Is your cat allergic to you?

Cat allergies can ruin the sufferer's life. We all know the problems that allergies can cause - the coughs and wheezing as air is squeezed through airways in inflamed lungs, the general shortness of breath, and in many cases the inability to get away from the source of the problem. There's no getting away from the source of the problem because humans who are allergic to cats simply avoid them - but here we are talking about cats which are allergic to humans.

That's right. Humans get allergic to cats, so it should not be a surprise to find that it can work the other way around as well. And just as humans are not actually allergic to cats themselves, but to microscopic drops of cat saliva which is deposited on their fur when they clean themselves, cats can be allergic to human skin cells, dandruff or cigarette smoke. Humans shed skin at an amazing rate, replacing the outer layer every day or two. This means that household dust is partly - or even mainly - flecks of dry, dead human skin, which you and your cat inhale regularly.

Apart from this wonder of nature, cats are also afflicted by strong cleaning and polishing materials, or even the dust from their kitty litter. Scientific studies have shown that 0.5% of cats suffer from allergy to humans, and in severe cases this can lead to lung collapse, death or permanent damage to the lungs.

This is particularly bad news for people with Siamese cats, as Siamese and other pedigree oriental breeds are more likely to suffer from allergies than the standard DSH (domestic short hair). On the other hand, if a cat has reached the age of five years without showing any symptoms, then either that cat does not suffer from allergies, or there is nothing in the environment to which the cat is allergic. Some asthmatic cats improve after veterinary treatment, not because of anything that the vet has done, but simply because they have been removed from the environment which is causing the problem. Vets are seeing more cases of allergic cats these days partly because cats are increasingly being kept indoors where they have no escape from the allergens that are triggering their breathing problems.

One of the prime suspects causing for the problem is a bacterium called Mycoplasma which is found in the lungs, mouths or noses of up to a quarter of asthmatic cats and which may also be responsible for cases of allergic rhinitis; which is when the nasal passages get inflamed and bunged up, causing the cat to sniff and sneeze.

As ever, if you think that your cat has a problem, the first step is to consult your vet. He will make sure that the issue is not something even more sinister, such as a lung infection or tumour. If it has been established that your cat is allergic to you, there are several steps you can take. It may not be necessary to embark immediately on treatment with steroids and inhalers. Yes, you can get inhalers for cats, but, like steroids, these are something of a last resort. If it is possible for your cat to go outdoors safely, just giving the cat a change of air to breathe can work wonders. So can changing the type of kitty litter, or even (if your cat will stand for it) replacing the litter with shredded newspaper. You might consider a change of carpet. Research has shown that some old carpets in high-occupancy households can become largely organic over time, so new carpets or better yet, a wood floor, might be good for the humans as well.

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