Animal Companions Column:
Ahh-choo! Don’t Let Cat Allergies Run Your Life
by Hawaiian Humane Society Published Sunday, April 30, 2000, Honolulu Advertiser
Oh that sneezy, itchy, watery-eye feeling. How can something we love so much also make our noses, throats and eyes feel like they are on fire?
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, 15 million Americans are allergic to cats and dogs. One in three cat owners is allergic to their feline companion–and most will jump through many hoops to find ways to alleviate their allergies and keep their cat by their side. Still, both in Hawaii and nationally, allergies are one of the 10 top reasons cats are relinquished to shelters.
Many people think it is cat fur that causes allergic reactions and others think it is cat saliva. But recent research shows that the major cat allergen is a protein, labeled Fel d 1, that comes from the cat’s skin. As a cat grooms herself, the allergen is spread over her fur and then dries and floats off. People with allergies have an inflammatory response to the allergen. In short, histamine is released into the body’s systems and causes swelling, itching and redness. Antihistamines are taken by many people to counter such allergic reactions.
Cat lovers who suffer from allergies are often more than happy to take antihistamines and allergy medications in order to keep their purring companions. Some people are convinced certain breeds of cats may be less allergy-provoking, although research does not back this up. And there are some steps you can take in your home environment to help limit allergic reactions.
Vacuum your home frequently. Hardwood, vinyl and tile are much better floor coverings for those with allergies than are rugs and wall-to-wall carpeting, which retain allergens. There are also products you can spray on rugs to denature allergens. Avoid using drapes, which can also hold allergens.
Keep your cats out of your bedroom ("not an option for me!" many cat lovers exclaim). Consider using an air cleaner or purifier. Remember to change the filter regularly. Encase pillows and mattresses in allergen-proof covers
Bathing your cat frequently may help. Have a nonallergic person groom your cat several times a week with a fine-toothed comb and distilled water. Rub your cat down with a damp towel every day, and always wash your hands after petting your furry companion. Also change your clothes before retiring to your bedroom for the night.
Allergy shots also help some people. People who are allergic to cats often have reactions to molds, dusts and plants as well. (It is important that those with asthma consult a doctor for advice.) An allergist can provide guidance and conduct tests for various allergies. Do make sure you find an allergist who understands the importance of your cat in your life.
Allergies or cat companionship–it does not always have to be one or the other, and many humans are willing to try anything to keep their felines a part of their family. It may require perseverance, but it is well worth the effort.
Some helpful websites:
To learn about allergies:
To find an allergist:
Pet allergy products: