So You’re Allergic To Cats?

I don’t want to play into stereotypes here, but a lot of us have cats. And some of us are allergic to cats. And some of us still have cats anyway (ahem).

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Adopted these two beauties today

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I was one of those sickly kids who had really bad allergies and asthma. I was also one of those kids who REALLY LOVED ANIMALS. I had a nebulizer asthma machine which I had to use for 20 minutes twice a day, and an allergist who I was on first name basis with. I had a “scratch test” done on my back when I was about 8, and every single needle prick raised up, meaning I was allergic to everything. My allergist thought maybe I was overly sensitive so he gave me another test, and, nope, I was actually allergic to everything. He suggested I move to Mars, but that I may be allergic to that too. Thankfully my allergies have gotten a lot better as I’ve gotten older, but unfortunately the cat allergy remains pretty bad.

The author's allergy text, which shows an IgE rating of 12.80 for cat dander, which is a high allergy rating.

My allergy panel results from two years ago. This is considered to be a “high” level cat allergy, or RAST level 3.

So you’re allergic, and you want a cat, or you’re dating someone who has a cat and you want to continue dating this person. Or everyone you know and/or want to date or hang out with has cats, because we all do, right? What do you do? Here are some things I’ve learned over the years to allow me to have cats in my life.

First of all, you’re not allergic to the hair like most people think, but instead a protein (Fel d 1) which comes from the oil on the skin and the saliva, so long-haired cats aren’t inherently worse than short-haired cats. This protein is sticky — it sticks to the dander, the fur, you, your clothes, and your living space. Some cat breeds, in theory, have less of this protein. I’ve heard Siberians and Maine Coons are better than the typical Domestic Shorthair, but I’m not sure if this has ever been scientifically proven.

Another thing a lot of people don’t realize is long-term exposure to a specific cat will allow you to build up a tolerance to that cat, so your allergies will be reduced if you live with this cat. It takes several months, and it doesn’t ever go away completely, but it will reduce significantly.


Medication

I’m not a doctor, anything I talk about in terms of treating allergies or asthma is just about my own experiences with my own allergies and asthma, not a health recommendation for others. You should talk to your actual doctor about your own allergies or asthma.

If your allergies are bad, you will probably need to be on an antihistamine. There’s a wide variety of them to try, so if one doesn’t work for you, or if you have side effects, give another one a try.

First Generation Antihistamines

Benadryl (Diphenhydramine) was the first option for allergy sufferers, appearing in 1946. While very effective, unfortunately drowsiness is a huge side effect for most people. I never take it for allergies, but sometimes I take it to sleep, but it does make me groggy and slow the next day. It’s so good at making people sleepy that it’s the active ingredient in Tylenol PM.

Second Generation Antihistamines

Claritin (Loratadine), Zyrtec (Cetirizine), and Allegra (Fexofenadine) are popular over-the-counter second-generation antihistamines. These drugs do not cause drowsiness in most people. If you try one, and you feel out of it and exhausted, try another one. I found Zyrtec to be the most effective for me, but also the one which makes most people I know sleepy. If you find one that does not make you sleepy, take it for a week to really judge its effectiveness. This stuff needs time in your body to work. If you plan to go somewhere where you’ll be exposed, take the pills for at least a few days before hand.

What’s with the “D”? (Claritin-D, Zyrtec-D, Etc.)

The “D” at the end stands for decongestant, and it’s usually Sudafed (pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine) which they’ve added along with the antihistamine. Sudafed is excellent for clearing stuffy/runny noses. It’s also a stimulant (it’s an amphetamine!) so it’s best to not take daily or before bed. I do not take any of these combo versions of antihistamines, but instead have separate Phenylephrine pills in my medicine cabinet for when my allergies are really bad or when I have a cold. I almost never use them.

Nose Sprays

For when the antihistamines just don’t cut it, and I’m still a sniffly mess, I’ll also use either Flonase or Nasacort. You may want to watch a YouTube video to see how to use a nose spray properly if you’ve never done it before.

Eye Drops

If you get really itchy eyes you can try antihistamine eye drops.

Generic! Is! Cheaper! Online!

You guys, generic is a million times cheaper on Amazon than the pharmacy. You can get a year’s supply of antihistamines for like $15 online, and it works just as well.

Hippy Stuff

Some friends of mine swear by Rainbow Light Allergy Rescue. I haven’t tried it myself though.

But What If I Also Have Asthma?

I have allergy and exercise-induced asthma, and all I can say is steroid inhalers are your friends. Popular ones are Alvesco (ciclesonide), Asmanex (mometasone), Azmacort (triamcinolone), Flovent (fluticasone), Pulmicort (budesonide), and Q-Var (beclomethasone), and they all require prescriptions. If you’re hitting that rescue inhaler daily, you probably should be on a steroid – it’s worth talking to your doctor about. Steroids don’t stop an asthma attack, but instead prevent them from happening. They also open my lungs enough to be able to exercise or be around allergy triggers without wheezing. They only work if you remember to take them every day. I put mine in my bathroom next to my toothbrush to remind myself. Wash your mouth out after using, and using a spacer really helps.


Remove The Allergen From Your Body

Image of the author's kittens on their lap

Shower!

Dander and pollen and most allergens are sticky. They’ll stick to your clothing, your face, the inside of your nose, etc. Showering helps remove them. I recommend showering before bed to rinse off the allergens, and not bring them into your bed with you.

Flush Your Eyes

My eyes don’t bother me enough to use eye drops, I just flush them with plain water if they get itchy. I have this vintage eye wash cup which looks like a little goblet which I fill with plain water and blink into a few times. That works for me.

Wash Your Hands!

After you pet the cat, wash your hands. This may sound obvious but I often forget and then rub my eyes. Oops.

Nose Irrigation

Some folks swear by a neti pot or saline spray. I have a neti pot, and I find it doesn’t work for long, but they really help during an allergy attack.


Your Living Space

image of the author's cats playing

Wash your clothing often. Keep fabrics to a bare minimum (drapes, upholstered furniture, etc). Place a blanket over your sofa and any other not hard surface and wash it frequently. CARPET IS THE WORST; stay away from it if possible. Dust with a damp washcloth to pick up the allergens, and not a feather duster to kick them up. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter on it or gently sweep and mop so you don’t kick up the allergens. Wash the cat bed weekly if you have one (recommended, so you can wash it). Don’t leave clean clothes on the floor where your cat can sleep on them. The cleaner you keep your house, the less your allergies will bug you.

Bedroom

IMG_8958

It’s best if you don’t let the cat sleep with you in your bed — but I ignore this advice myself. Maybe try to train the cat to not sleep on your face? Get some pillow protectors and a waterproof mattress pad (good for other reasons too). Wash your sheets a lot (like 1-2x a week), and on the hot water setting. Change your pillowcases often. Wash your comforter and pillows every few months, get a comforter cover and wash that every week. I do not recommend any fancy blankets which you can’t wash often. If you don’t let your cat into your bedroom you can ignore all of this.

A/C

Clean the filter on the window A/C unit every week or two — just run it under hot water. (Yes there’s a filter, and yes you can take it out.)

Air Purifiers

You can buy a fancy air purifier or make one yourself for a lot less by attaching a HEPA filter to a box fan as shown in the video below. This also works really well for folks who want to have a fan in their windows but are allergic to pollen too.

House Furnace Heat

If you live somewhere where your heat is forced air, coming out of an oil or gas furnace, get a HEPA filter for your furnace instead of a regular one. It will clean the air as it passes through the furnace, and will blow out cleaned air into your house, acting like a giant air purifier. Make sure you replace the filter every few months. Talk to your landlord about doing this for you if you rent. Also, cleaning your air ducts out will help a lot if they haven’t been cleaned in awhile.

Anti-Allergy House Spray

I haven’t used these yet, but I just ordered one on Amazon to try it out. I suspect spraying your sofa and cat bed or anywhere else your cat hangs out and the litter box will be helpful.


The Cat

The author's new kittens

Bathe Your Cat

They usually don’t mind as much as you’d think, especially if you start doing it as kittens (at least my cats never really objected). Use shampoo specifically for cats, not people shampoo. Often shampoo is marketed as hypoallergenic — they mean for the cat or dog’s skin, not for you. There are some anti-allergy cat and dog shampoos, but I haven’t tried them yet. Bathing a cat will reduce allergens only for a few days.

Cat Wipes or Facecloth Baths

There are some products available which are like wet wipes for cats, with no harmful ingredients. These are great for reducing allergens if used daily. Even a daily wet facecloth wipe down works great, especially if you use some of an anti-allergy product on it, and it’s a lot less stressful and time consuming than a full bath.

Cat Box

Clean the cat box often! I’m allergic to the box, so I dump the litter often. You could try one of those anti-allergy sprays in your box too.


Why Even Bother?

I realize this all sounds like a hell of a lot of work, and pretty ridiculous. But for me, the emotional and mental health benefits outweigh the work and physical health detriments. I deeply love and connect with animals, and have for my whole life, and I think my life is a lot more fulfilling with pets.

Do you have allergies and also have cats? What do you do to help minimize your allergies? I’d love to hear your tricks too!

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More roomba ridiculousness

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I'm the tech director for Autostraddle, which means I oversee all the tech-related stuff and do anything from coding the website to keeping the servers online. I also enjoy finding ways technology can make it easier for our writers to work. Apart from Autostraddle, I really enjoy making things, breaking things and then fixing them again, taking pictures, getting outside, making food, working on my house and garden, and travel. They/them.

Cee has written 16 articles for us.

46 Comments

  1. My godkittens are going to be internet famous now! How will I be able to take selfies with your kittens whilst being hounded by the paparazzi. I imagine Stef writing vapid fluff pieces about how they were spotted canoodling or joy riding on the roomba.

  2. *sigh*
    I hate to be that person, but health advice over the internet is a very bad idea, especially if it involves medication, even more so if you’re not sure about the side effects, interacting properties, etc.(Did you know that there’s a contraindication for pregnancy and antihistamines or that they can induce Long QT Syndrome,which is life threatening, for example? Cortisone inhalers make you prone to fungi, respiratory tract infections, etc., etc.)
    Over the counter does not equate harmless.
    Also, you have no idea what the readers of this site are already taking for whatever or recreationally, or where they’re at with their allergies! What if, like me, they get Quincke edema from petting a feline?
    What if being around a cat and “getting used to it” is a really, really, very, very bad idea for them?
    Internet medical advice is very tricky, because you’re stepping up and taking on the responsibility for whatever happens from here on out if someone follows your advice.
    Advice you’re giving without knowing anything about them.
    Allergies, especially, are a super tricky and potentially very dangerous subject to cover this way!
    Also, this is exactly contradictory to the official medical advice on the subject, because
    from a doctorly view point,
    there’s one iron rule: If you’re allergic, keep away from the allergen.
    If you must have, for example, a cat:Get desensitized.
    Desensitization is potentially dangerous(especially with the highly potent allergens like wasp/bee poisons) and it grows the less effective the older you get.But one can actually, potentially, get rid of an allergy!
    So instead of knocking your body around with a handful of medications, there’s a treatment that actually works. Long time.

    Look, I’m glad this has been somehow working out for you, and your advice on washing your things and showering before bed is great!
    But knocking your body around with all kinds of medications only so you can have a kitten is a very, very individual choice to make.
    A choice that needs to be explored with a physically present and informed allergologist, because otherwise it has the potential to make you very, very sick.

    From my personal experience:
    I’m allergic to like everything.
    Pollen, cats, grasses, trees, dust,etc.
    I ignored all of it for the longest time, so everything got worse and worse, the itchy eyes turned to asthma.
    The asthma got worse..until I really upended my life to be better to
    myself. To care for myself.
    Eat healthier, be cleaner, drink lots of water, quit my old job.
    So, idk, being allergic really, really sucks, but it MADE me listen to myself and change my self-destructive ways at least somewhat.
    It taught me to be kind to myself.
    A cat wouldn’t be worth giving that up to me in a million years.

    • Thank you so much for reply.

      Any advice over the internet should be taken with a grain of salt, and I would hope that folks would talk to their doctors before taking any medications, even over the counter, and that they are aware that OTC != safe.

      I’m writing here from my own experience, and giving advice based on what’s worked for me and folks I know. I’m obviously not a doctor, I just have a personal experience of a lifetime of managing my own allergies and asthma.

      I also assume that folks know their own allergies and know what works best for their own bodies. If being around a cat can’t work for them, then it can’t, and I totally respect that. If I could not be around cats I would not be. This post is written to help folks who can and want to live with cats (or visit someone with cats) in a way that’s manageable for them.

      For my asthma, I have to be on my steroid inhaler either way, and for me it’s a lot better than taking albuterol all the time. I often suggest friends who are constantly hitting their albuterol to investigate steroid inhalers because it’s made my life a lot better, and it might help them too. You’d have to talk to a doctor anyway, as these are only available via prescription.

      I’m sorry your allergies are so terrible, and it sounds like you are taking care of yourself and managing your health well. For me, my mental health takes a huge hit when I’m without pets, so I need to find a weird balance. The only medicine I have to add is a daily antihistamine pill, and I keep my house really clean anyway from a lifetime of allergies, so for me it’s worth it.

    • This post was clearly written for people with cat allergies who also live with a cat…if you are too allergic to live with a cat, or you simply don’t want to, then you are not the intended audience.

      Many people I know, including myself, have non-life threatening allergies to cats, and figuring out how to live with them comfortably is a balancing act. I found this post to be incredibly helpful because it was organized, informative, and contained a lot of links to products I had never heard of.

      The medication section was also very clear, and I don’t think it was giving advice so much as telling people their options and being informative about each of them. I’m not sure what your “doctorly” point of view is, but one of the best ways to treat allergies is to be exposed to your allergens in small amounts regularly to help build up your tolerance (allergy shots.) Living with the same cat for several months can also build up your tolerance and lead to reduced symptoms, so it is useful information.

      Obviously when you are reading a blogpost on the Internet, you should know that it is not a substitute for medical advice. And hopefully if you take medication, you are aware of what OTC medication you need to avoid. You should also be responsible for talking with your doctor before taking any OTC medication you are unfamiliar with if you are concerned about side effects.

      This author was writing about lifestyle changes to make if you are living with a cat you’re allergic to, so medication is going to be a part of it. But I see no reason why someone shouldn’t be able to talk about medication options unless they include the exhaustive list of ingredients, side effects, warnings, and interactions.

      Also, if you call it “knocking your body around with a handful of medications,” I’m not sure how you treat your allergies, because taking a pill that allows me to breathe is not knocking my body around. It seems that by eating healthy and drinking water you were able to control your allergies, and that’s commendable, but that’s not how it works in my experience.

  3. Thanks so much for this. I’m in a long-distance relationship and adopted a cat for companionship, and last time the girlfriend came to visit she was sniffling and sneezing all over. Maybe this’ll help, both when she visits again and also when we inevitably move back in together.

  4. taking METICULOUS NOTES as i scheme on how to incorporate a cat into my life. since my allergy is not THAT severe, my plan right now is to go meet some cats from supposedly hypoallergenic breeds and see if i react to them. i want a pet to cuddle and the turtle just won’t have it.

    • Disclaimer: not all pets like cuddles; be sure you get the right one if that’s what you’re in it for. I love my cat but he’s a real jerk and I could never cuddle him without some bodily injury despite having him since he was a wee smol! I wish you luck but honestly the turtle sounds less uncooperative than cats in general

  5. Oh good news about scratch tests! The new standard involves these comb looking things to do rows of pokes quickly at once, rather than many individual pokes from a single edged stabby thing for an agonisingly long ass time.

    When I was a kidlet it was this metal implement shaped like rounded manicured pinky nail, not a needle which sounds scarier poor baby Cee.

    • The first test I had was like a tray with tiny needles which did a bunch at a time on my back in a grid. I turned red for everything, so he did another one where he individually injected the allergen with a syringe into the skin of my arms, which confirmed the findings.

      As an adult I had the blood test which you don’t need to go off antihistamines for – and those results are what’s up top. This was the least annoying option by far.

      Seems like things have improved since when I was a kid. 🙂

      • Tray of needles sounds more awful than the creepy stabby thing little me had upsetting the pressure points in my back.
        Did I mention the comb like thing were plastic? That was like best part of the test I had this past January following a hives incident/saga. Still don’t know what triggered it.
        The first thing that happened was a blood test which RN and later the doctor told me isn’t as good or conclusive as a scratch test, but also some things won’t or can’t be a part of the allergen panel.

        But hey plastic comb like things rather than metal stabby things or needdles, faster and less scary for kidlets and adults.

      • I had the tray of needles when I was 8! I was allergic to absolutely nothing. I was stabbed a million times for naught and all I had to show for it was a lactose intolerance. They didn’t even need the tray for that one, they just figured it out separately.

  6. Alaway eye drops are my salvation. You can get them at pretty much any mass-market pharmacy department. I think they’re also sold as Zaditor. I don’t have a cat (can’t in my apartment complex) but most of my friends have at least one, so if I want to hang out at their places, I pretty much have to take something. And even the 2nd-generation antihistamines don’t cut it completely for me if I’m going to be hanging out around kitties for very long. My allergy test results were probably pretty similar to yours – the arm that they did the needle tests in swelled up like a grapefruit, starting where they injected the cat allergen, and I had to go back in the next morning for an antihistamine & steroid shot!

  7. My cat-allergic girlfriend basically started living at my house and was having breathing problems. She went to the doctor and the following conversation ensued

    Em: I am allergic to cats and am having a hard time breathing at night around this cat
    Doctor: Get rid of the cat
    Em: It’s my girlfriend’s cat
    Doctor: Get rid of your girlfriend

    She has inhalers and now things like “best air purifiers” and “natural allergy remedies” are a part of my browser history

    • Yeesh, fuck doctors like that. Grrr. Hate ’em.

      I imagine you already do things like vacuuming and washing clothes regularly? It might not be easy, but can you make the bedroom a cat-free zone? The bed and bedroom being off limits can be tough for some cats (and their parents) but it can definitely help with allergies. Keeping the door shut and purifier on in there might make a difference.

      • I mean I could like probably, maybe, most definitely vacuum more often.

        We discussed the possibility of a No Bedroom @ Night rule, but she was the one that succumbed faster than me.

        She’s a sucker

  8. I’m lucky enough to not have any allergies (despite my dad and brother both suffering from them), so this has never been a problem for me, but I do worry sometimes that some day I’ll meet this amazing girl but she’ll be allergic to cats and it’ll all be over before it’s even begun because I can’t not have cats (it’s kind of essential for my mental health tbh). So yeah, not liking cats and/or not being able to live with cats are relationship dealbreakers for me. It’s kind of ridiculous how much I worry about it. So it’s really comforting and helpful to know that an allergy might not have to be a dealbreaker, if I ever run into that conflict.

    Also wow those kitties are the CUTEST. Such beautiful colouring! And gorgeous eyes! Darling babies <3

  9. Thank you for posting all the pictures of your beautiful kitties! I’ve had to go the last year sans cat but am adopting one VERY SOON. Can’t wait. This article will be helpful should I ever love someone allergic to my feline friends.

  10. I’m so here for this! I’m one of those people for whom allergy problem actually gets worse the longer I’m exposed to an allergen… But I have some potential advice! Vitamin C is really helpful in dealing with histamine response as is N Acetyl Cistine. You should check with a doctor before you take either of them (or anything really) but I’ve found that both really improve my quality of life with many allergies!

  11. I’m thankfully not allergic to cats (I got one of those skin tests on my back too, and my allergist just told me “You must really hate spring!”) BUT I just wanted to drop in and say that I’m so happy that your adorable cats made it into an autostraddle article! <3

  12. We were pretty much the same kid.

    Thank you for the advice! I somehow end up dating girls with cats, and while I think they’re cute as heck, my watery eyes, puffy face and wheezing lungs don’t much appreciate the cuteness factor. Thank god for nebulizers!

  13. So i am also allergic to cats, which my fam did not find out until i was 5 and we got 2 of them. So ive been desensitized but i still get attacks. Like im allergic to them i just dont care haha. During ragweed blooming season i take my flonase every morning, but for some reason most of the 2nd gen antihistamines work for me :/. also eyedrops are a LIFE SAVER!!!

  14. I, thankfully, am not allergic to cats. Why was this cat allergy placed as a curse on humanity? IT’S NOT FAIR! Anyway what I’m trying to say is that I sympathize with you all.
    Also, THOSE CATS ARE FREAKING ADORABLE! Can you boop their noses for me? 😀

  15. I never had any issues with my Maine Coon who we had for eleven years, but after he died we got two short hair cats and my allergies skyrocketed – I ended up getting a loft bed to make sure that they didn’t sleep on my bed and that helped immensely (closing the door was not an option as our asshole cat would continually scratch on any closed door in the whole house). Of course now that I’m an adult that loft bed is not so appealing.

    Also, for short visits with cats, I’ve had a lot of luck with a tincture from my naturopath called Animal Mix. It also works for tons of other animals like dogs, horses, guinea pigs, various fowl, and rabbits, and they even use gluten free grain alcohol!

  16. Anecdotally, I’ve heard Allerpet works well to keep the dander @ a minimum, if you spray it on your hands & ‘pet’ the cat down with it. I liked the article. Anything that helps people keep their pets is useful, & of course let the buyer beware re: any OTC or prescription products. Research side & adverse effects @ length before you try them.

    • I worked in pet stores for about 20 years and Allerpet seems to be the best thing. My customers raved about it. Many of them were on the brink of having to get rid of their dog or cat until they tried Allerpet.

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