Suffering from Kitty “Cat-choos?”

While the members of the kitty kingdom like to think we’re better than dogs on every level known to humankind, we’re not very happy about the unenviable distinction that the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America has bestowed upon us that reports how cats cause allergy problems for people on a level that’s nearly double the rates associated with canine-related allergies. Based on research conducted by NCPPSP, the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, allergies are also listed as a main reason why cats are surrendered to animal shelters on a level that’s more than four times greater than why dogs are relinquished (~18% compared to only ~4%). Although many shelter-bound, allergy-causing cats are “given up” fairly soon after being added to the family (~13% within one month), time doesn’t necessarily ease the pain as ~15% have lived with their human companions for more than five years before they arrive at a shelter due to allergy-related reasons.

Tips for Coping with Cat-Induced Allergies

Just what is it that causes people to be allergic to cats? Purr-sonally, we felines think that some of you are just faking it and trying to take away from the attention that should instead be paid to us and not to your “cat-choos,” runny noses, and red eyes. However, we do acknowledge that there are those of you who do experience a not-so-pleasant physical reaction to us.

Purr-haps the biggest misunderstanding that people have though, is that such problems are due to their encounters with our fur. The reality of the situation is that your allergies to us are actually brought on by a number of proteins that are found in our saliva, urine, and dried flakes of microscopic skin that humans like to refer to as “dander” (which is NOT the same thing as dandruff). You should also know that dander is not only capable of being airborne, but it’s also considered to be pretty “sticky” stuff. That means you can encounter dander in places where cats might not even have been, but where it has been brought in simply by being attached to other people or objects that were near cats.

By taking what I like to refer to as a “three-pawed” approach, it really is quite possible to manage the allergies someone might have to cats. It basically involves treating one’s self, one’s home, and any cats in one’s home (or that they might encounter elsewhere). Let’s break it down by cat-egory.

Treating Yourself

  1. If you haven’t already done so, medically verify that your allergies truly are cat-related. Please don’t just assume that they are. You might just be pleasantly (or purr-haps not-so-pleasantly) surprised at the results of any allergy testing you have done.
  2. If you are indeed allergic to cats, your doctor might recommend treatment options that include the use of medications (over-the-counter as well as prescription ones) including various antihistamines (e.g., Benadryl), decongestants (e.g., Sudafed), and steroids (e.g., Flonase). It might take a while to figure out what’s best for you, so be sure to work closely with your doctor during the “trial-and-error” process.
  3. Your doctor might also suggest what’s known as “immunotherapy” or what humans simply prefer to call “allergy shots.” Although it doesn’t work for everyone, this somewhat lengthy approach (we’re talking “years” here, not months) is often quite effective as it attempts to make a person more resistant/immune to the things they’re allergic to, instead of simply masking/suppressing their symptoms (much like many of the above mentioned medications do).
  4. Even if you think your cat allergies are under control or “no big deal,” don’t go crazy petting and “man-handling” your cats (or other cats you encounter). Better safe than sorry, so love us from afar. We’ll understand. And if you just can’t resist our charm and beauty, be sure to wash your hands quickly – and thoroughly – after you do touch us.
  5. This might sound silly, but – if you simply find us irresistible, take the time to change into some clothes that you’ve specifically set aside to wear only when you’re “up close and personal” with us. Choose items that can be easily washed and that don’t have lots of “nooks and crannies” for our dander to get stuck in. Wash those clothes often and by themselves. You’ll be glad you did.
  6. Some people swear that simply being patient is all that’s needed to overcome allergies to cats. While we can’t guarantee that things will get better for you with the passage of time, it can happen if your body’s immunity gets stronger as you continue to be exposed to the allergens that affect you.
  7. While not yet available, there is a vaccine in the works specifically for people who are allergic to cats. Safety and effectiveness trials are still underway, but the hope is that it will be on the market by 2014. We’d like to think that its release will purr-haps make this entire discussion a mute point. Paws crossed that it does.

Treating Your Home

  1. As much as you might not want to hear this – clean often and clean everything, from wiping down the walls to washing your bedding in hot (140+ degree) water.
  2. While it would be best if someone else could do the cleaning for you (we admit it – we like having human “servants” too), if you have to do it, wear gloves and purr-haps even a mask.
  3. “De-fabric” your life as much as possible so there are fewer places for our “sticky” dander to cling to. Consider getting rid of carpets, curtains, and upholstered furniture altogether. Otherwise, use such things as throw rugs and slipcovers that can be washed and/or that have “low pile” so they can be vacuumed more thoroughly. (These are great: Alexa Corner Cat Tree & Madison Cat Tree)
  4. When you dust, use an “electrostatic” cloth (think along the lines of a Swiffer), but be careful how you wash them if they’re re-usable. Some cleaning products, like “anti-static” dryer sheets, will make electrostatic cloths useless at “trapping” allergens.
  5. When you vacuum (scary beast that such a machine is), use one with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter or an “electrostatic” disposable bag. An occasional steam-cleaning is also a good idea.
  6. HEPA filters aren’t just limited to your vacuum cleaner. Consider using them in your central air and/or heating systems (if possible) and/or use individual filters on each vent. Small HEPA air purifiers can also be placed in rooms that your cat(s) use most often.
  7. When it comes to litter box cleaning, think like a cat and use your allergies to your benefit by asking someone else to do it for you. Sneaky, huh? Seriously though, whoever does it, clean it often and consider using a clumping type of litter or at least one that’s “low dust” and/or perfume-free. (Two great options: Purr Simple All-Natural Kwik Klump Cat Litter & Feline Fresh Natural Pine Cat Litter ) Introduce your cat(s) to new types of litter slowly though – otherwise you might have more than allergies to deal with (don’t say we didn’t warn you).
  8. Anti-allergen room sprays also exist, so consider using them on a routine basis. Just be prepared for us to potentially go into hiding once you start spraying the stuff.

Treating Your Cat(s)

  1. It pains me to say this, but studies have shown that spaying and neutering your cat can actually cause a decrease in your allergies. Supposedly, “fixed” cats produce fewer allergens than un-altered ones. Female cats have also been shown to create less allergens than male cats – something to keep in mind if you’re actually thinking of adopting a cat.
  2. There’s some debate among human beings about certain breeds of cats being “hypo-allergenic,” which would make them less likely to cause allergic reactions. We’ll let you do your own homework and decide for yourself if one type of cat might be better for your specific needs and/or desires. That’s simply a cat fight we’d rather avoid.
  3. Again – as much as I hate to encourage such behavior, brushing and bathing your cat(s) can also potentially help reduce the level of allergens they’re distributing around the house. Even a simple daily “wipe down” with a wet washcloth can make quite a difference. Various “wipes” and “coat sprays” also exist that can help control allergen levels. If someone else can’t do this for you, consider wearing gloves and/or a mask whenever you groom your cat.
  4. Feed your cat(s) high quality food to ensure that their coat condition is in tip-top shape and to reduce shedding. And no – I’m not ashamed to admit that’s my favorite tip.
  5. As much as I might not like to admit this, there are undeniable benefits to confining your cat(s) to certain areas of your home to minimize your potential exposure to their allergen “trails.” I think I can speak for ALL cats when I say that – as much as we might not like such living conditions – this is a MUCH better option for us than being left to fend for ourselves outdoors 24/7/365 or, even worse, to be surrendered to the local animal shelter due to your uncontrolled allergies. At the very least, keep us out of your bedroom where you spend so much of your time (no offense intended, as we too are huge fans of sleeping).
  6. Although somewhat out of your control, be prepared for guests to visit your home that might bring in some “tag-along” cat allergens. Have a plan in effect to clean up after they leave, if that’s possible. Along the same line, if you’re planning short visits to places that have cats, be prepared by doing such things as having your allergy medications on hand and/or changing your clothes as soon as possible. For longer visits – purr-haps to the home of cat-loving family or friends – don’t hesitate to ask your host/hostess to help you in managing your allergies during your stay.

Whatever methods you use to help control your cat-related allergies, we wish you the greatest levels of success. While we’d be lying if we didn’t admit to the pleasure we take in “mentally toying with you” – like shredding the toilet paper as if it was our own personal ticker tape purr-ade or occasionally barfing up a hairball in your slipper – we of the cat kingdom truly take no pleasure whatsoever in making our human servants physically ill. We simply hope that – should the day arrive when you’re told that you are indeed allergic to cats – you’ll give some of these tips a try before you decide that life with a cat is no longer possible. We like to think we’re worth the extra effort and we have a sneaking suspicion that most people reading this probably feel the same way.