cat’s saliva that is the cause of the allergic reaction. Instead of many months of weekly shots, researchers are planning once-a-month treatments over a period of just a few months. Until the vaccine becomes available, you may find tips on how to manage your allergies without giving up your cat in my recent article Living With Cat Allergies, and Cats. […]

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