Living with cat allergy

Many people ask: How do I know whether I am allergic to cats? Allergy to cats is one of many types of allergy and sometimes it is hard to tell what is causing a particular allergic reaction. Fortunately, this can be determined by a simple blood or patch test. Your doctor will be able to give you details. But assuming that your tests are negative, does that mean that you will never suffer from allergy? Unfortunately not. Allergies can develop at any stage of our lives and once your body has decided that it does not like a particular allergen, the allergy normally gets worse every time you are exposed to it.

At present there is no cure for allergies but there are a number of treatments available for managing them. Allergic responses are generally due to the body pushing up the level of the disease-fighting compound histamine in the system, as a response to what it sees as an invading organism. The most common response ofthe medical community is to give you drugs to block the excess histamine. If you are allergic to cats and you are going to be in feline company for a while, anti-histamine tablets will help to make the experience pleasanter for everyone. There are many other allergy medications (usually availabe on prescription) which help to control symptoms, but we are conceredhere with discussing allergy to cats rather than allergies in general.

I know I am allergic to cats but I still want a cat in my home.

It is not uncommon for people who are allergic to cats still adopt them. It is important however, to think about the consequences to your health before rushing to a decision. As mentioned above, allergies may worsen with time, and you may eventually have to find a new home for a cat that you have become fond of. That said, if you have decided that you want a cat anyhow, there are a number of things you can do to give yourself a low-sneeze-count lifestyle. Here's a few things which will help:

Your home

  1. If possible replace carpets with wooden floors, at least in places where your cat will spend most of her time
  2. Do not allow the cat into the bedroom or on your bed
  3. Get a HEPA-equipped vacuum cleaner (HEPA = high efficiency particulate airfilter. A HEPA should get well over 99.9% of particles out of the air.) Use it on your carpets. Often. Twice a week is the minimum you should consider. If you can't bribe or blackmail another family member to do the vacuuming (preferably while you are off the premises) wear a dust mask.
  4. Use a HEPA room air cleaner the bedroom and/or around the house
  5. Cat allergens hide in dust, so make sure that your home is dust-free. Don't forget the curtains - these are notorious dust traps.
  6. In addition to vacuuming, you may consider a vapor steam cleaner to clean your house on a regular basis. It has been shown that steam cleaners are very efficient at removing allergens which have dug themselves into carpets and upholstery.
  7. Don't forget the walls. Dander can also stick to them. If you can, make sure that your walls are painted with washable paint, which can be wiped with wet cloth on a regular basis.
  8. Think positive. Not everyone has a handy body clock set to sneeze when its time to get the house cleaned up.

Your cat

  1. Neuter your cat, especially if its a tomcat.
  2. Always use a mask and gloves when cleaning the cat litter tray. Better still, outdoor cats often prefer to go in the great outdoors, assuming your neighbours' tolerance stretches that far.
  3. If your allergy is very bad you may have to use gloves when handling your cat as well
  4. Wipe the cat with a damp cloth daily, that will remove dander stuck to her hair
  5. if possible try to bathe your cat in clean warm water once a week. Kittens can be trained to tolerate baths and some actually enjoy water (Maine Coons are said to be the most aquatically-minded feline species). With adult cats which are not used to being bathed, the process can be anything between slightly tricky to terminally traumatic.
  6. Make sure that you keep your cat free of fleas. Fleas make the skin ichy and the cat will scratch, thus shedding more dander.
  7. If you do not have a cat yet but are considering getting one, choose cats which produce lower levels of allergen, for example a female cat instead of a male. Rex cats have only one layer of fur as opposed to standard issue cats which have three. Or if you want to push the boat right out, science has produced a genetically-modified cat that is allergen free, though you need to be prepared for a sharp pain in your wallet every time you think of the couple of thousand quid the beast will cost you.

Note: This information is for guidance only. It is not intended to replace consultation with a licensed practitioner.

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