How Allergy Sufferers Can Still Live With Cats
To Get a Cat, or Not to Get a Cat?
Suffering from allergies should not mean that you need to live inside a bubble or avoid nature and pets. There are so many proven health benefits to having pets, so keep that in mind when you weigh the pros and cons of expanding your family. But also, be aware that "hypoallergenic" pets are not totally allergy-free—and this is something you most likely won't find out until after the fact. However, there are so many different ways to help reduce any allergy reaction, and once you've made yourself comfortable you will actually be increasing your allergy tolerance.
What Causes Cat Allergies?
Cat allergies are commonly thought to come from cat hair, but the actual culprit is an enzyme found in their saliva—Fel d 1 or Fel d 4. However, as you may have already observed, cats clean themselves by licking their bodies from head to toe. This spreads the allergen onto their fur and then as they shed, the allergen is spread throughout the house.
It is also important to note that most people have a certain level of tolerance to ALL allergens—meaning that a little bit of exposure to lots of allergens will have the same effect as a lot of exposure to one single allergen. Think of your allergy tolerance as a bucket than can only hold a certain amount of allergens - adding, or removing, any allergen will affect the level of tolerance to all allergens.
Allergies in Your Life
Who in your life suffers from cat allergies?
Adopting a Hypoallergenic Breed
While hypoallergenic cats are not technically totally allergy-free, they may still be a better option. If you want to go this route, check out these breeds:
Siberian Cats are believed to produce less of the Fel d 1 enzyme and are one of the most popular of the hypoallergenic breeds. They are large cats with semi-long hair in a variety of colors and are known for their strength in jumping. Many breeders believe these cats have characteristics that are typically found in dogs - they will wait for you at the front door to come home and will respond to being called.
Russian Blue Cats
Russian Blue Cats have a distinct bluish silver coat that is thick and short. They are a very shy breed, but are extremely intelligent and bond strongly to their families. There is less scientific evidence proving their hypoallergenic qualities, but they are believed to produce less of the Fel d 1 enzyme and also may trap allergens in their thick, short, double coat.
Sphynx cats have one very obvious distinction - no hair! Ironically, Sphynx cats do not produce less of the Fel d 1 enzyme that plagues allergy sufferers. However, because they are hairless, their dander (that houses the Fel d 1) does not spread all over the house or float through the house. It sticks to their skin, and, as you may imagine, these cats are relatively easy to wipe down.
My husband suffers pretty badly from allergies, and about a year and a half ago we made the decision to get two hypoallergenic kittens (we chose the Siberian Cat breed). We assumed that hypoallergenic meant no allergies - which is pretty much what it implies. Weeelllll . . . it turns out that getting these cats was not a "hypoallergenic" experience. However, when all is said and done, my husband and I both fell in love with the cats and came across various strategies to lower the effects of the allergies. Over time, my husband's allergy tolerance has grown and the cats have become a non-issue for him.
Here are some of the strategies we used to avoid allergic reactions:
HEPA Air Purifiers
This can be an expensive option, but it is well worth it. Not only will the HEPA filters help to filter out any cat allergens, but it will also catch other allergens like pollen and dust. This will lower your allergy reactions in general and make life in your house more comfortable. When trying to pick the right filter, be sure to do extensive research if you want to pick one of the cheaper options. We have found that the more expensive ones are worth the cost because of their quality.
We decided when we adopted our kittens that we would keep an allergy-free room. If you're willing to do this, the most effective room to keep allergy free is the bedroom. It will give allergy sufferers a full night's sleep without allergens and also gives them a place to go during the day if they feel a little stuffy. All you have to do to keep this room allergy free is to prevent the cats from entering it and keep it as clean as possible. We had our room as an allergy-free zone for about six months until my husband decided he didn't need it anymore.
Remove Carpets and Rugs
If possible, remove all the carpets and rugs that you can. Carpets will harbor allergens and dust and are harder to clean then hardwood or laminate floors. If you can't remove the carpets, then just be sure to vacuum as often as possible. This can be especially important in your allergy free room.
Washing the Cats
Many people will tell you that cats do not need to be washed. And this is true—cats will clean themselves by licking from head-to-toe. But as you now know, the allergen in cats is found in their saliva, so for allergy sufferers, this does not result in a clean cat. What is important to know is that washing your cat will not hurt them by any means, as long as you use safe pet shampoo. Cats can be difficult to wash, so you will want to start them young so that they get used to it. Try to use warm water and be gentle. Many cats will not fight you if they are used to this.
Clean, Clean, Clean
No one wants to hear this, but the truth is that a clean home has fewer allergens. Vacuum as often as possible, and wipe down surfaces whenever you can. Dust can be a huge contributor to allergies, so make sure to get into those corners where dust seems to gather. Remember, all allergies exacerbate other allergies, so by lowering one allergen in your house, you're actually helping to reduce another allergen's effects.
Don't Forget to Clean Yourself!
I know this sounds patronizing, but its one of the most important tips. If you are an allergy sufferer, or if are living with one, then you need to make sure to wash your hands as frequently as possible. You also may want to consider changing your showering schedule to make life more comfortable. Most of us shower before we leave the house, but showering right before bed ensures that you've got the allergens washed off of you and you can have a more restful sleep. If you've opted to have an allergy-free bedroom, then make sure to change your clothes the second you get in there. Allergens will travel with you, so be conscious of that!
Brush, Brush, Brush
Brushing has many benefits for both owner and cat, but especially for the allergy owner. The less hair around the house, the less the allergen is spreading. This is also a great bonding opportunity for you and your cat and will make your cat look as beautiful as possible.
You Don't Need to Suffer to Own a Cat
In the end, if you've done proper research and are prepared for welcoming a new pet into the home, you will not regret your decision. Having an animal in the house lowers stress levels and is a comforting companion if you find yourself alone or bored. Good luck with your new addition!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.