You may be surprised to learn one of the most common reasons why kitties come back to Kitty Devore Rescue’s foster care program after being adopted is due to someone in the adoptive family discovering they have an allergic reaction to cats that they weren’t aware of previously.
It’s also the number one reason why we’re contacted when someone is seeking to surrender their cat.
It’s actually very common for people to discover they’re allergic to cats even if they’ve been around other cats and not experienced an allergic reaction. Although it IS recommended that, before one jumps to the conclusion the allergic reaction is to the cat, they should be tested by their doctor to be certain. However, with that said, if you didn’t have allergic reactions before the cat arrived and now you do, chances are, it’s the cat.
A common misperception is that allergies are triggered by cat fur. That’s actually not the case.
Cat allergies are triggered by a specific protein in the cat’s saliva, skin glands and urinary/reproductive tract. When a cat grooms him or herself – and they do this constantly throughout the day, the saliva mixes with shed skin cells and this combination produces the protein is Fel D1.
Fel D1 is a lightweight, sticky protein that can remain airborne for a long time and, when it does settle, settles onto everything – carpets, floors, walls, clothing… you!
People say, “But I was around a kitten and I didn’t have any reaction.” That’s because kittens don’t produce this protein until they are near the 6-month mark.
People say, “But we have a medium or longhaired cat and I don’t have this kind of reaction to them.” That’s because medium and longhaired cats give off less of the allergen than short-haired cats. Their longer fur as well as the shorter third layer embedded within the longer fur acts to contain the allergen better against their skin and doesn’t emit as much into the environment around them.
People say, “But I have a female shorthaired cat and I’m fine around her.” And that’s because female cats tend to produce less Fel D1 than males do.
People say, “But I had another cat previously and I didn’t have a reaction.” And that may be because when you have lived with an allergen for many years, many can and do develop a certain degree of tolerance over time to the point that the allergen from that particular cat no longer bothers them so much. If the kitty passes away or is removed from the home for a period, the allergen dissipates. When they bring in a new cat, they find their tolerance had diminished with the absence of their previous kitty and during the period of allergen dissipation. And suddenly they’re in full-blown allergic reaction mode again.
Additionally, light-colored cats tend to produce less Fel D1 than darker cats do.
Contrary to popular opinion, there are no truly “hypoallergenic breeds” of cats.
Based on all these factors, the best cat for a person who suffers from a Fel D1 allergy is a light colored medium or longhaired female cat.
Within our foster care program, we have several foster parents who are allergic to the Fel D1 protein allergen in cats. Some, like described above, have developed a tolerance over time. Others take daily oral medication and use nasal spray and eye drops while others go in for a monthly injection. To them, they feel that life without cat companions isn’t much of a life. But we also understand not everyone feels that way. The choice is a completely personal one that each person or family needs to make for themselves – because a kitty lives many years and if you are allergic to cats but decide to keep your kitty, you do so knowing you’re committing to medication to minimize your reaction to Fel D1 for as many years as your kitty lives.
For those with allergies who feel as we do – that life is less joyful without kitties in it – there are numerous options to help combat the itchy and watery eyes, runny nose, congestion, rashes, hacking coughs, sneezing fits and outright asthmatic episodes that can be generated when one is allergic to cats. One option alone and not combined with several together may not do the trick. If you have allergies and you want to keep your kitty, it may mean adjustments to your life in other ways. Here are some things to consider…
For the cat:
• Regular brushing or combing your kitty’s coat actually helps to remove the hair and allergen protein – although, ideally, this would be done by someone in the home who does not suffer from allergies.
• Wiping your kitty down daily with kitty wipes (they’re like baby wipes but for cats and can be purchased at any pet store).
• Bathe your kitty weekly with a cat shampoo specifically formulated to help minimize dander like Allerpet. There are several on the market that reported to be effective.
• Add Acepromazine, an oral tranquilizer you can have prescribed by your vet, in very low doses to your kitty’s wet food. Many who have used Acepromazine report a significant improvement to total cessation of allergy symptoms after 2 to 4 weeks of regular daily use. The medication changes the chemical composition of the cat’s saliva, reducing the amount of Fel D1 protein secreted. It must be added to food daily to have the desired effect.
• Changing your kitty’s food to one that is high in Omega-3 fatty acids will help keep your kitty’s skin healthy, minimizing dryness that can lead to excessive shed dander.
For the home:
• Clean more often.
• Regular vacuuming both the floors and furniture several times a week. HEPA filter vacuums are specifically designed to pick up the tiniest of dander particles and are ideal for cat allergy sufferers.
• Steam cleaning hardwood, laminate and linoleum floors, carpet, tile and rugs at least twice a week.
• Washing pillows, bedding, throws, and fabrics once a week – and especially if your cat enjoys sitting or laying on them.
• Purchasing an air purifier.
• Avoid sweeping. Sweeping sends the dander into the air.
• Avoid dusting with a feather duster. Instead, wipe surfaces clean with paper towels and spray cleaner or cleaning wipes.
• Designate a room or two of your home to be pet free zones. They can be spaces you retreat to if an allergy attack comes on.
• Change air and furnace filters often. Also, clean ceiling fan and rotary fan blades in your home regularly as these can collect and disperse cat fur and dander everywhere when they’re spinning.
For the allergy sufferer:
• Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after petting your cat to eliminate clinging Fel D1 proteins on your hands and prevent the spread of the protein via your hands elsewhere.
• Do your laundry regularly.
• Don’t let kitty sleep with you or get on your bed. In fact, keep your bedroom door closed at all times and make your bedroom one of your pet free zones.
• Don’t let your cat lick you.
• Look into medications to combat allergies. Antihistamines (like Benadryl, Allegra, Zyrtec, and Claritin) and histamine blockers can prove to be helpful. You can ask your doctor to recommend or prescribe one or you can consider more natural alternatives like Singing Nettle capsules as it’s a natural antihistamine.
• Consider taking or upping your dose of daily Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants such as Quercitin or Vitamin C tabs.
• Up your intake of certain antihistamine foods like citrus fruits, broccoli, berries, onion, garlic, and apples.
• Use a Neti pot to keep sinuses clear.
• Use a nasal saline sinus rinse. It’s not a medication but it will help reduce dander that can get into your nose and sinuses.
• Use a nasal steroid. This is a medication and something you would need to have prescribed by your doctor – but many who use a nasal steroid daily report it helps a lot – although it can take 4 to 6 weeks to reply prove effective so give it time to work for you.
• Look into immunotherapy and cat allergy shots.
Remember that there is no one-trick quick fix to resolving human cat allergies. Instead, it’s several little steps that add up when combined:
• Reduce your cat allergen exposure by using cleaning and minimizing methods described above.
• Start a daily preventative strategy of cat allergy medication for yourself and possibly your kitty, too.
• Consider the cat allergy shot
Allergic reactions vary from human to human. If tried, some of these suggestions may help and others may not. If they do, then there’s hope to co-exist with kitties without being physically miserable in the process. You won’t know if you don’t try.