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Living with Cat Allergies: A How-To Guide on Dealing with Symptoms

Updated: August 9, 2022 by Kristen Chapple

As small children, my siblings and I desperately wanted a cat, which naturally we would feed nothing but lasagna. Sadly, we were not allowed as my dad had cat allergies. But as a man who would do anything for his children, and after an awful lot of pestering, he decided to see if we could make it work.

When we introduced our first cat into the home, there were a lot of rules to follow to ensure our dad stayed as healthy and happy as our newest family member. Quickly we got into a routine that worked, and we became a cat household.

While it is usually best to avoid being a cat owner if you suffer from cat allergies, it is possible to coexist with cats in a home if you do. Read on to find out more about how cat allergies actually work and what you can do to make sharing a home with a feline pet possible when you have allergies.

What Are Cat Allergies?

About one in ten people have cat allergies, and it is about twice as common to be allergic to a cat than a dog. Despite that, most people don’t really understand cat allergies, assuming that the problem has something to do with the pet’s hair. But while cat hair is one transmitter of the root cause of allergies, it is not the source of the problem.

The root cause is a protein called Fel 1 d, which emanates from the sebaceous glands of cats. This protein is transferred to the skin when cats clean themselves, and is attached to dry skin, called dander, which cats then shed.

This dander makes its way into the air, where we can breathe it in, and we can also be exposed directly to the protein when our pet licks us or we come into contact with urine. Dander can also exacerbate asthma symptoms, though this is not the same as being allergic.

But this also means that the idea of hypoallergenic cats is a bit of a myth. While hairless and short-haired cats do tend to produce less dander, there is no such thing as a dander-free cat.

Cat Allergy Symptoms

Fortunately, cat allergies are rarely life-threatening (unlike nut allergies, for example), but they can cause a lot of discomfort. Symptoms include:

  • Coughing and wheezing
  • Runny, itchy, stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy red eyes
  • A rash of hives on the chest and face
  • Redness of the skin where your pet has scratched or bitten you
  • Fatigue

Symptoms can appear within minutes of coming into contact with the offensive protein, or can take a few hours to develop. This means that it can sometimes be difficult to identify cats as the root cause of the problem. But if you experience these symptoms, a skin or blood allergy test can confirm whether cats are the source of the problem.


Managing Cat Allergies

While sharing a home with a cat is not recommended if you have a cat allergy, it is possible to manage things in such a way that you can cohabit with a cat if the need (and desire) calls for it.

Do not assume that if you force yourself to cohabit with a feline companion for a while you will simply get used to it. Cat allergies do not go away, and if anything, without proper management, they will get significantly worse.

Manage Your Symptoms

The first thing to do is to manage your symptoms with over-the-counter medications. Antihistamines, such as the type used for hayfever, can provide effective relief to congestion, as can decongestants that contain pseudoephedrine and nasal steroid sprays such as those used to treat asthma.

Allergy shots are another option, but they are not always effective and treatment can take a number of years, so this should really only be considered if you are making a long-term commitment to living with a cat.

Start using allergy treatments a few weeks before the cat enters the home. It is much easier to manage allergy symptoms from the outset than try and reverse them after they have taken hold.

Once the cat is in the home, you should avoid direct contact with the kitty as much as possible. So, sadly no cuddles, and you should not let it lick you or rub up against you.

Manage Your Household

As well as managing your symptoms, you should manage your household in such a way that limits your exposure to the offensive dander.

Designate Cat-Free Zones

First, limit the areas of the house that the furball can access so that you have some relatively ‘dander-free’ zones. These rooms should include where you sleep, the kitchen, and the bathroom, as well as any place that you spend a lot of time, such as a home office. Cats should also be encouraged to spend time outdoors, rather than constantly being in the home.

Avoid Dander Traps

Some household decor is more likely to trap dander, and therefore, increasing your exposure to it, than others. Carpets and upholstered furniture, in particular, will pick up dander. You will then kick up the dander as you walk across the carpet, and your skin will come into contact with the dander as you sit on the couch.

Where possible remove carpets and avoid upholstered furniture. Cover furniture and floors with throws and rugs that can be washed in hot water in order to wash dander away. Naturally, these should be cleaned regularly.


Clean, Clean, Clean

In a cat allergy home, cleanliness is next to godliness. Regular cleaning is the best way to minimize dander in the home. Vacuum, sweep, and mop regularly, and use a vacuum with a HEPA filter, as the filters on other vacuums may not be fine enough to capture the offensive particles.

With a poor quality filter, vacuuming can actually release dander particles into the air, making the problem worse. Use a face mask while cleaning to help avoid this problem, and invest in an air filter to help reduce the amount of dander circulating around the house.

Clean Your Cat

While most cats won’t let you bathe them, if they do, a regular bath is another good way to keep dander under control. More effective than a bath can be products such as Petal Cleanse.

This is a cleanser that removes the problematic protein from a cat’s coat and also moisturizes and conditions the skin to minimize shedding. It has been shown that using products like this can reduce allergy symptoms by up to 90 percent.

Delegate Responsibility

The person suffering from cat allergies in the household should not be left with the responsibility of caring for the cat. They need to avoid touching their pet as much as possible and being responsible for activities such as feeding them especially raw cat food will simply encourage the cat towards the person.

The cat allergy household member should also not be asked to do things such as clean the litter tray, as urine contains the same problematic protein, and therefore, should also be avoided.

Choose Your Cat

While there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic cat, some cats do seem to be worse for cat allergies than others. For example, male cats tend to produce more of the protein than female cats and are more likely to cause a reaction.

Cats that spend a lot of time indoors will leave more of their dander in the home that outdoor cats, so cats such as Persians that largely need to stay inside should also be avoided. There is also anecdotal evidence that dark-haired cats are worse for allergies than light-haired cats, but there does not seem to be any hard science to back this one up.


Is It Worth It?

While it is entirely possible to share a home with a kitty if you have a cat allergy, is it really worth doing so? It is worth exposing yourself to something that can damage your health for the sake of feline companionship? This is, of course, entirely down to the individual to decide.

Cats can bring a lot of joy and tranquility to the home. They have also been shown to reduce mental health and stress issues in the people they live with, and can help improve sleeping habits.

Having a cat in the home with children can not only improve their mental health but minimize their likelihood of developing allergies to it in the future. So, there are many good reasons to embrace the idea of having a feline pet in your home, even if you have allergies. But in the end, everyone is different and the decision is down to the individual.

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