Is it possible to have a pet cat even with cat allergies?
My wife and I would like to adopt two kittens, however she has cat allergies and currently would not be able to live with them. The adoption group let us foster (with the plan for adoption) a pair of shorthair tabbys that she has fallen in love with. We would like to keep them, but think it is a bad decision.
We don't want to take the kittens, and have her live with the allergies, and we don't want to try something that only works for a short period of time. So is there something we can do to keep the kittens without having my wife live with allergic reactions all the time?
So far we have employed other strategies to help with the issue, like dusting often and keeping them out of the bedroom, but we are looking for a more permanent solution.
From reading online it seems like immunotherapy is an option to help treat those allergies so she would be able to live with them. I am hoping for some kind of treatment like this, but I don't know how effective that is, or if it would even help. What are my options?
Some cat breeds are easier on people with cat allergy than others. For example a Siberian cat is often said to be fairly safe for cat allergic persons.
It's definitely possible to live with a cat even if you have cat allergies. There are several things you can do to reduce, and remove the allergens that cause a reaction.
Step one is always fresh air, ventilation, and filtration. Open windows when you can to get fresh air flow moving through the house, bring in new air and take away the old with dander and other allergens. If you can't have the windows open all the time, like if it rains or gets cold outside, you can use an air filter like Oldcat suggested (Technically you can use one all the time I guess, but come on, fresh air!).
Here is an example air filter. Though I have no idea how good this one is, it has a 4 1/2 star rating.
You can always give the cat its own space so that your wife has places to be safe from any reactions. The bedroom is a perfect place to make into a safe room. You should be able to spend time with your cat whenever you want, but in the case of an allergic reaction, your wife should have a place to get away.
Brush the cat often to get rid of shed hair and dander. Also, brush it outside if you can, or in a well ventilated room. You're brushing the allergens off of the cat and into the air, which is something you definitely don't want.
Furniture and upholstery are allergen traps. You can either clean them often, or you can put allergen protectors on them. My wife is allergic to dust mites, so we have a mattress cover on our bed. I will warn you they make crinkling sounds when you move on them.
They make anti-allergen sprays that are supposed to remove even pet allergens, though I can't say the effectiveness of those, it might be something to look into.
Watch your vacuum. Old vacuums with bags are especially notorious for kicking back some dirt and dust. You can get allergen trapping bags, but newer, bagless vacuums are much better.
Keep the litter box clean. Not only is cat urine an allergen, but cat litter is extremely dusty. You might want to try different kinds of cat litter to see if that helps. Yesterday's News is made of old newspaper, and Feline Pine is made of compressed sawdust.
Keep the cat clean. While cats will wash themselves, they will not get rid of all their dander on their own. Also, cat saliva is an allergen too (go figure). I personally don't suggest daily baths; especially for kittens. But a bath once a week or so would help. Daily wipe downs with a cloth or kitten wipes are an alternative to baths, and can be less stressful on both of you.
- Make sure you use soap/shampoo that is safe for your kitten. I use Dawn dish soap, which is what is used to clean animals from oil spills. You might want to look into something that won't dry out the cat's skin if you plan on giving baths more frequently than once a week. Consult a vet.
- Don't get water into your cat's ears when bathing, as water doesn't drain from their ears like it does in humans, so it will get infected, even cause permanent damage.
Finally, I would suggest you get treatment -- Even if it's just taking antihistamines to reduce the allergic reaction. There's also the option of getting an allergy test to tell what specifically you're allergic to. That can help you target the allergens more effectively.
You will want to speak to a doctor about immunotherapy for the details but I can tell you this much: It will not cure allergies. What it does, is it gets your body used to the allergens. Desensitizing your body to the reaction and lessening the immune system's response. Your wife still might have allergic reactions after the treatments are completed, but the point is that they're so minuscule she won't hardly notice.
First thing to do is understand what an allergy is. At the basic level, an allergy is the body reacting negatively to an otherwise harmless substance. What immunotherapy aims to do, is expose the immune system to the allergen in minute amounts at first, then slowly increase the dosage until you no longer feel the effects.
The process does take time, so don't expect it to be done anytime soon. The treatment goes something like this: You will go in once a week for a mall dose at first, then once every other week, then once a month, then once every few months, then once a year, then once every couple years. The dosage increasing by a fraction each time. Because there are so many treatments, it can be fairly costly, but I cannot give an estimate with any confidence. I will say immunotherapy has been shown to be an effective method of managing allergies. If you and, more importantly, your wife are patient enough, it will help her manage the allergic reactions.
See more at: The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology
re: furniture - they make higher end dust might covers that are woven and thus don't make that crinkly sound. It's well worth spending the extra 20% on them. Moreover, leather furniture won't trap pet hair
re upholstery, you can also get devices like steam cleaners, which will denature most (all?) allergens via intense brief heat and can be used on most surfaces, and upholstery/carpet cleaners, which are combined wetvacs that inject soap into fabric surfaces and then suck it back out. these are both great for us for reducing allergens.
It's absolutely possible - I'm mildly allergic to cats and have three at home.
In addition to Matt S's excellent summary, here's a few other things to consider:
- If you've been able to foster without serious problems, the cat allergy is probably not severe enough to impair your wife's breathing. As long as you keep the house reasonably clean and well-ventilated, you should be okay.
- Something I've found necessary, particularly at times when I'm having issues with pollen allergies, is to make sure I wash my hands after I've been petting one of the cats. If I forget to wash my hands, when I rub my eyes some time later I can guarantee absolute misery for a while.
- Keep their claws trimmed. This might seem silly, but I've found that if you have a kneader, they can poke holes in you and if your allergy leans that way, the injuries will be inflamed and itchy (speaking from experience here). Trimmed claws avoid that issue altogether, and it should be reasonably easy to convince kittens that this is a good thing if you give them lots of attention while they're being trimmed.
- Your wife will habituate. She'll probably want to have eye drops and possibly a mild antihistamine for the times when the allergy hits badly, but for the most part she should find that if she's careful and washes her hands after kitty time, she'll have less trouble the longer the cats are around (of course, this is often specific to the cat - the habituation process will probably need to be repeated for each new cat)
- If she has other allergy issues, she will be more sensitive to the cats when the other allergies are active. I'm rather strongly allergic to oak pollen (to the extent that I spend each spring taking antihistamines) and during spring I react much more to the cats than at any other time of the year.
- If you can choose a breed, sphinxes are low-allergenic (being hairless - although a lot of people find them hideous), as are the rexes (Cornish and Devon Rex - they have the very short, curly fur which has a different texture to normal cat fur). Long-haired breeds are usually worse, although there are exceptions.
The allergens that cause reactions in the allergic are carried on the skin and other places the cat touches with saliva. From what I understand, these allergens tend to be more prevalent in male cats, and some breeds like Siberian have even lower levels for males, and very small in females.
I have heard that the use of home air filtration could be of use in attracting loose hair/skin that carries allergens. A quick wash after touching, and cat baths might help limit exposure. Sweeping up hair frequently would also help.
Also, it has happened that persons become accustomed to particular cats with exposure, and do not react to that cat while reacting to others.
I recommend the addition of some source material to back up these assertions. The sex differences can be referenced in this study http://www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749%2896%2970238-5/fulltext
You have some great answers, but I wanted to warn you, dusting can actually make things worse. While helpful in reducing inadvertence contact with the allergen through touching a dust covers surface, the act of dusting causes dust to be dispersed into the air.
The best way to deal with dust it to run a HEPA filter, especially when dusting, and try to only dust when your wife will be out of the house for and extended period of time. Moreover, if you have a "sealed HEPA filter" vacuum, use it to dust.
If you don't have a "sealed HEPA filter" it's worth the buy. I have an 'unsealed' one my self, and it does help, but it's clear that some of the dust gets back into the air, thus I'm saving for the sealed version.
Be very careful when cleaning / changing vacuum filters, I once had an incident where removing one sent me to the doctors office to get a shots to calm my allergies.
Also, Oldcat's comments on breeds is important, and it should be noted that there now exists genetically modified cats that have had the major protein allergen in their dander altered such that it's not an issue. Purchasing a GMO hypo-allergenic cat however, will run you around $5,000, and thus it may make more sense to find rescue an alternate animal such as a rabbit instead. ;-)
My mom used pledge when I was a child, it dampens the surface, making it easier to trap dut, but inevitably still increased the amount of dust in the air.
I have used Allerpet on my 2 cats, one longhair. They didn't mind it too much--instead of wiping on as the directions said, I parted hair and sprayed it on, then wiped it with cloth or soft brush or my fingers, which spread it better. Then I would wipe excess off counter by sliding the cats over it. That treatment lasted 2 weeks or more, and cooled and cleaned them off nicely too. (Serve with treats!) P.S. I have heard of a person who treated the cat (one of three) that she was allergic to by immersing it in a bucket of water, I think for an hour (not the head!!!!) and then she didn't have allergic reactions to it for a month. I think it was pretty young, and maybe that is why it could adapt to this treatment. (Serve with treats and _________??)
I used to work with a woman named Barb Stein DVM. At the time she was probably the foremost feline veterinarian in the country and she had 2 Burmese cats.
She was quite allergic to cats but she learned to deal with it by keeping her place immaculate and her cats and were always well brushed. Even with that she had to use antihistamines to control her allergies. The love of her cats was more important to her than a occasional runny nose.