By: Tawnya Summers, Cat Owner with Allergies, BA (Hon.)
For those of us who love our cats more than anything in the world, allergies can be an incredibly painful thing to go through. I don’t just mean physically; realizing that you are allergic to your cat is emotionally and mentally painful as well! Our animals are part of our family, they are our furry children, and we want to do whatever we can (often against our doctor’s wishes) to keep them with us!
If you suspect you may be allergic to your cat, the first thing to do is of course, talk to your doctor. We would NEVER recommend putting your health last – if your allergies are so severe that simply being at home with your cat causes your lungs to fill with fluid, it may be time to take the unfortunate road to re-homing.
If you’re like me, and your allergies range from mild to uncomfortably moderate, here are some things you can do to make life easier for you, while keeping your babies around:
- What’s in an Allergy? Do your research first – are you actually allergic to the cat? Sometimes, especially if you allow your cat outdoors (don’t!), your cat may be carrying things in its fur that are causing your allergic reaction. Dust mites, pollen, grass, or oils can get trapped in your cat’s fur. The contents from the litter can linger on her feet and legs. It might be worth doing little bit of scouting and making some changes within the home, before you consider that she’s fully to blame.
- Medicate. Antihistamines are available over the counter for you to enjoy! You can also get them by prescription (I have an equivalent to Reactine).Be sure to read the labels and talk to a health professional if you have any questions. Common antihistamines you can buy over the counter are Benadryl, Claritin, Reactine, or Allegra. Newer over-the-counter antihistamines like Allerga have less side effects, whereas older tablets like Benadryl can cause drowsiness. Other forms of anti-allergen medications you can buy are nasal sprays, eye drops, and allergy injections or immunotherapy.
- Be Prepared. I have an inhaler prescribed by my doctor and carry it, as well as my antihistamines, with me at all times. If I am simply sitting at home with my cats, I won’t exhibit any symptoms of my allergies. After a heavy brushing session, I may need to use my inhaler to open my inflamed airways and take a Reactine to clear up my watery, itchy eyes. You can prepare for things like brushing ahead of time – take your cat to the groomers, or have your brother come over to do it!
- Know your Triggers. The common belief is that people are only allergic to DANDER. But what is dander? Cat dander is made up of skin cells, saliva, proteins from the body, dandruff, and even oils from the skin. If my cat’s skin touches my skin, it may become red and irritated. When she licks me, I sometimes develop an itchy bump, similar to a mosquito bite. I am more allergic to short-haired cats, where the dandruff and skin cells are easily accessible to my skin. Knowledge as simple as that helps me prevent symptoms; I could adopt only long-haired cats, and wash my hands immediately after petting my cat.
- Cleanliness is next to Catliness. Good hand hygiene will save your sanity! Always be cognizant of where your hands are. If you’ve been playing with kitty or petting her, don’t touch your face. Head straight to the sink and wash your hands! Keep your bedding clean by washing weekly. Change your pillow cases frequently if kitty sleeps with you. Keep her litter away from common areas, and keep the litter room clean. Litter often carries dust or other allergens. You can even try corn, wheat, or newspaper based litter.
- HEPA Filters. The cleaner your air, the easier it’ll be for you to breathe. I have an air purifier next to my bed, because I shamefully allow my cats to sleep in my room. Small and powerful filters aren’t expensive, and can be placed in the living room, bedroom, or the cat room!
- Quality Furniture. Don’t choose upholstered sofas! Upholstery traps dander and fur, as well as dust and other allergens. Leather furniture isn’t always first choice, as cats may leave claw marks, but cat hair glides right off and onto the floor. Kitchen chairs should not have padding to prevent your kitty from hanging out there. You can also invest in some pretty cool allergen-reducing furniture. I have a friend who has an anti-spill, anti-scratch, anti-fur couch. I wish I could remember the name of it for you, but you’ll find it! To keep cat hair limited to one place, you could even have a designated armchair just for her! If it’s the only comfy place around, you can be sure she’ll choose it.
- Floors and Furnishings. There are a few more things you can do to reduce allergens and cat hair, and make your life more comfortable around the house. Get rid of the carpets! If this isn’t an option, vacuum weekly with a specialty vacuum made for spall-particles or pet hair. Shampoo your carpet frequently. Cover your vents with cheese cloth or similar to prevent the fur from blowing all over the house. Get rid of the horizontal blinds, where cat hair can settle. Clean your curtains and shades frequently. Choose furniture that is easy to clean, and dust often. You can even skip the carpeted cat trees by installing a series of shelves for your cats to climb on (see: Catification).
- Keep Kitty Healthy! As I mentioned above, dander is a mix of everything from cat fur to cat oils. The better your cat eats, the better her skin and fur will be. It’s sort of like how more Vitamin E can make your hair healthier. Healthier cats are less likely to shed dander, and you can use a range of products, such as peanut oil, to keep dandruff at bay. The better she’s eating, the better she will feel – and it will show! Brush her regularly (or have someone else do it) with an undercoat catching comb to keep fur from flying. I don’t personally recommend shaving your cat, though some allergy suffers will swear by it. Because my triggers are skin flakes and saliva, I found shaving my long haired cat exposed me to more allergens than if I had left her long.
- Cat-Free Territory. You should always have a room that can stay relatively cat-free. When I lived with my brother, it amazed me how much better I could breathe when I opened his door to grab something. It might be your office, spare bedroom, heck, it might even be your bathroom! This room should be afforded the same amount of care as the rest of your house – no upholstered furniture, carpet, cleanliness… allergies often come in groups. If you’re allergic to cats, chances are you’re allergic to dust mites or other allergens in the home. Many doctors will recommend you keep YOUR bedroom cat-free. I strongly suggest this, though I don’t follow it. If you are getting a new cat, start right from the beginning at making your room the place you can sleep best – without cat dander and without cats waking you up at night!