How To Handle Being Allergic To Your Cat
Am I allergic to my cat?
The signs that you are allergic to your cat are the same as for other allergies. They can include coughing, wheezing, sneezing, runny nose, etc. One sure sign that kitty is the problem is a rash developing after the cat licks you.
Most people are allergic to cat dander, saliva, or urine. (Ironically, the second most common cause of allergy symptoms in housecats, after tobacco smoke, is human dander.
The only way to be sure the cat is the problem is to do a scratch test. Other possibilities to consider are house dust mite (the most common cause of indoor allergies), mold or insect pests such as cockroaches.
Do I have to get rid of my cat?
Getting rid of the cat is, of course, one option. However, not everyone wants to do so...and besides, there's the question of what might happen to the innocent feline. If your allergies are severe or potentially life threatening, then removing the cat may indeed be the only option, but for the vast majority of people there are alternatives.
However, these alternatives are not always easy and do require some work. They may also not eliminate your symptoms altogether.
What about a 'hypoallergenic' cat?
Hairless and rex cats are 'hypoallergenic' to the same degree poodles and other curly-haired dog breeds are (there is also, incidentally, a hypoallergenic horse breed, the Bashkir Curly).
Not everyone benefits from getting a hypoallergenic cat. If your allergy is to saliva and/or urine, then it will not help at all. These cats tend to be more expensive. There is also work being done on genetically engineering cats that produce different proteins and therefore don't trigger allergies....if you're willing to spend four figures for a cat.
If you want to try a hypoallergenic cat, then consider the following:
Despite being long-haired, Balinese, Javanese and Siberian cats appear to produce less of the problem proteins. Siberians seem to 'work' for a surprisingly high percentage of sufferers.
Cornish and Devon 'Rex' cats have poodle-style fur, but very little of it. They shed almost nothing.
Finally, there is the interesting option of the Sphynx...which has no fur at all. However, sphynx are fairly high maintenance - they need bathing a lot (think about how often you have to bathe yourself...)
Are some cats worse than others?
Hypoallergenic breeds aside, if you're selecting a cat when you have allergies, consider the following:
1. Male cats shed more allergen than females. Intact males shed even more, so if you do have a male cat, getting it neutered might help.
2. Dark colored cats shed more allergen than light colored ones.
3. Adults shed more than kittens, which is why some people only discover that they are allergic to a cat after owning one for a while.
Therefore, it's worth considering, when you get a new cat, getting a light colored female.
What can I do to reduce cat allergy symptoms?
1. Exclude the cat from the bedroom and never let it sleep on your bed. Give the cat a nice, comfortable den somewhere else in the house and keep the bedroom door closed.
2. Use HEPA air purifiers. These are expensive and need regular filter replacement, but they will take care of cat dander, dog dander and dust mite particles.
3. Vacuum regularly, ideally with a HEPA vacuum cleaner. This includes vacuuming furniture and cat furniture. The occasional use of a steam cleaner is also helpful.
4. Wash your hands right after petting your cat. Do not touch your eyes or face with hands that have cat fur on them, or you're transferring allergens right to where they do the most harm.
5. Keep your cat clean. Wiping the cat's fur down with a damp micro fiber cloth is more effective than bathing and less likely to get you scratched.
6. The litter box needs to be kept very clean, and should be cleaned by somebody who is not allergic. Always use clumping litter as it generates less dust. You could also consider a self-cleaning litter box.
7. Keep good air flow. Open windows when possible. If you can, set up a cat run outside so that you can let Kitty go outside safely for part of the day. (Many cats are fine with the indoor-outdoor lifestyle in general, but cats should not be allowed to roam if you live near busy roads or are in an area where coyotes are common).
8. Take over the counter or prescription antihistamines. Also make sure you get plenty of vitamin C and E.
Bear in mind that extended exposure to a specific cat will actually cause a reduction in symptoms. Many people find they barely react to their own cats but get bad flare ups when exposed to somebody else's.