Cats, allergies and girlfriends
May 26, 2005 9:02 AM   Subscribe

I've always wanted to have a cat(s), but when I was a kid, we couldn't have pets in the house. Now I'm older and home-owning, I may be able to own my own cat (and to hell with anyone who says otherwise...). Problem is my very special lady friend is allergic to animals (sneezing, runny nose, etc) which would make having house pets a problem, and would make her life a sneezing misery. Is there any way round this? Can you get hypo-allergenic cats? How can I help?
posted by gaby to Pets & Animals (31 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Not really unless you want to shell out $3500 and wait a year. There is also a one time a day prescription solution but I don't remember the name.
posted by arse_hat at 9:18 AM on May 26, 2005

That's not entirely true. My mother is very allergic to cats and she managed to get one. There is a certain type of long haired cat, I forget the name, that is similar to poodles in that they don't shed/flake very much and so are easy on the allergies. She just called around to various shelters in her area and found one at a shelter about an hour away. I would call vets and shelters and ask what kinds of cats are less allergenic and see if anyone knows of one available.
Good luck! Cats are the best!
posted by ohio at 9:22 AM on May 26, 2005

Well, there's this, the hairless cat. The question then becomes, would you be comfortable waking up in the middle of the night to find that thing looking at you?
posted by veedubya at 9:22 AM on May 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

It depends how bad her allergies are. She might be able to tolerate being around the cat if the house is well-ventilated and the floors/carpets are kept clean. I say, invest in a good vacuum and hope for the best.
posted by elisabeth r at 9:27 AM on May 26, 2005

ohio, your mom is lucky to have found a kitty she can live with. If you take a look at the first article you will see that reactions to cats are individual and what worked for her may not work for someone else. veedubya, hair makes no difference. It's the dander. To answer your question, no I would not like to see that.
posted by arse_hat at 9:28 AM on May 26, 2005

The problem with cats is generally the dander, and if you get a very short-haired cat (think the Cornish Rex; I knew a guy who had one, and that cat was just like a puppy, except trained to use a litter box; I mean that was one great cat) when it's a kitten, I'm told that they can learn not to mind being bathed regularly, which cuts way, way down on the dander.

But I'd check it out with a breeder (cat breeder, I mean, not a hetero). If it turns out to not work, then you've got a pissed off lady friend, and you have to get rid of your kitty, and everyone's miserable.

The Cornish Rex looks kind of freaky, but they're bred to be friendly. If I could have a cat, I'd have one. I'm pretty sure the Sheltie would eat it, though.
posted by anapestic at 9:29 AM on May 26, 2005

As someone who developed cat allergies later in life and tried to cheat it out by getting a hairless cat, I gotta say don't do it unless you can spend some time with cat and you actually like the personality (Sphynxes are very needy) and your lady friend actually doesn't react to the cat.

If your lady friend is allergic to fur, a hairless cat (Sphynx) or a Devon Rex won't cue that. But if she's allergic to dander, the sphynx is going to be more of an issue.

You can sweep/vacuum all the time. You can bathe the cat every day, every other day. You can use a dander eliminating wash they sell at pet stores. You can clean often. You can keep the cat out of the bedroom (off the pillows). She can wash her hands frequently. She can get allergy shots or take a daily medication.
posted by Gucky at 9:30 AM on May 26, 2005

would you be comfortable waking up in the middle of the night to find that thing looking at you?

Wait. That's a pretty picture of a Sphynx. They're all wrinkly in the head when concerned. If you don't bathe them regularly, the oil (vitamin E) in nice cat foods comes out on their skin. And then dust and dirt clings to the oil. And then they leave oily stains on blankets and stuff.

They have to wear sweaters. Because they're cold.

You can't let them go outside. Because of sunburn and hypothermia.

Oh, and, a kitten? Set you back around $5000 and a very thorough interview & application process with a breeder.

That being said, I really, really miss my hairless cat.
posted by Gucky at 9:35 AM on May 26, 2005

Another thing you can try is put a small amount of acepromazine in the cat's water. See the bottom of this page for details.
posted by kindall at 9:41 AM on May 26, 2005

I have a Cornish Rex. There is little shedding except a couple of times a year when the weather changes. Even then, there is no sweeping or lint brushing and, best of all, she does not bother my asthma or allergies.

I highly recommend the Rex, they are smart and have tons or personality.
posted by necessitas at 9:44 AM on May 26, 2005

As a cat allergy sufferer, I have to beg you to consider your lady friend's health over your own desire to have a pet. I have severe cat allergies and react even when I hug my cat-owning friends, because the cat dander is even in their clean clothes.

Of course, your S.O. might not be so allergic, or, as others above suggest, may be willing to meet you halfway if you clean the house thoroughly weekly and keep the cat out of the bedroom. There is no cure-all that will work with every person, and each person will react to specific cats differently. If you want a cat, I would suggest taking one on a foster care basis from a local shelter. That way you can try the cat for a few weeks, and if things don't work out you have not officially adopted the cat and it can be transferred back to the shelter or to another foster family.

Also, there is one drug, Singulair, that was invented for asthma treatment but also helps some people with pet dander allergies (not all allergy meds treat for pets). One needs a prescription for it and it's only effective in about 40% of people but it's once-a-day and I think it has very low/almost no side effects.
posted by turtlegirl at 9:51 AM on May 26, 2005

As turtlegirl said, as a cat allergy sufferer... let me tell you, it is awful. I can't even visit friends that have a cat for one night without suffering for the next week even after the cat is long gone. I don't even think this should be your decision. Let your lady friend decide or go back to being single catman.
posted by banished at 10:10 AM on May 26, 2005

I friend of mine is allergic to cats and owns 3.

She keeps her place relatively clean. What I have noticed with my allergic friends is that they can get used to a particular cat, and allergy meds really work (lots of commercials lately advertise for treating pet allergies). A friend of mine sneezed like there was no tommorrow when she first met my cat years ago, but she has never had the same reaction since, even when my cat stayed with them at their house. There is hope. Don't deny yourself.
posted by scazza at 10:12 AM on May 26, 2005

Vacuuming your cat is supposed to help on the hair and dander too. We used to have two cats, one loved to be vacuumed, he purred. The other stripped all the flesh off my forearm the one time I tried to vacuum her. So YMMV.
posted by LarryC at 10:19 AM on May 26, 2005

She might be able to get used to the cat with gradual exposure. My husband and I are both allergic, but we have 2 cats. I have found that our bodies adapted. The cats really don't bother us at all unless we touch them and then rub our eyes. Unless she is severly allergic or has asthma, she can probably adapt too. Of course, you need to ask her if she wants to adapt. If she does, I would suggest adopting a kitten, as they are obviously smaller and have less dander. This way she can start out with infrequent visits to your place and then increase her visits as she gets used to the kitten and its dander.
posted by crapulent at 10:25 AM on May 26, 2005

People are differentially allergic to individual cats. I strongly second turtlegirl's suggestion regarding the test drive of a foster cat. If it's any help, many people feel that they are more highly allergic to darker cats. A nice white or calico cat might not bother your SO as badly. And the bedroom should be completely off limits.
posted by Morrigan at 10:26 AM on May 26, 2005

I should add that it took us approximately 3 months to become accustomed to our cats. It will probably take longer for your lady friend depending on how regularly she stays at your house. So be patient.
posted by crapulent at 10:29 AM on May 26, 2005

If you can find a good allergist for your lady-friend he may be able to help her evaluate various drug treatments (Allegra and Zyrtech don't seen to work for me, but Singulair and Clarinex worked better.) Also, apparently cat allergies are somewhat "standard" and they have developed immunotherapy (allergy shots -- weekly for the first year, monthly for the next four) that is effective in permanently eliminating the allergies in 3/4 of patients. But I can't speak from permanent experience, I haven't started the treatment.
posted by PadrePuffin at 10:29 AM on May 26, 2005

I had a Devon Rex cat as well. He was terrific. Very affectionate, friendly, even tempered & a good conversation piece (they look roughly like drowned rats). Some weird breed quirks though: they have tiny thin bones and can't be allowed to get overweight because of it. At the same time, they don't self-control their eating like a normal animal. They'll eat until they puke and then eat their puke and go on eating He had a great personality, and didn't leave hair all over the house, and so I recommend them. But.

Be warned: it might not solve the allergy problem. While the lack of shedding fur lessened my Dad's allergies, they weren't eliminated. As several people have said before, it's usually the dander, not the fur that is the problem.
posted by raedyn at 10:35 AM on May 26, 2005

My husband is allergic to cats, but I already had two when we first met. We bathe them regularly (once a month or so), which makes a huge, huge difference. Also I thinking feeding the cats a high quality food (Wysong, Innova, Felidae, etc.) makes a big difference too. They shed less and there's much less dander.

Bathing a cat doesn't have to be a bloody battle. We keep their claws trimmed, so that helps. You can control a cat's movements if one of you hooks a hand through the cat's front legs so that your pinkie is outside one leg, the next three finger are pointing up it's chest towards its chin, and finally, your thumb is outside the other leg. Your palm will be under the rib cage. If you have a confident grip on the cat, it isn't going anywhere no matter how much it twists and jumps. We do it in the kitchen sink. Have everything ready before you start. We use pitchers of water so we don't have to turn the faucet on. Use a mild shampoo appropriate for cats--you don't want to damage their fur or dry out their skin. Rinse carefully and gently towel dry them. I've done this with adult, long-haired cats and with short-haired kittens (who are now adults). They won't ever like it, but they get more used to it. And it means they get attention from two people and have the run of the house.

Test driving a cat is a good idea. I wouldn't bathe it though until it's been with you a while and knows it can trust you. Also it will take a while (at least a month) for an improved diet to affect its skin.

A side note about completely dismissing the idea of pets because someone is allergic--remember that pets are also associated with lowered stress/anxiety/etc. If you find something that works, having pets can make a real difference in your mental health.
posted by lobakgo at 10:54 AM on May 26, 2005

My roommate's sister is allergic to cats, but in such a way that bathing the cat on a regular basis keeps it totally manageable for her. As others have said, it will depend on exactly what she is allergic to (hair, dander) and how severe the allergy is.
posted by Medieval Maven at 11:18 AM on May 26, 2005

Have you heard of allerpet? It's a liquid, comes in a plastic bottle, you squirt some on a little towel or washcloth, then wipe down the cat with it. I think it really helps.

I usually get it at a local pet store, but I've ordered it online too.
posted by amtho at 11:18 AM on May 26, 2005

Response by poster: arse_hat: Hmm, I think $3500 is a little out of my price range...

veedubya: Sphynx have always freaked me out a bit, and I think I'd prefer a cat that was able to take care of itself a little more. I think the Devon Rex looks like fun.

LarryC: I love the idea of vacuuming cats. Perhaps we could train them to vacuum each other? :)

Being a UKMeFite, I presume dander is the US term for dandruff?

Very Special Lady Friend grew up with 2 cats at home in London, but we reckon the London air had more of an effect on the allergies than the cats did. I also don't know about theraptic drugs, but I'll ask.

I can also see how keeping the cats clean is good and will help. Also, getting a kitten and regularly washing it to acclimatise seems sensible.

At the end of the day, my Special Lady Friend is more important to me than the cats so if we can't find a suitable cat, I'll do without.
posted by gaby at 11:24 AM on May 26, 2005

As someone who has been in your lady friend's position all her life, I enthusiastically recommend Flonase. It is my savior and my favorite pharmaceutical ever.

It's a nasal spray that contains the steroid fluticasone. I'm not exactly sure how it works, I just know that it does. I used to sneeze at the sight of a cat, my eyes would get all itchy and puffy, and I'd be downright miserable. After a few days on Flonase, all that went away. It works on all nasal and sinus allergies (unlike systemic antihistamines which often only work on pollen or dust) and is a long-term solution. Not positive it's available in the UK but it would surprise me if it was not.
posted by salad spork at 11:30 AM on May 26, 2005

Americans say dandruff too. The word dander is derived from it, but it's a slightly different meaning, and saliva is apparently the worst component in cats.

Here's my story: allergic to pretty much anything furry to such a degree that I wouldn't willingly live with any of 'em. But then my girlfriend ends up moving in, and included for free is one of the fluffiest, sheddiest cats I've known. We tried a three-pronged attack:

First, shave the cat. Not down to the skin, just enough to turn a longhair into a shorthair. Since you get to pick the cat, this shouldn't be necessary. Be glad.

Second, bathe the cat approximately weekly. Some cats'll let you. Fortunately ours is mellow.

Third, wipe her down with an anti-dander spray made by Nature's Miracle. Someone mentioned a similar product earlier in the thread. This needs to be done every few days.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that these three steps together actually solve the problem, for me. Take any of them out of the equation and it's back to itching and wheezing and hives. And, of course, YMMV.
posted by squidlarkin at 12:09 PM on May 26, 2005

All the cat bathing stories reminded me of this internet classic on how to bathe a cat.
posted by phearlez at 12:09 PM on May 26, 2005

Monkey washing a cat.
posted by LarryC at 1:59 PM on May 26, 2005

That's an ape. Monkeys have tails.
posted by crapulent at 2:24 PM on May 26, 2005

The subject was discussed in a January 2004 AskMe Q&A; there might be some useful information there as well.

Two more data points, for what it's worth: Both my wife and her sister are/were allergic to cats, but both decided (separately, separate households) to get one anyway and see what happens. In both cases, with the help of benodryl and a couple of months, they were okay (except, as someone with a similar story noted above, if they touch a cat and then touch their eyes).
posted by WestCoaster at 4:02 PM on May 26, 2005

You want a Philips air filter. Maybe more than one.
posted by krisjohn at 5:16 PM on May 26, 2005

I am incredibly allergic to cats, but once had to live with a roommate that had a cat. The first few weeks were hellish (sneezing, runny nose, burning eyes) but after about 2-3 weeks, the symptoms totally went away.

After the roommate and cat moved out, my allergy apparently came back, and now I am back to having my head explode if I am around a cat for more than 5 minutes.

I know other people have had the same experience of "getting used to" a cat after a few weeks, but I don't know if it's universal. The problem is, if you try this and it doesn't work, you are stuck with a cat and a sneezing girlfriend.
posted by clarissajoy at 8:36 AM on May 27, 2005

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