It's not EVERY cat, just yours
June 23, 2012 4:50 PM   Subscribe

I think I'm allergic to my roommate's new cat. What can I do?

Backstory: My roommate's been talking about getting a cat for a few months now, and I really liked the idea, considering I grew up with two cats and really miss them since moving out of my family's house. It's something I'd wanted to look into myself if I ever moved up to a studio apartment.

Cut. We now have a cat, and I have a bad case of sneezing, stuffy nose, teary eyes, etc. all of a sudden. In other words, it looks exactly like an allergy and I have no idea why, considering I've lived in the same house and slept in the same bed with my cats and spent time around friends' cats with no issues whatsoever. I didn't warn her, because I had no idea, and it's her place too, so the cat obviously stays. So I have a few questions:

1. Is this even possible, to be allergic to one cat? I guess both of my old cats had shorter hair and didn't shed as much, but it's not like we have a Persian.

2. If it is possible, does it go away? I don't really know how cat allergies work.

3. How can I make things more bearable for me? Does this involve avoiding the cat entirely? I'm not moving out over a cat, that'd be ridiculous. And I really like him! Just not the allergy(?) part.
posted by dekathelon to Pets & Animals (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Go get tested. For years I thought I was allergic to cats, but I really was allergic to grass and trees. Our kitties are indoor cats and we all do just fine.

If you are allergic, there are things you can take to enjoy your new furry friend.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:54 PM on June 23, 2012


Keep the cat out of your room at ALL times. To whatever extent it's possible, try not to bring cat-hair-covered clothes into your room.

Be really assiduous about vaccuuming in the communal areas. There are special vacuum cleaners available for vacuuming up pet hair.

I grew up with cats and was also allergic. I spent a lot of my childhood pretty miserable but I didn't want my parents to get rid of the cats. Having "cat-free zones" made life a lot easier.
posted by Ziggy500 at 4:55 PM on June 23, 2012

Take some OTC allergy meds to see if it helps, see an allergist and keep the cat out of your room. Especially away from your bed. For the rest of the house vacuum and maybe cover places like the couch with something that is removable and washable. Keep them off things that don't get cleaned very often - like coats. Vacuum with something with a HEPA filter, a air filter with a HEPA filter for your bedroom can help and wash your hands after playing with the cat. Also they sell wipes that are supposed to help with shedding. Don't know if it'd help for allergies.

FWIW I seem to react more strongly to cats if I have not been around them for some time. Now that I have cats again my allergies are milder. Oh and yes some people can react more strongly to a particular cat. Maybe you could give it a few weeks to get the appointments to see how things are doing?
posted by oneear at 5:01 PM on June 23, 2012

My husband takes a 24-hr Claritin once a day and that's enough to spare him from all the same symptoms as you.
posted by katieinshoes at 5:04 PM on June 23, 2012

Yes, it will likely go away or at least decrease. I've grown up with cats my entire life and have two right now. I have always reacted to some cats and not to others. Kittens tend to make me react more (but probably because I'm rubbing them all over my face) than adults. It doesn't seem to matter if the cat is long-haired or short, I react to some and not others. Generally, after an adjustment period, I get used to the cat. My body just adapts to it. I'll still have times when I end up with sneezing or itchy eyes or rashes, even with my own cats, but it is infrequent after I am used to a particular cat (and seems to happen more when some other environmental allergy is picking up). When it's really bad, I take an antihistamine and avoid picking the cats up or petting them too much (so hard, I love cats). Also, get into the habit of washing your hands immediately after touching the cat.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 5:05 PM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

2. If it is possible, does it go away? I don't really know how cat allergies work.

My experience is that your body can acclimate to living with a cat. I grew up with cats and dogs in my parents house, then moved away for college for several years, then moved back. When I moved back I had to wait some time to adapt, before my dander/animal allergies faded again. Since then, allergic roommates I've had have adapted somewhat as well. My current roommate takes an OTC allergy pill every day, and we observe cat-free zones (bedroom, couch).

3. How can I make things more bearable for me? Does this involve avoiding the cat entirely? I'm not moving out over a cat, that'd be ridiculous. And I really like him! Just not the allergy(?) part.

Like I said, and those before me, cat-free zones. Keep the door to your bedroom closed. Never leave laundry out. Do a little digging in the huge pile of feline behavior modification corpus of AskMe (those are bad keywords though; I'd go for 'cat' 'squirt' and with an optional 'stop'. And find an antihistimine that doesn't zonk you too much.

Cats don't all need to be cuddled all the time either (contrary to popular belief). Don't pick them up, don't let them nap on you. You can still have plenty of fun interacting, petting, scritching behind ears, etc. but there's no need to get their dander right up in your business. Cats are lonesome creatures. And whenever you do go in for some cat affection, make sure you go wash up with soap and water right afterwards. Hands and arms first, rinse, then face.
posted by carsonb at 5:19 PM on June 23, 2012

This is probably not good advice, and it definitely isn't medical advice, but it will most likely decrease with time. My sister and I were both allergic to any cat when we were younger. Then we found a kitten in our garage one winter, and we both started sneezing, but we pretended we had colds so our parents would let us keep the kitten. It took less than a month for me to get totally used to the (shorthaired) cat, and now I'm not allergic to any cats at all. To me it seems better to try to expose yourself to the cats hair to try to adapt to it, but that is based on a nine year old's logic.
posted by Hey Judas! at 5:20 PM on June 23, 2012

My fairly severe cat allergy, literally (not kidding) happened overnight when I was in college. It can happen....just be careful.
posted by pearlybob at 5:29 PM on June 23, 2012

agreeing that you need to get an Rx for antihistimines. also agreeing that you may well get used to it. i was allergic to cats until my then-boyfriend and i ended up getting two, both of which i ended up inheriting after we broke up. i don't have any cats anymore but i still am no longer allergic.
posted by violetk at 5:32 PM on June 23, 2012

Is your new roommate's cat young? Sometimes people have different allergic reactions to kittens than to grown cats.
posted by bq at 5:53 PM on June 23, 2012

After I lived without a cat for several years, cats started to bother me a little after never having been a problem in my pet-filled childhood. Not severely, but enough to be annoying and require a Claritin when visiting people with cats. After living with them again for a few months, it basically cleared up. So it might just be your body overreacting and ongoing exposure may actually help, yeah.
posted by gracedissolved at 6:12 PM on June 23, 2012

Your roommate can help by brushing and grooming the cat regularly to get rid of excess hair. Start with a soft brush, then when the cat is used to that, go to a more bristly brush, then graduate to the FURminator. Treats should help ease this process. Many cats like to be groomed-- it reminds them of their mother licking them.

Another consideration is the cat's diet. A cat fed good food will produce less dander. Kitty should ideally be on a 100% meat, grain-free brand of food. Fish oil supplements will help condition its skin and coat.

Also, AskMe can really only help you if you provide pictures of the cat.
posted by Pallas Athena at 6:24 PM on June 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

it's her place too, so the cat obviously stays

I wouldn't say "obviously". If you're both chipping in as you're both renting then you have equal stakes and your health comes before her happiness. Even if you are renting a room in her house, unless the cat was part of the initial agreement, and had been there prior to move-in (to allow you to see if you were allergic), again your health trumps simple happiness.

Some people are telling you your allergies will probably get better, but overall with allergies that's not how it works, especially with continuous exposure of the same strength. Repeated exposures tend to increase the response. Usually what happens is that your allergic response starts to seem more and more "normal" - I was honestly unaware that your lungs shouldn't hurt with every inhalation until I moved out of my trigger-filled parents' house.

If you are absolutely set on the cat staying, though, in response to number 3 I'd also suggest seeing a doctor for allergy medicine (maybe singulair instead of/in addition to claritin or something) and perhaps they can refer you to an allergist....however my allergist wanted me to avoid triggers as much as possible while undergoing shots, so....

Do you have carpeting? See if your roommate would be able to vacuum regularly (at least once a week) and in such a way that you are gone for maybe an hour from when she finishes (sometimes the movement of the vacuum throws things into the air and it's worse). Or, of course, she can sweep if you have bare floors.

Mainly what your roommate needs to do is keep the place clean and well-ventilated, and make sure the cat is trained (not walking on plates and things like that....).
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 6:30 PM on June 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

A good friend of mine stopped being allergic to cats (after a lifetime of being allergic to cats) a year or two after moving in with his now-wife who is a cat lover. So for him his allergies went away, but it took some time.

Claritin will help. So will regular housecleaning. You'll want to get a HEPA filter for your vacuum cleaner, and you might invest in a HEPA-filter air cleaner as well. Also, you should make a policy of keeping the cat out of your room so that you have a clean space.

Also, this might be a seasonal allergy of some kind that you had never noticed before (maybe the pollen is particularly bad for some plant that you're allergic to) or a new allergy (either to cats or to some other thing) and you should probably go get yourself tested. The correlation between the cat arriving and your allergies flaring up does not guarantee that the cat is the cause of your flare-up. Allergies are kind of weird and you should try to schedule an appointment to get them checked out.
posted by Scientist at 7:03 PM on June 23, 2012

Oh! And if your roommate's cat uses a different litter box from your cats, and a different brand of kitty litter, you might be allergic to that rather than the cat itself.
posted by Scientist at 7:04 PM on June 23, 2012

You might be allergic. Different cats can set off different reactions. And a period of time away from cats can be all your system needs to hit the mysterious allergy re-set button, for no good reason.

Get tested to be sure, as others have said - it could be a reaction to something else, coincidental to the cat's arrival

You might not need prescription medicine. I control my adult-onset cat allergy with Zyrtec, sinus rinses, and assiduous hand-washing. On the rare occasions when I get an overload of symptoms, I take a Benadryl.

I'm taken by your compassion toward your roommate and kitty and feel inspired to thank you for it, even though that sounds kind of strange. Thank you!
posted by batmonkey at 9:29 PM on June 23, 2012

Get Claritin (or generic loratidine) from the drug store and give it at least a week to start working. Apparently it has to build up in your system a bit.

Keep the cat out of your bedroom if possible, that way you'll be sleeping in a room that has no cat allergens. And yes, wash your hands after petting the cat, try not to touch your face with catted hands, reduce the amount of carpet in your place if possible, and keep up with vacuuming/sweeping.

Give those steps a little while to prove themselves, and if they don't get it under control, go to the doc.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:59 PM on June 23, 2012

You might try bathing the cat at least once. I'm mildly allergic to cats in that if I rub my face in their fur, put my hand to my eyes or get a hair in my eye, or get scratched, then I have a nasty asthma-type attack. Otherwise, normal living is no problem, although I don't sleep with any cats.

We had a starving feral cat hanging around the house, and even the slightest of contacts sent my allergies wild! One morning, several days after said cat showed up, he was covered in oil, necessitating the trapping and bathing of one pissed off moggy. Interestingly enough, after we rubbed him down with the towel and gave him a bit of cream, he decided he'd move in under the bathroom sink. He became quite the snugglerug, but I never had any problems after that. YMMV.
posted by BlueHorse at 11:14 PM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just a thought - if you're in the Northern Hemisphere, it sounds like the cat's arrival coincided with pollen season. Are you absolutely sure the cat is the trigger? I know that here in the UK, pollen has been especially bad this year, and some people who don't ordinarily have severe hay fever are sneezing like crazy.

It might be worth seeing a doctor to find out exactly what you're reacting to. And thank you for not wanting to throw out your roommate's new friend.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 1:21 AM on June 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Might not be the cat- couldbe pollen or dust or the kitty litter. You might get acclimated to this particular cat.

But if you don't, keep the alllergens away from your sleeping area, wash your hands after you handle the cat, wash the cat if you're brave ( better get the roommate to do it). Avoid fabric and especially fluffy blankets or furniture which the cat uses; if you've got wood floors you'll have an easier time cleaning.
Be sure that you have a good filter on any central air system and change it regularly.

If you want to play with the kitty, distance cat toys are great-- fun thing to chase at the end of a string, laser pointer, etc. If you want to pet the cat, do so in clothes you will change out of and wash ASAP afterwards. If you can't wash the clothes right away, consider sticking them in a plastic bag until you can. And of course you should wash yourself too (hands ands face for sure, if I've already started reacting it's full shower time for me making sure to wash my own hair. )

You don't need a prescription for many antihistamines these days. In addition to Claritin, there is also Zyrtec and Allegra, and of course the old-sleep inducing classics like Benadryl. If one doesn't work or gives you side effects, try another. I'd give each at least a week to build up, as mentioned up thread; these drugs are most effective when taken continuously. I would only suggest seeing an allergist if none of these work, and if your allergy isolation attempts don't make it significantly better; that having been said it can take months to get an appointment at a good allergist so you might go ahead and make one now.
posted by nat at 6:54 AM on June 24, 2012

I grew up with cats and never had a problem with them. However, I moved away to university and after three years away from cats I developed a mild allergy - sniffles, itchy eyes, sneezing, that kind of thing. I found this out the hard way, by moving in with a friend who had a big fluffy tom who fucking loved me best of all humans ever for all time.

I suffered through it for about two months, and then things stablised. If he groomed on my lap, I'd get stuffy, but other than that things settled so well I was able to get a little shorthair moggie of my own.
posted by Jilder at 9:25 AM on June 24, 2012

Most people are allergic to cats to some degree. Additionally there are very few allergens that your body won't acclimate to with repeated exposure -- unless it's an extreme, life-threatening reaction that kills you before you have the chance to adapt.

If your reaction is just sniffles and itchy eyes, you can initially manage the symptoms with a non-drowsy antihistamine like loratadine (generic for Claritin), fexofenadine (generic for Allegra) or cetirizine (generic for Zyrtec). People respond to them differently, so start with one, and if it's not effective or makes you a little drowsy, try another. After a few weeks, stop taking them. You'll probably start getting a little sniffly again, but it shouldn't be as bad, and go away sooner rather than later.
posted by patnasty at 6:26 PM on June 24, 2012

there are very few allergens that your body won't acclimate to with repeated exposure

I don't want to go back and forth on this, but as the advice could be a health risk, I want to say the above is absolutely not true.

It is rare for allergies to go away (spontaneously) with constant exposure (like having a cat around the house) - not impossible, but the idea that very few of them won't clear up on their own is bunk. It is far more common for them to worsen.

"Spontaneous" remission of allergies are probably down to not being exposed to the allergen long enough for the memory cells to die off and the body correctly assessing the allergen as benign upon the future exposure. But again, if you've got the cat wandering around, you're going to be using those cells constantly.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 4:21 PM on June 25, 2012

I'll just add my totally anecdotal .02 to the mix - I also had pets all my childhood and young adult years, and have lived off and on with others' cats. When we got cats, I initially had some allergic reactions that have since gone away.

I will nth generic Claritin (loratidine) and keeping your room sequestered. Also brushing and bathing the cat regularly (if you can manage it) really, really helps. Get a product called a "love glove" for like ten bucks on amazon - it'll help pull the dry, loose hair off the coat and keep the dander at bay.

Proper diet and grooming and keeping up on the vacuuming really goes a long way too.
posted by lonefrontranger at 7:09 PM on June 25, 2012

Thanks for all the input! The latest bizarre development: apparently this no longer happens, and I have no idea why. (Pollen's a good guess, but I am notoriously unaffected by the stuff, even growing up in a town where every spring/summer the ground would literally be yellow.)
posted by dekathelon at 4:31 PM on June 30, 2012

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