What's new kitty-cat - woe, woe, woe.
July 28, 2011 8:01 AM   Subscribe

Friend got cats, but I'm allergic - what's the protocol?

A close friend in another city, who I regularly (a few times a year) stay with, recently got two young cats.

I'm very allergic to cats - I have athsma and infuriatingly sensitive sinuses - and my allergy has worsened over the years, so that I can no longer spend more than an hour in a Cat House without feeling like I have flu coming on. The last time I stayed overnight in a relative's Cat House, caused a long and tiring athsma attack (not life-threatening but uncomfortable) and the horrid flu symptoms stayed for the day after, the face soreness longer still. It's quite an experience.

So I now don't know what to do - what is the mefite verdict on the protocol here? Do I go and stay but less often, and brave the histamine onslaught? Or do I pay for a B&B when I go, and lose the intimacy of staying in her house (and a bit of cash I guess), but gain a few days' good health? Is is a balance thing? Has anyone else been here?

A note on meds - I do use anti-histamines and inhalers, but they have become less effective over the years. Gawd bless the NHS, but they have not been the most helpful in finding me other solutions. The symptoms I describe above are with meds.
posted by greenish to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like your allergies are brutal. Go and stay at a B&B and explain how rough your allergy is. Your friend can't enjoy your company if you've got flu-like symptoms going the whole time.
posted by ignignokt at 8:04 AM on July 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Data point: My in-laws stay in a hotel when they visit us, because my mother-in-law is so allergic to our (two) cats. If it were a hardship, we would contribute to the hotel. We are not miffed that they are not staying with us, and as far as I know they are not miffed that we have cats or that they must stay elsewhere; nobody wants to increase the misery.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:04 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Go and stay in a hotel room, definitely. If you are worried about losing the intimacy of staying at her house, get a twin room, and ask your friend to join you for a night or two - I think most people enjoy a night or two in a hotel, even if it's in their own city!

(And of course she could easily pop back during the day to take care of the kitties!)
posted by unlaced at 8:07 AM on July 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

I am assuming that she knows that this attack happened.

One more thing you can both try before you give up on staying with her: a specified cleaning regimen on HER part. I have a lot of allergic friends, and when I had my cat I gave the apartment a targeted clean beforehand when any of them came over, and it helped:

1. I vacuumed and dusted everything.

2. I got a de-allergizing liquid from a pet store -- this is something that is designed to neutralize the allergens in a cat's coat. It was something I would soak a cloth with and rub on his skin. He was a little grumpy about it for a few minutes, but tolerated it.

3. Then -- I mopped the floor and dusted AGAIN, but I squirted a shot of that allergen stuff in the mop water and damped the dustcloth with it as well.

That REALLY helped. One of my friends is fairly allergic, but tried coming over once after I'd cleaned things that way and was able to hang around in the same (small) room with my cat for two hours, UNMEDICATED.

I would give things a try with that diligent a cleaning before you come over. If you're still suffering, then you both know you've tried everything and a hotel is the only option.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:09 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am seriously allergic to cats. I am miserable within an hour of being in the same room no matter what methods have been used to clean. For those who don't have allergies, it is no fun to be in a room testing things out until you are uncontrollably sneezing, itching and want to rip out the lining of your throat.

Stay at a B&B and you'll not spend the entire time wishing you weren't there.
posted by Sophie1 at 8:16 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Why would you even consider staying with your friend still? Are you worried about offending your friend or is it just a money issue?
posted by pupstocks at 8:31 AM on July 28, 2011

I do use anti-histamines and inhalers, but they have become less effective over the years.

This is similar to a friend's experience, and he was warned by his allergist that his allergies would get worse with more exposure to cats and some of the other things he's allergic to--what causes a minor asthma reaction now could eventually cause a serious attack. I'm not a doctor, and obviously I don't know if/how your allergies differ from my friend's, but I do think that you need to speak with your allergist or at least your primary care physician about whether or not it's safe to be in your friend's house.

The protocol here is to keep yourself safe and healthy while being sensitive to your friend. So, "I'd love to visit in August, does that work for you? It does? OK, I'll book a B&B--I know it's a change, but I've had some experiences with cat allergies and I don't want that to spoil our good time."
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:37 AM on July 28, 2011

Definitely go for the B&B (be careful, tho, lots of B&Bs have cats!). While EpressCallipygos' cleaning regimen might work for you, I guarantee that your host is not going to want to go through that multiple times a year, and it will cast a pall on your visits far worse than you staying in a B&B will.

Also, maybe have your friend come to visit you? Travel to a new place together?
posted by apparently at 8:41 AM on July 28, 2011

Alternate solution: get allergy shots for your cat allergy.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:41 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've got cats, and I've got friends who are severely allergic. As much as we try to keep a clean place, I don't think it's practical to make it safe for allergic people. Cat hair collects on curtains (which have a lot of surface area and are expensive to clean) and in all sorts of places one generally doesn't think about.

I certainly wouldn't be offended if a friend who had stayed at my place before chose to stay at a hotel. In your shoes, I'd stay at a hotel and enjoy the visit.
posted by adamrice at 8:42 AM on July 28, 2011

Yeah, get a room when you visit. The allergic reaction will get worse, not better, and it's not like this is one of those etiquette things - you really need to not be in a house where cats live. If your friend is basically a human being, she'll understand and it won't be a problem.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:09 AM on July 28, 2011

We have a friend who's allergic to cats, who used to hang out at our house when we lived in the same city, and she was mostly fine for dinner and a movie in the old house. Now that we're on the other coast, we only see her once a year or so when she's in town on business - it's an impoverished-home-business thing, not the expense account kind of business trip - and she and her husband stay at our house. I will not be inviting them to stay with us next year. It is just too stressful as a hostess to deal with her being miserable, trying not to complain yet still constantly mentioning her issues "time to take another pill", "oh, I can't drink, I'm all doped up on benadryl", "hello, little kitty demon, stay over there!". Each visit we vacuum and wipe down the guest room, they attempt to sleep there, and we wake up in the morning to him in the guest room and her sleeping on the porch. The whole situation made visiting with them not even fun any more. By the second night of the last visit I was ready to pay for their hotel room just to get the stress out of my house.

I realize this is a different situation, though, as she was only partly visiting to spend time with us, so it's not so much about losing the intimacy of the houseguest visit. From the hostess perspective, though, I say please get a hotel room. So long as you don't pick something excessively posh I'd even help you pay for it... I'd be willing to chip in $60/night to cover most of the Day's Inn (adjust prices to your local cost of living as necessary) or $85 to come stay at a more fun hotel with you, but I will admit that I'd feel a bit wrung out to be helping you stay at a $200+ vacation site with amenities my house would never in a million years have had. Granted, I'm cheap.
posted by aimedwander at 9:09 AM on July 28, 2011

I'm exactly the same way (incredibly allergic to anything furry, very asthmatic, have built up a resistance to every bloody allergy medication because I've always been this way), and unfortunately, a lot of my friends don't really seem to understand just how badly it affects me.

Get the hotel room. Seriously. It's not worth a trip to the ER or a few days of feeling like utter crap. You won't be able to enjoy your visit with your friend if you can't breathe or are attached to a kleenex box the whole time.

I really like the idea of inviting friend to join you at the hotel or B&B. Best of both worlds!
posted by smirkette at 9:10 AM on July 28, 2011

We have two cats, and several friends who are allergic to cats (one with asthma). We meet our friends at their places or at wherever we're going. For the occasions where our friends come over, like if we're holding a party and they want to socialize a bit with the wider group of friends, we clean the house, vacuum the furniture, confine the cats, etc. and they tend to load up on the medication and stay for a short time or stay out on the porch and talk to people there.

If any of our allergic friends decided they couldn't visit, no matter how much we cleaned, we'd understand and make sure to socialize with them at other places.
posted by telophase at 9:11 AM on July 28, 2011

While EpressCallipygos' cleaning regimen might work for you, I guarantee that your host is not going to want to go through that multiple times a year, and it will cast a pall on your visits far worse than you staying in a B&B will.

Coming in to report that I actually did not find such a cleaning regimen to "cast a pall" on my friends' visits. Because they were my friends, I wanted them to be comfortable, and this was what I had to do in order for that to happen.

I do not doubt that others may find such a thing a burden. Only saying that I wouldn't "guarantee" that a host would feel put-upon about having to do that, because I was a host who didn't.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:12 AM on July 28, 2011

As everyone's saying, it won't be fun for either of you if you stay over and become ill; you'll feel awful for obvious reasons, and she'll feel awful for doing that to you. I'd go with the B&B option.

However, if you feel too awkward about that and you do want to try your luck first, here are the things that I've found can keep my cat allergy from trying to kill me:

If she has a guest bedroom (as opposed to a sofa bed for guests in the living room) and she's willing to keep the cats out of it permanently, that gives you a safe refuge and, importantly, clean air overnight. Reduces symptoms noticeably for me.

Along the lines of EmpressCallipygos's suggestion, if the house is cleaned with obsessive care and a really good vacuum cleaner, that helps a lot.

Finally, if you have a steroid inhaler and you're not routinely taking the maximum dosage, doubling your dose for a week or two in advance of the visit might keep the asthma symptoms under control, though it won't help your sinuses. However, IANAD, IANAAN (asthma nurse), and guidance might have changed since my doctor gave me that advice fifteen years ago.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 9:23 AM on July 28, 2011

I last about an hour in a house with cats. Then I can no longer breath. Sometimes it's better, but if it is worse, you will just not enjoy yourself.

How about renting a B&B and having your friend stay with you? It might be a fun getaway for her.
posted by Vaike at 9:35 AM on July 28, 2011

Coming in to report that I actually did not find such a cleaning regimen to "cast a pall" on my friends' visits. Because they were my friends, I wanted them to be comfortable, and this was what I had to do in order for that to happen.

I do not doubt that others may find such a thing a burden. Only saying that I wouldn't "guarantee" that a host would feel put-upon about having to do that, because I was a host who didn't.

EmpressCallipygos, I agree that "guarantee" is too strong a word. There are people in the world (like you!) who don't mind. The OP did say that this was a visit made several times a year, however, and while I think many people are willing to Silkwood-scrub their homes for an event here or there, the desire to do this multiple times a year is low, even for family.

I speak from own experience with my highly-allergic husband -- our friends and family were initially very keen to do the obsessive cleaning necessary for him to visit, but over the years it has come to be a burden. They don't like the extra work and we feel guilty asking. We have had experiences where the host claims to have done the work, yet clearly has not, and we have to bail a few hours into the visit. Another time the cleaning was not sufficient and it caused my husband to have the symptoms you describe, but not wanting to make a fuss he covered it up -- with the result being that the hosts thought that my husband didn't really need a quality job done to survive, so now they never do it.

If OP plans to visit several times a year, it's much better all around if they move to a system where the host doesn't have to do an intense deep-clean and pet bath beforehand. Even if they are willing to do it now, they may not always want to.
posted by apparently at 9:51 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have two friends who are violently allergic to animals. I have seven cats and a dog. They have never set foot in my home, nor will they ever do so. We just hang out somewhere else, it's no big deal. Go the B&B, being allergic all the time while at your friend's house is not worth it.
posted by crankylex at 10:05 AM on July 28, 2011

My BFF is you and I am your friend; after one disastrous visit where she was miserable at my house, we now just take trips together. Thus, we keep the intimacy but leave behind the cats. I do not want her suffering through. I doubt your friend would want you to suffer, either.
posted by Knowyournuts at 10:19 AM on July 28, 2011

I take a Claritin (anti-histamine) when I occasionally visit my cat owner friends. But I only have some minor sneezing, you sound like you're far more severely affected. You should explain the problem, don't be afraid to sound like a drama queen, and stay elsewhere.
posted by exhilaration at 12:30 PM on July 28, 2011

Great ideas, thanks everyone. The idea of us BOTH staying in a b&b/hotel is particularly nice, it's a great all-round solution.

Love y'all, and sympathetic hugs to my fellow sneezers.
posted by greenish at 8:36 AM on August 3, 2011

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