Can I self-administer cat allergy drops - and where can I get them, if so?
April 19, 2010 1:22 PM   Subscribe

I'm allergic to cats. I've been to an allergist and gotten the expensive, full-panel series of sensitivity tests to objects ranging from grass to (it seems like, after so much effort) spaghetti and meatballs. Only cats trigger my symptoms. I know that extended allergy shots are a possible solution, but there's no way I can afford them. I've read about sublingual (under-the-tongue) treatment with allergy drops (with extract of cat dander.) I can't find a local doctor (Los Angeles, amazingly) who offers this. But it seems pretty straightforward - get the drops and do it myself. Bad idea? Where can I get the drops? Thanks.
posted by soulbarn to Pets & Animals (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have a direct answer, but how allergic are you, exactly? Are you asking because you already have a cat, or because you are thinking of getting one?

I ask because I also have cat allergies, and am thinking of getting a cat, but have also found that I'm not allergic to all cats; Siberian cats and Maine Coons in particular have a lower level of the allergy-causing protein in their dander, and while some cats (like ordinary short-hairs) set me off like crazy, I had a good friend in a neighborhood street cat that was all (or mostly) Maine Coon that didn't give me any problems, even when we took naps with him sleeping on my chest.
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:29 PM on April 19, 2010


I don't have a cat at the moment - mine passed away last year - but I am about to get one of the so-called "low allergy" breeds, a Cornish Rex. I've done quite a bit of testing with the breed, visiting various people who owned them, and do pretty well. But I'm asking, really, just in case, since every cat - even of the same breed - is different (or so I'm told.)

Thanks for your reply.
posted by soulbarn at 1:31 PM on April 19, 2010

YMMV, but actually living with a cat reduced my allergies to "mild and tolerable." I spent the first 8 weeks there on Claritin, and then...didn't have to buy more.

Daily exposure has done nothing for my dust and oak allergies, so take with a grain of salt.
posted by availablelight at 1:32 PM on April 19, 2010

I hate to be rude, but, if you're allergic to cats, why are you considering getting a cat?
posted by schmod at 1:34 PM on April 19, 2010

I hate to be rude, but, if you're allergic to cats, why are you considering getting a cat?

Some people have discovered that the benefits of having a cat around outweigh the detriments (as someone who has been allergic to the things for over 30 years, you can imagine how surprised I am to discover that I am in fact one of those people).
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:41 PM on April 19, 2010 [4 favorites]

Bad idea. The reason is that you have a known allergy to this substance, so there is a real (though small) risk that you could have an anaphylactic reaction to it. They should only be administered somewhere that has trained staff and resuscitation equipment on hand, and the patient should be watched for at least an hour after the substance has been given (longer if they show any symptoms, however mild).

So, yes, bad idea because you might die. I suspect that is why there are no doctors who give them in your area - the insurance premiums you'd have for a procedure that could result in an otherwise healthy patient dropping dead on you must be immense.
posted by Coobeastie at 1:44 PM on April 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Seconding availablelight. My roommate's cat is, seriously, one large walking allergen, but having lived with her for a year, I'm much, much more able to tolerate the hair and dander.

But every spring I'm a wreck because of pollen, so there you go.
posted by LokiBear at 1:49 PM on April 19, 2010

As an earlier poster noted, quality of life. I've had cats as long as I can remember, with varying degrees of suffering abd symptoms - but an unvarying degree of love, given and received.
posted by soulbarn at 1:49 PM on April 19, 2010

I did allergy shots for 2 years, often more than once a week, for my allergies (including cats), and while my other allergy syptoms improved a bit, my cat allergies only seemed to get worse.
posted by eas98 at 1:50 PM on April 19, 2010

I've lived with cats all my life. Got tested last year and found I have one bad allergy - cats. I take an antihistamine every now and again and wash my hands after playing with the cats, but otherwise I'm just fine.
posted by Billegible at 2:01 PM on April 19, 2010

I think that if you have had cats "as long as you can remember" and are still allergic to them, then it is unlikely that the kind of therapy you are interested in will work. After all, you have already been exposed to cat allergens for extended periods of time by having cats around. But I am not a doctor.

You might investigate acepromazine. This is a tranquilizer, but given in small doses, it does not actually affect the cat's behavior, but blocks the production of a common allergen in the cat's saliva. About 75% of people report some improvement, with some reporting an almost complete cessation of symptoms.

Other mitigation strategies include an "allergen free zone" for sleeping in (i.e. don't let the cat in the bedroom, use a HEPA filter in there, wash the bed linens often) and bathing the cat often, down to the skin. (Get a kitten in the latter case so the animal will be used to being bathed. You don't want to try to bathe a cat for the first time as an adult.)
posted by kindall at 2:07 PM on April 19, 2010

I'm allergic to damn near everything under the sun, cats and dogs included, and I've lived with both for extended periods of time. I did do shots for the from 6-18 and again from 25-30 and they worked just fine. I did have a few reactions which required doctor/nurse attention which is why they require you to get shots at a doctors' office. From what I understood from my allergists, the immuno-therapy stuff for animal dander is the most volatile and the one you are the most likely to have a reaction to, therefore I, personally, would not do anything with "at-home" immuno-therapy products.

That said, I've been off the shots for a number of years now (mainly because I'm too lazy to bother with going to get them), and I'm down to just one cat and I have more issues with the pollen outside than the cat inside. If you keep the house clean, don't touch your face or eyes after petting the cat, and keep the cat from sleeping directly on your head (good luck with that) you should have varying degrees of success.

Right now I'm managing the worst pollen season in the last 30 years with some Zyrtec and prescription nose sprays as well as handwashing.

For me it's worth it to have the happy purrs, but YMMV.
posted by teleri025 at 2:08 PM on April 19, 2010

Monumentally bad idea. As others have mentioned, allergy shots require monitoring in the doctor's office afterward (one of the reasons they are inconvenient). Also this is a long process depending upon how allergic you are. First off you may be so allergic that you won't be a candidate (see my experience below). Secondly it can take years to build up a tolerance. I was getting reactions to shots (just at the injection site) and had to continue to have weekly shots well past the 6 month mark. I think that in the almost 2 years that I was getting them I only got to every other week. I finally stopped when I went on a 3 week vacation. I had to miss my bi-weekly shots and would basically have had to start over again at weekly. I just gave up at that point, although I did see an improvement that seemed to last for several years after I stopped getting them.

I don't know how much has changed in the realm of treating allergies since I was getting shots in the early 1990s,but I'm kinda surprised to how many people who have cats are allergic to them. I'm allergic to a lot of things, but I'm severely allergic to cats. I had one at the time and my allergist told me in no uncertain terms if I persisted in keeping a cat as a pet I would develop asthma, it could be in a year and it could be 10 years later. He said that he wouldn't even try the shots, although I was getting them for mold, dust mites, grass, and a few other things. I remember I was getting 6 total). So I really think that it depends upon how allergic you are to cats and how much you are willing to permanently jeopardize your health to have one. I love cats to bits, but as much as I would like to have one, I prefer to breathe.
posted by kaybdc at 2:08 PM on April 19, 2010

You could look at Siberian cats-- I'm way allergic (sneezing, running eyes, leave-the-room allergic) but I've been in a room full of Siberians and no reaction. I also cat-sat a Burmese I'd previously 'tested' for a couple of weeks-- these are also rumoured to be non-allergenic cats. According to this take-with-grain-of-salt website, the problem is a specific protein that some cats have much lower concentrations of than others.

Only my renters rules are preventing me from getting a Siberian this instant, so I sympathize! Advising controlling the cat end of the equation, because I have to say self-medicating on allergies would make me nervous.
posted by Erasmouse at 2:14 PM on April 19, 2010

My family has had great success with the sublingual drops. The office we see is The Family Allergy Clinic. But, it's located in Mesa, Arizona. If you could take a trip down here sometime you could get all set up and then they'll ship the drops to you. And maybe since you've already been to an allergist, you could do this over the phone/mail to get established.
posted by Sassyfras at 2:29 PM on April 19, 2010

I have two friends who were moderately allergic to cats who subsequently got cats and were fine after a few weeks/months. They are still somewhat allergic to other people's cats, but fine in their own homes.

You should probably take some steps to keep pet hair/dander in control in your home, but you might want to just see how it goes doing those kinds of things than trying other non-healthcare professional monitored immuno-therapy.
posted by Kimberly at 2:30 PM on April 19, 2010

As somebody who owns two hypoallergenic (Devon) Rexes (and dragged many an allergic through the house to fall in love with them), I can't recommend this breed enough! Not only is their fur short, soft, curly and hypoallergenic, but their temperament and playfullness tends to make others understand why people would bother with such strange creatures as companions. Along that line, also look into sphinxes, as they are completely hairless. Go to a cattery and see if you have any reactions there...I took my very-allergic-to-cats then-boyfriend with me when I bought my first gremlin, and still laugh at the picture of him with THREE cats on his lap. And 17 others roaming around. Not a bit of allergy symptoms to be had. YMMV, of course, but go there and see if there's one (or many) you can handle. It may be that no other precautions will be necessary!
posted by iamkimiam at 3:10 PM on April 19, 2010

I'm also allergic to cats. I've had cats my entire (albeit short) life. I've gone from being allergic to not being allergic to being allergic to them again. Right now they are my strongest allergy. I currently get allergy shots and I haven't seen any improvement from them yet. Although I've only been getting them since August and right now in DC the pollen is HORRIBLE. I don't know a whole lot about the sub lingual drops, but the main reason that you wouldn't be able to do them at home is because of the risk of a reaction. When you get shots in an office, you have to sit there for about half an hour to make sure that you don't somehow have an anaphylactic reaction. You also need to buy an Epi-Pen just in case. I don't think that the risk is as great with drops, but I think you'd be hard pressed to find a doctor willing to allow you to self administer them. Good luck though!
posted by majikstreet at 4:26 PM on April 19, 2010

schmod: "I hate to be rude, but, if you're allergic to cats, why are you considering getting a cat?"

Also, some cats are different than others. I am allergic to cats but some cats, like my friend's, don't bother me much. Also, there seems to be one dog in the world (that I've met) that I'm allergic to, but no other dogs bother me. (Yes, granted, it could be whatever flea preventative they use on her.)
posted by IndigoRain at 5:21 PM on April 19, 2010


We're in sync. Our new kitty is a Cornish Rex….

Thanks to all for the helpful answers.
posted by soulbarn at 6:05 PM on April 19, 2010

YMMV, but actually living with a cat reduced my allergies to "mild and tolerable." I spent the first 8 weeks there on Claritin, and then...didn't have to buy more.

Seconding availablelight's experience (but substitute Actifed, in the days before Claritin).

And, from Coobeastie
Bad idea. The reason is that you have a known allergy to this substance, so there is a real (though small) risk that you could have an anaphylactic reaction to it.

Ridiculous scaremongering. Don't swallow the whole damned bottle. If you haven't gone into anaphylactic shock from being cuddled by a kitty yet (sneezing, itching, & puffy eyes notwithstanding), you won't die from a drop.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:42 PM on April 19, 2010

IamBroom - this is not scaremongering. The point of the shots/drops is to up the dose to increase your tolerance. At any point in this a hypersensitivity reaction can occur, especially if you do something like accidentally give yourself too much. While the risk is very low if it happens it's going to happen fast, it's going to happen nastily, and if you're on your own at home you're going to be dead. Taking that risk seems daft to me.

Perhaps this is one of those occasions where personal experience clouds one's risk assessment, because I do know someone who was treating someone for hayfever with allergen immunotherapy, and that person died of anaphylactic shock. Hayfever isn't normally life threatening, just like the described cat allergy - but the provocation of the treatment triggered a more serious reaction. While all medical treatment has risks, one weighs the risk-benefit ratio - and where the risk is 'otherwise healthy person drops dead' that is a big issue.

I'm not trying to dissuade anyone from doing this - just that deliberately provoking one's immune system should probably done with some backup for the rare cases when your immune system turns round and bites!
posted by Coobeastie at 11:25 AM on April 20, 2010

I am allergic to cats generally as well-- except for my devon rex kitty. I did not get him until I had spent time with some devons to see how I did-- no allergies at all. The breeder arranged for me to get "less fuzzy" cat and I am doing fine. Its been almost 9 months and I have noticed that my allergies around other cats have diminished some what.

So just because you are allergic does not mean you should get a cat-- you can spend time around certain breeds to see how you do or foster a kitty to see how you do with him/her. Of course, having hardwood floors and furniture that does not attract hair as much (leather), helps as well.
posted by psususe at 4:28 PM on April 20, 2010

@Coobeastie I see your point about anaphylactic shock, but it seems a bit academic to me - since even if the drops were prescribed by a doctor as part of an "official" treatment program, the drug would still be administered at home, and the results of an incident would be the same, good or bad. Don't you think?

I've done some additional research, and nearly all the doctors who offer the treatment say that the risks of such an occurrence are extremely low. They generally say that an Epi-Pen isn't necessary, either, though one could certainly carry one. It isn't unheard of, either, to offer the treatment remotely; there are several clinics that do so. You do need an allergy panel first to show what you're allergic to.

I also found a local doctor - in Los Angeles - who uses sublingual drops. His procedure is an office visit for the allergy panels and an initial supply of three months worth of drops. The drops themselves and the office visit (not including the allergy panel) is $185. You refill every ninety days, but you are then on a maintenance regimen, so you use less. At a cost of about $500 a year, then, that's a HUGE savings in both cash and convenience over shots, and in fact, it is pretty danged near the price of a year's worth of Zyrtec at my local CVS.
posted by soulbarn at 5:19 PM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

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