Being allergic to something you love can be devastating.
A lot of people don’t even know that they have a cat allergy before getting a cat, and this is one of the most common reason that cats are sadly surrendered to shelters.
It’s thought that around 30%, or 3 in every 10 people who have allergies in the USA will experience allergic reactions to cats and/or dogs. Studies are still ongoing to find out just what causes some children and adults to have an allergic reaction to animals, and how to prevent it.
Studies have found that children are more often allergic to cats than they are to dogs.
Many people experience this with food, but what if you’re allergic to cats and you really, really want to have a pet cat? Maybe you have a love for adopting rescued animals, or perhaps you’ve found your own stray cat that you’d love to give a home to.
This can be a truly difficult dilemma. Do you accept that you’ll have to live in discomfort in order to keep a cat at home? Or do you decide that you simply can’t compromise on this allergy, and make the decision not to have a cat at all?
It really comes down to a few important factors:
- The severity of your cat allergy
- The size and design of your home
- Whether children are allergic
- Your willingness and ability to make changes and compromises to better accommodate a cat
Severity of your cat allergy:
Allergies to cat fur can range from the very mild, with occasional sneezing, to the extremely severe which can bring about serious inflammatory symptoms, asthma and difficulty breathing.
Many people who are allergic to cats are somewhere in between and can experience itching, swollen and watery eyes, sneezing, and skin reactions like rashes and hives, in the same way that people react to pollens and other common causes of allergic reactions.
Most people manage these symptoms with over the counter antihistamine medications but professional medical advice is vital.
Because it’s something that is often talked about, people who have allergic symptoms around a cat automatically assume that it’s the cat causing it.
But it’s important to be 100% sure of what is in fact causing your allergies. This can be done through an allergy test at your doctor or immunologist.
Sadly, some cats are given up or worse, dumped, because people assumed they were allergic when it may have been another allergen causing the symptoms.
For your own health benefit, doctors stress that it’s important to get a proper diagnosis to be sure of exactly what’s causing an allergic reaction rather than guessing or assuming.
So what can you do if you are allergic to cats, but want to keep your cat or adopt a new cat?
Allergy experts realize that giving up our pets because we are allergic isn’t that simple or easy. For true cat lovers, it would be like giving up our children!
So there are some recommendations out there for managing life with a cat if you’re allergic.
While some people might build up some tolerance over time, others find that their symptoms get worse. Your own individual circumstance will determine what your decision will be when it comes to being around cats.
Some of the changes, compromises, and ideas that people with cat allergies put into action to cope include:
Have Designated Cat-Free Areas
It’s all about compromising, so figuring out parts of the house that you need to keep free of cats if you’re to live comfortably and keep your cat, is something that people with allergies often accept. Usually this will be the bedrooms first and foremost.
Preventing your cat from accessing the bedroom can make a huge difference to allergies, as it’s one space you’ll be able to keep dander-free and when you can get a good night’s sleep, you’ll find everything else easier to manage.
Sleeping well with a cat in the room, when you have an allergy to said cat, is near impossible. For many people, this is a small compromise to make in order to be able to keep your cat(s) at home.
As long as your cat has other safe, comfortable areas to sleep then this doesn’t impact on their quality of life like we worry it will.
Using Air Purifiers
A quality air purifier helps to clear pollutants and allergens from their air inside the home.
But not all air purifiers are created equal, so unless you use an effective one (that costs a little more) you’re unlikely to see any benefits.
A HEPA air purifier is what you’ll want to be looking for. These are High Efficiency Particulate Arrestance filters that are able to remove small particles from the air – like dander from pets.
Regular Vacuuming & Cleaning
There’s no use denying it – keeping a cat when you have bad allergies is going to be more work than the average cat owner might want to think about.
We consider cats to be great pets because they’re independent, low maintenance and clean.
This is certainly true, but when you’re allergic then the cleaning aspect needs to step up a few notches. Vacuuming as often as possible (daily would be ideal) is important, as is regular washing any soft surfaces like pillow covers and blankets.
Basically you want to prevent dander, fur and dust from settling and building up, and this requires stringent cleaning.
Which leads to the next thing…
Replace carpet with hard floors
Carpets collect and store fur and dander. Even the best, most hygienic carpets are no match for cleanliness compared with hard floor surfaces like hardwood and tiles which are easier to keep dust-free.
Obviously a floor replacement is a big and expensive task, and not one everyone can just decide to do.
If you need to have carpet, it’s just a matter of thorough and regular cleaning. Using a good quality steam cleaner can really help with removing dust and allergens.
You could even consider covering up large parts of the carpet with rugs that are able to be removed and washed on a regular basis.
Are there any breeds of cats that are better for allergic people?
You don’t have to go to a breeder if you want a specific cat breed. Many purebred cats are surrendered to shelters and rescues for all sorts of reasons.
However, if you’re after a specific cat breed because you’ve heard that they are “hypoallergenic”, then you might be a little disappointed to know that there’s no scientific research behind this to prove it.
It’s known that all cats produce the allergens that affect some people, which not only come from the fur, but also from saliva and the cat’s skin. So those hairless cats you might have seen people promoting as “allergy-free” cats, are not so.
The same goes for short haired cats, with the science saying that it doesn’t matter how long a cat’s hair is, they still produce the same proteins that bring about these allergens.
But if you have more than one cat, then it goes without saying that you’re going to have double (or more) the allergens to deal with than if you have just the one cat.
There are many benefits to sharing our life with a cat (for both us, and the cats!), so if you have a known allergy to cats then it’s your personal decision to decide whether the benefits outweigh the downsides for you. And speak with your doctor – they are the best person to recommend actions you can take to make your allergies more manageable and life with a cat more pleasant.
American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology
Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America
The frequency and severity of cat allergy vs. dog allergy in atopic children. Murray AB, Ferguson AC, Morrison BJ.