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.
Depending on the severity of the allergy, symptoms can range from mild upper respiratory discomfort to a full blown anaphylactic shock reaction.
What causes cat allergies?
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). 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.
How to cope with symptoms and enjoy life with cats
Even though allergy sufferers may not be able to completely eliminate symptoms, there are a lot of things they can do to cope with symptoms and still enjoy the companionship of cats.
- Modify your environment. Use air purifiers in your home. Restrict your cat’s access to certain parts of your home, especially the bedroom. Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter and vacuum floors and furniture frequently. Steam cleaners are also a good option for hardwood and tile floors. Eliminate as much of the carpeting in your home as you can. Carpet can accumulate up to 100 times the amount of cat allergens as hardwood flooring.
- Brush and groom your cat regularly. Regular brushing will get rid of dander. If your cat is an indoor/outdoor cat, brush her outside so loose dander can just blow away. Bathing is stressful for most cats, and it is not effective to remove allergens unless done every day. Use unscented baby wipes or wipes made for pets instead.
- Keep the litter box clean. Cat allergen is found in urine. To help prevent allergic reactions to the litter box, use a litter with low dust. If possible, have someone in the household who is not allergenic clean the box.
- Feed a high quality diet. Feeding a species-appropriate premium grain-free canned or raw diet will keep your cat’s coat and skin healthy and minimize dander and shedding. While there is no scientific evidence, people who are allergic to cats seem to have a diminished reaction when they are around cats who are fed a raw meat diet.
- Allergy medications help relieve symptoms. Over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines, decongestants, eye drops and aerosol inhalers will help reduce the symptoms, although they do not eliminate the allergy. Unfortunately, most of these drugs also come with side effects such as drowsiness or nausea.
- Immunotherapy (allergy shots): Immunotherapy helps the body get used to allergens. They do not cure allergies, but gradually alleviate and in some cases completely eliminate symptoms.
Natural relief for allergy sufferers
Natural remedies such as nettle tea, a bioflavinoid called quercetin, or acupuncture can help alleviate symptoms. Antioxidants such as Vitamins C and E have been shown to have significant anti-allergen effects. Consult with a holistic physician, naturopath or homeopath for remedies that will alleviate your specific symptoms.
Making the changes necessary to be able to live with cat allergies and cats may require some effort, but isn’t the effort worth it if it means being able to keep your feline companions?
This article was previously published on Answers.com, and is republished with permission.