Can Cats and Allergies Co-exist?
May 15, 2009 3:50 PM   Subscribe

My partner and I would like to get a kitten, but I'm very allergic to them and not keen on living on a daily diet of Telfast to cope. Is there anything we can do?

I have seen this previous question but we don't really want to limit ourselves to one particular breed of cat. I guess we're looking for practical, medical or alternative solutions that might allow us to have a cat in our lives whilst ensuring that I don't degenerate into a sneezing, red-eyed wreck every day thereafter.
posted by Effigy2000 to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (23 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Allergy shots?
posted by at 3:51 PM on May 15, 2009

Well that previous question makes it pretty clear that it's not just one breed that's possible for you. I think there are suggestions for about 5-6 different types that are said to be low allergen. My mom has a Rex though she is allergic to cats and her allergies are fine with him. Plus, Rex cats are awesome. They look a little odd but they're super friendly and active, very dog-like, in fact.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 4:01 PM on May 15, 2009

Completely anecdotal, but I was pretty severely allergic to cats for years (reddened skin, sneezing, eyes watering, inflammation). We got our cat just shy of two years ago, and combined with keeping the house pretty clean with a HEPA filter, I'd say it took me about 2 months to fully adapt. This has had the happy consequence that I can visit friends and families with cats now without turning into a sneezing mess.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:04 PM on May 15, 2009

I've been allergic to cats in and on-and-off way for years. When I first met my husband (and his 2 cats) I would go into drippy, eyes-swollen-shut allergy meltdowns. I do occasionally have to take claritin, but I've been living with 2 cats for the past 2 years and have lost those initial reactions. It may not be the case with you, but for me I just seemed to acquire a tolerance. Having a good air filter and frequent vacuuming also helps.

On the more cat-procurement end, you might consider becoming a foster for a kitten. Animal rescue groups are desperate for foster homes, and the cat will be listed as available to adopt. You will have first dibs on adopting the cat, if it turns out your allergies are manageable. If you have to return the cat before it finds a new owner, there is much less resistance from the animal agency (than if you were to get a cat by other means and then go to them to give it up- they strongly discourage it). Turning a cat over to animal control or the pound will probably result in them being put down, due to overcrowding and a shortage of pet-seekers. Definitely something to consider before making that commitment.

Best of luck!
posted by wowbobwow at 4:12 PM on May 15, 2009

I'm allergic to other cats, but not my cat--the one we have now or the one I had in my twenties.

In both cases, I took Benadryl for a couple of weeks and then stopped being allergic to them. I can rub my face on my cat, or let her lick my eyebrows, and still be okay. Other people's cats, still allergic. A lot less so than I used to be, though.

Could you get a kitty plan B--so if after a month you're still having problems you could give it to a friend or something?
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:23 PM on May 15, 2009

I'm not going to push drugs on anyone, but non-drowsy allergy meds rock. Truly life changing for some. Popping a tiny pill at night is no trouble to me, as I'm already in the habit of it.

Otherwise, getting into a religious cleaning routine can help a lot. If you've got the money, consider getting a hepa filter vac ($300 USD and up). A regular vacuum once a week or more can help too. Also having hardwood floors, washable slipcovers, washable curtains, and pet beds, and doing a lot of laundry, should be part of the routine, but probably best done by your partner, not you.

Also, some people not allergic to cats, can be allergic or irritated from the clay dust in cat litter, but there are alternatives.

Don't let the cat into your bedroom, so you can get at least 8 hours of allergy relief at night.

I'm also chiming in with my anecdote. My allergies to cats becomes better, the longer I live with that cat. I developed some tolerance to my last roommate's cat... after maybe 5 months of allergy hell. (and that was with allergy meds) Same with my parent's cats.

If you would have any serious medical complications from allergic reactions, or if they would make you miserable reconsider. Kitties should be forever.
posted by fontophilic at 4:25 PM on May 15, 2009

I'd never displayed any signs of allergies until I was about 21. I then went horse riding one day and ended up a snivelling, coughing, wheezing mess. Ever since then, I'd had a similar reaction around cats. I'm now 25 and started sharing a house with a cat owner last month, having completely forgotten that I was allergic. For the first week, I was a snivelling, coughing, wheezing mess and purposely avoided the cat - and the house - whilst I began to make plans to move out. A month later and I'm still there: absolutely no symptoms of allergy and even began making friends with said cat yesterday. I think she must have thought I hated her because I always avoided getting close but was amazed yesterday when she came and sat on my lap and didn't even provoke a single itch.

Does anyone know if it's really possible to become accustomed to an allergy in this way? Mighty strange, and others are reporting similar experiences.
posted by Zé Pequeno at 4:26 PM on May 15, 2009

I'm allergic to cats, but not my cat (well, I was for the first few weeks, but now I only get stuffy during shedding season). When I decided to get a cat I polled everyone I knew with cats to ask about allergies, and they all told me the same thing: "You grow immune to your own cat once you've lived with it for a while". I found this to be true. My dog-allergic husband, on the other hand, did 5 years of allergy shots and still takes a Zyrtec every day in order to snuggle with the dogs. So YMMV. But I like the fostering idea- you can try out a cat and bond with it and if you find that you are less allergic than when you started, you get to keep this wonderful cat!
posted by dogmom at 4:55 PM on May 15, 2009

It occasionally works the other way. After owning 4 different cats over many years and never having been allergic to them, I found after about 12 years that I would get hives on the delicate skin on my inner forearm or face if either of the dark cats rubbed up against me there, or would become an itchy-eyed and sneezy mess when I took the grey one to the vet, where she would go on shedding overload. (I was fine around her otherwise, and her fur/dander didn't give me hives.) So some people may find that repeated exposure to their pets will lead to limited allergic reactions after many years.

I'm not saying this to scare you. I agree that prolonged exposure will probably build tolerance, and that cleaning the house will help, too. Getting the cat used to weekly baths, to keep that allergenic dander down, is also an excellent safeguard.

But I absolutely agree that you should have a backup plan for someone else taking the cat if you are the rarity who can't adapt.
posted by maudlin at 5:05 PM on May 15, 2009

Washing them weekly really seemed to help me. If you start when they are young enough, it isn't too bad, though they look absolutely pitiful when they are wet.
posted by Good Brain at 5:19 PM on May 15, 2009

Oh, if you plan on washing them, get a shorthair. You can wash them in the sink, dry them with a few towels, and put them someplace warm to finish drying out. Persians are an absolute chore. You end up terrorizing them for an hour with a blow dryer and a comb, and they still end up matted.
posted by Good Brain at 5:21 PM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Since we are going by anecdotes - I was not allergic to cats until my 40's. Suddenly I developed a severe allergy to a friend's cat - a cat I've been around without a problem for 10 years. Then - BOOM!

Here's the kicker - the cat in question is a Cornish Rex. So, getting a Rex guarantees absolutely nothing. I have a massive, very severe allergy to that cat - we're talking me taking meds for a solid two weeks, after just one hour visit where I come into contact with that cat. Hypoallergenic, my ass.
posted by VikingSword at 5:22 PM on May 15, 2009

Does anyone know if it's really possible to become accustomed to an allergy in this way? Mighty strange, and others are reporting similar experiences.

Except in the case of children, who sometimes outgrow allergies, few allergy sufferers become accustomed to pets to whom they are allergic.

Except that that's contrary to the experience of half the people in the thread. I tried to find some actual clinical evidence of resistance to one's own pet and couldn't find any research on it. I really think it hasn't been done. But this has been my experience, and others as well.

Thing is, you can't bank on that when adopting an animal (although, I guess -- I kind of did, frankly). Based on my previous experience, I thought I could get away with it with cat #2 and did. But if I didn't, I'd want a plan B, to give her to my mom or someone. It's hurtful to animals, if you love them, to play games with their homes and sense of security.

She's been with us six years now. Wow.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:04 PM on May 15, 2009

I too had cat allergies and Mr. Leezie and I still got two adorable kittens. I half-hearetedly popped some Zyrtec for a while, but got tired of it. I decided that I would live with it. What I didn't expect was what happened: my allergies never materialized with these two. I still get cat allergies to some cats, but not all. There is hope!
posted by Leezie at 6:46 PM on May 15, 2009

When my husband and I first started dating, I asked my vet about how I can make my awesome new (but allergic) boyfriend more willing to come over to my cat-ridden apartment. She recommended Allergroom shampoo. it's gentle enough to use once a week. It's helped so much (along with Zyrtec) that once my old cats had passed away, we even got a new one! I also just bought a Furminator, and it really seems to get rid of a lot more hair than a regular brush, but haven't had it long enough to swear by it. We also keep the cat out of the bedroom-- or at least try to, he's sneaky.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 7:35 PM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I know this isn't what you want to hear, but I have to second fontophilic. I'm one of those super-allergic people - any furry animal brings out my allergies and triggers my asthma. I decided I didn't want to have a pet-free life, so I spent some time finding a non-drowsy medication that worked well with me. Originally it was zyrtec, then I changed to Claritin. I take it every day with no side effects, and live a happy life with 2 cats. Just wanted to suggest that you don't write the idea off altogether, or perhaps hold it off as plan B.
posted by Joh at 9:04 PM on May 15, 2009

Seconding other kinds of litter. My allergic-to-everything-crazy-cat-lady roommate uses non-clumping odor-free Johnny Cat. Out of all the people we know who claim to be allergic to cats, only two or three people have been bothered by ours. In fact, when she was thinking about getting the second one, she and her then-boyfriend went to visit it first, and he had a terrible reaction. Once she got the cat into our apartment (with her choice of litter), he had no problems at all.

It requires more frequent scooping and changing, but it's well worth it if you really want a cat.
posted by natabat at 9:35 PM on May 15, 2009

I was allergic to tons of stuff as a kid - grass/leaves, chocolate, and cats. I got allergy shots every two weeks from age 3 to 16. Going over to our friends' two-cat apartment was a nightmare - I'd have to predose with sudafed and benadryl or instantly get the itchy eyes and runny nose.

But then we got our own kitty last fall. And yes, I did become immune to my own cat. I'm also on loratidine (generic claritin), which I take mostly everyday. You can get large bottles of generics at amazon. We have hardwood floors, no HEPA filter, the kitty sleeps on our bed, and I can pick him up and kiss on his head with no problems. The first few weeks were rough but now it's great, and I can't imagine not having our cat. He's a plain old domestic shorthair.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 8:23 AM on May 16, 2009

It depends on the severity of your allergy. We have a friend who, in some respects, practically lives here, and she is much less allergic to our one cat (who is much more sheddy) than to our other cat. She is also not allergic to her mom's cats, and basically, given enough time, she can acquire an immunity to most cats via exposure. This doesn't actually work if you are going into Anaphalactic shock around other people's pets, even the lower shedding ones.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:24 AM on May 16, 2009

Just thought I'd point out that as long as you don't pay through the nose for prescriptions, even high-dosage fexofenadine (Telfast being a brand name) taken daily does not tend to produce any serious side-effects. For merely surviving general day-to-day living in the world, I've been taking 180mg of Telfast daily (this is only avaliable on prescription here), so well as 10mg cetirizine as necessary when my allergies flare up for many years now, and to no ill effect (so far as I am aware).

Not that I'd recommend doing it if you don't have to, of course.
posted by Dysk at 8:37 AM on May 16, 2009

I think it's possible that you may outgrow your allergies. I've had the official tests of what I'm allergic to with the doctor and I'm allergic to cats, but my own don't seem to bother me now that I've had them awhile.

Also, when I pet other people's cats, I just wash my hands right after and don't let them climb all over me.

Good luck with you fuzzy friend!
posted by DorothySmith at 11:32 AM on May 17, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for your advice, one and all. I appreciate the notion that I may well adjust to any cat we get, but I'm not sure I'm willing to risk it. I think my partner especially would become very attached to the kitty and would be heartbroken if we had to get rid of it 6 months or more down the track when I'm still sneezing and living on Telfast.

I'm afraid it's no kitty for us. Thanks for your help all!
posted by Effigy2000 at 10:01 PM on May 22, 2009

I have seven cats and two dogs. One of the cats is a long-hair and one of the dogs is double-coated. I have had allergies to fur bearing critters my entire life, as well as severe asthma. There is more fur in my house (and on my floor, sigh) right this second then I care to admit.

I take zyrtec and singulair daily, as well as two different types of inhalers. When I feel my allergies bothering me through all of that, I take some benedryl. This regime is worth it to me, as I literally cannot conceive of life without pets.

What typically happens is when we add another pet to the mix, I go through two weeks of swollen, itchy eyes, hives, wheezing, etc. After that period, my body accustoms itself to the new allergen and I'm fine. I've had pets my whole life, and while I have allergic reactions to foreign animals, I have none to mine.

In your situation, I would definitely explore fostering. Rescues always need people to foster, and this way, if it doesn't work out, you can help in other ways.
posted by crankylex at 3:17 PM on August 6, 2009

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