You just left the doctor’s office after a diagnosis of allergies. Among those allergies was a severe reaction to cat dander. The doctor’s solution? Get rid of your cat!
“But…Fluffy is my family. I can’t give her away! Sorry, Doc! That’s not going to happen.”
Trust me, you are not alone…
According to the ASPCA, roughly 15–20% of the population is allergic to animals. That means countless numbers of pet owners end up in unhappy situations, because their own beloved pets are the cause, or at least part of the cause of their respiratory misery and skin breakouts. The majority of those people are allergic to cats.
Stanley Coren, PhD., DSc, FRSC, a psychologist writing in “Psychology Today’s” website edition, conducted a study on the health consequences of lifestyle. He isolated a sample of 341 adults who had been diagnosed as allergic to dogs and/or cats. All of them owned pets and had been told by their physicians to get rid of them, if they wanted to feel better.
A diagnosis of allergies isn’t likely to result in you or many others giving up the pet. But fortunately, there are other options to try that might lessen the symptoms.
What Actually Causes Your Allergies
Did you know that between 5–10 % of the human population has some kind of sensitivity to cats? You can’t fix it until you know what causes it.
The main cat allergen is a glycoprotein known as Fel d1. This glycoprotein is secreted from the animal’s saliva and skin and transmitted when the cat grooms itself. The particles of the protein are so tiny they can hang in the air, thus helping them to spread all that “allergy love” around as it falls on and clings to every surface.
Cats have 3 layers of hair: The top layer — or “guard” hair; the middle layer — or “awn” hair; and the bottom layer — or “down” hair. All of this fur means the cat is putting out more allergens into the environment.
Each cat differs as to how much of the protein they produce, and that’s why humans differ in their reaction to various cats. It’s also why some people say there are hypo-allergenic cat breeds.
The so-called hypo-allergenic cats don’t secrete as much of the Fel d1 protein as the other breeds. The protein they do secrete doesn’t have 3 layers of fur to harbor it and later shake it around the room, as other breeds might, but there could be enough allergens to upset your system.
So when someone tells you to get a Siberian or Russian Blue because they won’t bother your allergies, don’t believe it! You may or may not find that the breed causes you problems.
How You May be Able to Lessen Your Symptoms and Live Around Cats
If you plan to live with a cat even though you are allergic to them, it’s important to try to lessen your symptoms. Maybe you won’t completely eradicate them but hopefully, some of these suggestions will make your life easier.
- HEPA is the magic word. Install High Efficiency Particulate Air filters in your furnace/air handler, a room purifier, and your vacuum cleaner. You can even find HEPA air filters designed for your car! These filters will cut down on hair and dander floating around in your life and are worth everything to those who suffer from allergies.
- No cats allowed in your bedroom! Let another non-allergic family member snuggle with Fluffy at night.
- Have someone else in your home clean the litter box daily and bathe Kitty once a week. If you must do it yourself, at least wear an allergy mask to provide some protection for your lungs.
- Avoid upholstered furniture. Leather is easier to keep clean.
- Fill up your medicine cabinet! Keep a supply of non-drowsy products like Zyrtec® or Claritin® on hand to treat your allergy attacks. Benadryl works well for most people, but it could make you drowsy.
- A steam cleaner works best on tile floors. It does a better job of picking up pet protein particles than a vacuum cleaner. However, the vacuum with the HEPA filter works best for cat hair itself. Personal experience says to use both machines to get rid of cat dander and fur. If you must live with carpeting, plan to shampoo your carpets often to clean up as much cat fur as possible.
- As a last resort, talk to your doctor about allergy injections, or immunotherapy. You will be tested to pinpoint your exact allergies and then you will receive regular injections of the allergen/s to build up your immunity. These injections work for some but not for everyone.
Making Simple Living Changes Could Offer You and Your Cat Many Happy Years Together
Imagine your life without sniffing and sneezing, without struggling to catch your breath. Picture yourself lounging on your leather sofa in front of the television, with Fluffy napping nearby on her climbing tree. The air purifier in the corner works hard to remove cat dander and dust from the room. The scene is peaceful and you are sharing it with the kitty you love so much.
This could be your life if you decide to keep your cat after the doctor says the pet should go. Know that you do have options to improve your symptoms. Learn what caused your cat allergy and try some of the suggestions discussed above.
Once your other allergies are taken care of by the changes you make, you may find that with the help of some over-the-counter allergy meds, Fluffy’s presence in your home won’t bother you the way it did. The two of you will be able to enjoy each other’s company for many years.