How to Live with Cats when you're Allergic

Germ Guardian

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Aaaa-choo! You’re a cat lover, but you have allergies. Cats make your nose run and your eyes water! Can you cure cat allergies? How can you live with cats if you’re allergic?

It’s a horrible irony that some devoted cat lovers are allergic to cats. You might think your allergies mean you can’t ever have a cat, or that you must find a new forever home for your beloved pet. Thankfully, there are a lot of solutions out there that can help.

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about managing your cat allergies so that you and your pussins can enjoy a long and sneeze-free life together.

What causes cat allergies?

A common misunderstanding about cat allergies is that they are caused by cat fur. Not true!

The allergen is usually certain proteins that are carried in a cat’s saliva, urine and dander (dander are the skin flakes in a cat’s fur). Every time a cat grooms, they transfer the saliva to their coat, which you then pat – and their dander floats off and lands on the furniture, bed, curtains and so on.

But are you sure it’s your cat that you’re allergic to? It’s important to understand the root cause. Your pussin might like sleeping under a certain garden plant, and it could be the pollen from that plant that causes you to cough and wheeze.

If it IS a cat allergy, it’s important to remember that allergies don’t come in one-size-fits-all. You might find that you’re highly allergic to a particular cat, but not allergic at all to another cat from exactly the same breed. Or you might be allergic to long-haired cats, but not short-haired ones.

It’s important to visit your doctor and have an allergy test so that you know exactly what is causing your allergy. Then you can choose from a range of treatment options.

What are the symptoms of a cat allergy?

Not all cat allergies and symptoms are the same. One person might get watery eyes and a sniffly nose when a cat sits on their lap, another might start sneezing the minute they walk into a room with a cat, and a third person might react with life-threatening asthma.

Some cat allergies can be made worse by other allergens such as pollen, dust, cigarette smoke, dust mites and mould. You can suffer from hayfever and a cat allergy at the same time, and the allergies can need different treatments.

What can I do about my allergies?

Although cat allergies can’t be “cured”, for many people, they can be very effectively managed.

Thankfully, there are a range of things you can to do help manage your allergy and keep your beloved pet – or get one!

1) Wait for your Immune System to Adjust

In some people, their immune system is able to simply adjust to a mild cat allergy once there’s been a period of continuous exposure to a cat (eg a month or more). This continuous exposure enables the immune system to build up a natural response of antibodies.

For example, my owner is highly allergic to the proteins in my saliva. When I picked her as my owner, I smooched all over her face because I was so happy to be going home with her – and she came up in red, itchy marks wherever I smooched. I felt bad! But after she’d had me for around a month, her immune system had mobilized to the extent that I could smooch all over her without any issues. So now I do all the time, of course.

2) Reduce your exposure to the allergy

Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of keeping your home clean and tidy. Limit carpeting and curtaining. Vacuum regularly, dust often and wash your cat’s bedding. Change the filters in your heater or air-conditioner on a consistent basis.

You can also make your bedroom an off-limits space to your cat – or if you can’t bear the thought, then use special protectors for your mattress and pillows.

Consider a high-efficiency HEPA air filter for the rooms you spend the most time in. These can change your life by almost completely removing dander from the air.

3) Air Purifiers! Clear out allergens and dust from the air

Feeling stuffy with all that cat dander to allergans up in the air? Consider buying a HEPA-grade air purifier for your cat allergies.

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These air purifiers can work cleanly to purify the air in your living space within a matter a minutes! Consider placing one in your bedroom, or near the kitty litter box.

4) Consider low-allergen breeds

Some people find that they are less allergic to certain cat breeds. Cats with shorter hair, such as the Devon Rex, Cornish Rex, or the entirely hairless varieties such as the Sphynx are good options. Visit a breeder and interact with the animals to see what happens – making sure you have tissues and anti-allergy tablets on hand in case you need them!

5) Try medication

You may be able to use over-the-counter anti-allergen tablets or nose-sprays to help control your symptoms. Antihistamines can relieve the itchy eyes and watery nose, but they won’t help more serious symptoms such as wheezing or coughing. Those symptoms can need the assistance of a doctor, who can look into the causes and prescribe the best treatment.

For serious cases, your doctor may prescribe a series of allergy shots. This is a series of jabs that help you to develop protective antibodies to your allergen – it’s an assisted way of building up the natural immunity that some people can develop on their own.

It can take almost a year of weekly injections to build up this immunity, before they convert to monthly injections instead. Every case is different. You could achieve progress in a year, or it might take 3-5 years before you don’t need the shots anymore.

6) Vacuum the House with a Powerful Upright Vacuum Cleaner, or Invest in a Roomba

A powerful vacuum cleaner can clear out mountains of cat hair and dander stuck in your carpet. Be sure to check out our extensive guide on powerful upright vacuum cleaners for cat hair.

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If you're too busy to be vacuuming once a week, consider investing in a Roomba for cat hair. These little robotic companions can greatly reduce the time and effort you spend vacuuming your home.

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7) Bathe your cat

This option is best activated when your cat is young. It will be hard to start doing this with an older pussin who has firm opinions about water. You can always outsource this to a professional cat groomer! If you choose to do it yourself, remember that rinsing the cat thoroughly is critical - and so is protecting yourself while you do this. It’s at least a two-person job. :-)

There are special cat shampoos available to help remove dander and saliva. DO NOT USE shampoo for humans – the special formulations are necessary to protect the cat from poisoning or adverse reactions. A bath every 4-6 weeks is usually sufficient – both for you and for them…

8) Don’t give up hope

If you have a cat allergy, you shouldn’t give up hope. Many cat owners live peacefully with their animals once they’ve landed on the right treatment.

An allergy isn’t the end of the line for your relationship with your beloved pet - and it shouldn’t stop you getting one, either!