Cat, plus girlfriend who is mildly allergic to cats. Tips/advice?
September 7, 2013 5:03 PM   Subscribe

I have a cat that I love, and I'm seeing a woman who is mildly allergic to cats. Any allergy sufferers have any concrete suggestions about ways to reduce the impact of cat dander/fur?

Getting rid of the cat is not an option, and I'd really like to keep seeing the girl too. She's been alright with claritin/benadryl and the steps I describe here so far, but I'd like to aspire to even-lower-allergy-impact.

I regularly use a furminator brush on my cat. I've made sure to vacuum my apartment's carpet and all the upholstery any time she's coming over. I got a hypoallergenic blanket for my bed that I've been keeping clean of cat fur, and I've been trying to keep the bed made so that cat hair doesn't get onto the pillows/sheets. Any thoughts on further actions? I don't have an air conditioner, so my windows are always open, and I usually have fans blowing air across the apartment. Would a HEPA air filter help, or with open windows is this a losing battle? A friend suggested I invest in a Roomba (I assume it'd have to be something pet-focused like a 770?) to make sure the carpet is vacuumed literally every day, but that seems like a big expense for something I can do myself, at least in the near-mid term? Any thoughts/tips from people with cat allergies as to what I can do to make it easier to be in my apartment / around my cat would be greatly appreciated!
posted by Alterscape to Health & Fitness (23 answers total)
Ask your vet for low-dose acepromazine. Ace is generally used as a sedative, but in small doses it inhibits the production of a common allergen in the cat's saliva without actually sedating the cat. About 75% of allergy sufferers report some improvement with 50% having significant relief.

Also, with repeated exposure to the cat, her allergies are likely to improve somewhat.
posted by kindall at 5:10 PM on September 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

If you have cat hair that's embedded in upholstery then those lint rollers can work well getting it out. I bought a used couch that had alot of embedded cat hair; after some work with the roller my friend, who was quite allergic, was able to sit on it with no problems.
posted by lharmon at 5:13 PM on September 7, 2013

Get the cat out of the bedroom. I have two nine-year-old cats and have always been mildly allergic to them; after prolonged exposure over a number of years, I found that my allergies were getting worse and worse. Keeping the cats out of the bedroom, though painful at first, has significantly improved my reactions to the cats. Seriously, beyond anything else that you can do, keeping your cat out of the bedroom will be the best possible thing.

We also have a HEPA filter but I haven't found that to help particularly much.
posted by kdar at 5:14 PM on September 7, 2013 [11 favorites]

I am allergic to cats, and when I hang out at my catowner friend's place I take a Loratadine (generic Claritin). Seems to do the trick for me.
posted by rancidchickn at 5:14 PM on September 7, 2013

Don't vacuum within a few hours of her coming over as it will stir up a lot of fur into the air. The worst allergy attacks I've had when visiting friends with cats came under those circumstances. If it gets to that point just skip it. Once a week is probably good enough regardless of when she is visiting.

To 2nd kindall my own cat allergies declined dramatically after dating someone with a cat for a year. Also Zyrtec is generic now, and although not cheap it works faster than Claratin and for me is a bit more effective.
posted by MillMan at 5:15 PM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Definitely do not vacuum right before she comes over. I have two cats to whom I am allergic, and the best thing I can do is keep things very clean and live in a house with hardwood floors. I understand that moving is probably not an option now, but if you get serious about each other, definitely move in to a place with no carpets and keep it clean.
posted by studioaudience at 5:24 PM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'd also suggest changing pillow cases regularly, ie every few days. They are cheap enough to have a few of and easy enough to just throw in with a normal wash.
posted by wwax at 5:26 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I had a roommate that was allergic to cats, I rinsed my two with water (no soap!) once a week and that helped her. The cats were not fond of this but after a while got used to it, especially seeing that a quick rinse is less taxing than a scrub/bath sort of thing. I used one of those handheld shower heads and kind of stood them in the tub while lightly holding them in place. Not being explicitly held down seemed to help them chill.
posted by PaulaSchultz at 5:33 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't let your cat in the bedroom. Seriously. This is where dander accumulates and where it is the most annoying for allergy-sufferers. I have THREE cats and severe-ish cat allergies and I am just fine as long as I don't let the cats hang out in the bedroom.

Also, it may seem counter-intuitive but vacuuming can make things worse because it blows the dander around. Vacuum regularly but maybe don't do it right before she comes over and/or open the windows for ventilation immediately after.
posted by joan_holloway at 5:45 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree that her tolerance will likely improve after repeated exposure. I'm somewhat allergic to cats and always have a reaction after a new feline joins the household, but after a few weeks, I usually don't have a problem. Same with my friends' cats -- I'll have a reaction every time at their house until I guess I've seen the cat enough that it's in my internal dander library! (If she were severely allergic, it'd be another story, I think -- but for a mild allergy I suspect it'll get better over time.)
posted by oh really at 5:45 PM on September 7, 2013

So there are two ways of being allergic to cats - the dander or the saliva. *Very Generally Speaking* dander sufferers who live with cats can reach a generalized equilibrium with any particular cat or cats and will stop being allergic to those particular cats. This has been the experience of more than one person I know who is allergic to (one of) my cats but not the other one, and not to her own cats. As it happens the cat that produces the allergic reactions is the one with more dander/drier skin.

If she's allergic to the saliva, which I realize is a distinction she might not really have access to, it's a different thing, and as I understand it, saliva allergy doesn't work the same. So in general have her over a lot and hope she gets desensitized to your cat.
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:57 PM on September 7, 2013

She might want to get tested to see if she's actually allergic to cats. I thought for years that I was, but when I got tested, it turned out that I was allergic to other stuff. Cats just brought on symptoms because they stirred up dust by running around on the floor. Once they knew what I was actually allergic to (dust mites, various grasses and trees) the doctor was able to tell me how best to deal.
posted by raf at 6:13 PM on September 7, 2013

Yes, keep the cat out of the bedroom. My husband is allergic to cats, and when we visit my parents (who have anywhere from 2 to 3 cats) they always keep the animals out of the bedroom. For our visit they washed the sheets and bedding, and we brought our own bedding too. They put a hypoallergenic cover on the mattress - it was my step mom's mattress so it was probably full of dander. They have hardwood floors so they swept in the days prior to us coming. Then my husband made sure to take allergy pills and keep tissues on hand.

Agreeing too to clean regularly, but not in the few hours before she gets there. Make sure you wear clean dander-free clothes too. I finally bought a vacuum with a HEPA filter for my seasonal allergies and it seems to help. Do you know if her vacuum at home uses a HEPA? If you have the money, a vacuum with a HEPA shouldn't hurt. (Ours was only $90 at Target.)
posted by Crystalinne at 6:33 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

My SO has 2 cats and is mildly allergic, and he has hardwood floors and basically nothing textilish in his house except the bedroom, where the cats aren't allowed to go. It helps a ton.
posted by chainsofreedom at 7:03 PM on September 7, 2013

Two words my friend. ROBOT VACUUM. The Neato has done wonders for us. A brick of cat hair everytime it runs.
posted by edbles at 7:25 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hardwood floor in the bedroom makes a big difference.
No cat in the bedroom will also help.

There are several OTC antihistamines:
Allegra (fexofenadine)
Zyrtec (ceterizine)
Claritin (loratidine)
Benadryl (good ol diphenhydramine)

Which ones work for your SO will be a function of their own biochemistry and their usage history. Benadryl crosses the blood-brain barrier and knocks you the fuck out, but if it's an issue of being able to sleep in your bedroom, it works better than any of the more modern options.

Both Claritin and Zyrtec seem to have a building effect; that is, it seems like they work better if taken regularly rather than infrequently as needed (I take Allegra but actually don't know if that's true for it). However all of Allegra, Zyrtec, and Claritin can become ineffective for people over time; so sometimes switching to a new option is a good idea. The main thing to keep in mind is that there are multiple options that are at least less-drowsy making; and if worse comes to worse there's always the big gun of Benadryl.

There are also prescription versions, e.g. levoceterizine, which might be right if your SO isn't responding to the OTCs.

In case your SO is allergic to other things besides just the cat, lowering the overall allergen load can do wonders. Allergen-filter dustmite covers for your pillows are a good way to start, and less expensive than full bed covering. Depending on the season, open windows themselves might be an issue if she's got hay fever.

Lastly, if you have hard surface that accumulate dust+dander, getting a cloth which absorbs dust rather than kicking it up, and dusting a day or so before your SO arrives, could be a good plan.
posted by nat at 8:01 PM on September 7, 2013

Agreeing about vacuuming LESS often. I get allergy attacks from cats for about half a day after vacuuming, but not so much otherwise.
Similarly, don't brush the cat within a few hours of the girlfriend coming over. You'll just make the allergens more airborne.
Keep the cat off blankets and cushions that she might use or touch.
Keep it out of the bedroom.
If you have a rug in the bedroom that the cat has touched in the past, move it out of the bedroom. Hard floors are so much better than carpets, but that might not be something you can do anything about.
Wash your hands after touching the cat and before touching your girlfriend.
Change into clean clothes before she comes over and don't snuggle the cat in those clothes. Maybe if it's feasible keep a set of clothes that you don't snuggle the cat in, and wear those as much as possible around your girlfriend. If you wear pjs to bed, don't let the cat touch those.
My cat quite likes being wiped down with a damp cloth, especially in summer, or if the cloth is body temperature. I think it reminds her of her mother licking her when she was a kitten, because she gets all kittenish and weird when I do it. I think that might help with allergens too, especially if it's a saliva issue (because after wiping the cat down, there won't be saliva on the fur that comes off until after she next washes herself with her tongue).

I am not actually allergic to my own cat, and in the past when I have lived with roommates with cats, I have developed some sort of immunity to them within a month or so. But unfortunately this never happened with cats that I visited, even when the visiting was frequent. Still, it might be reassuring for the future if there's a chance you might move in together.
posted by lollusc at 8:32 PM on September 7, 2013

Kindall, as both a crazy cat lady and someone in the veterinary industry, this is the first I've heard of acepromazine being used in that capacity. Interesting! Do you have any sources I could read?
posted by troublewithwolves at 8:40 PM on September 7, 2013

troublewithwolves: I've run across this thing about acepromazine a number of times on the Internet and in the mainstream news media. Here's one such article that includes a reference to it. I don't have any primary sources (e.g. actual studies), though.
posted by kindall at 9:25 PM on September 7, 2013

I agree that her tolerance will likely improve after repeated exposure.

That doesn't always happen. I wish.

If you have a studio apartment, fresh pillowcases each time she comes over might help.
posted by yohko at 10:16 PM on September 7, 2013

Washing the cats cuts down on 80% of dander I've heard. Ive used this dry foamy shampoo on mine Occasionally because I'm worried about wet cats gallivanting all around, but my cats are pretty rambunctious so ymmv there.
posted by sweetkid at 7:43 AM on September 8, 2013

Dust frequently with something that picks up dust rather than foofs it around. I'd use a microfiber cloth with furniture polish, as the oil traps dust in the rag.

HEPA filter on your vacuum, if you have one, or make sure you're very spiritual about emptying it. If you have a filter on it, keep it clean by washing or using canned air (outside.) Double plus on the use of a robot vacuum. Again, don't run a vac the day she'll be coming over. Small room air cleaners start at ~$20-$25. Get one for the bedroom, and maybe one for the living room, or you could move it from room to room as you go. Make sure you keep it clean.

Try brushing your cat in the bathroom with the door closed, then rinse her or at least wipe her down with a damp cloth. Run the exhaust fan when you brush. After that, wipe down toilet, sink, and other surfaces, rinse out the bath, and damp mop the floor. Shake out or wash your bathmat, and change your towels. Girlfriend gets clean towels every time she comes over. The whole routine will probably take you 10 minutes once a week, and you'll always have a decent bathroom.

Vacuum your chairs and couch frequently, and get some anti dander upholstery shampoo in a can. After you clean the upholstery, cover your stuff with sheets or a blankets that you can change and wash frequently. After you give your place one heck of a through clean, you don't have to vacuum every day, but 3 times a week would be excellent. If the cat hangs out to sleep in one particular area, get some small towels that you can change out frequently.

Going to repeat much of the advice above, simply because it's so darn helpful. Sucks to have to keep kitteh out of the bedroom, but that would be incredibly helpful. Get a hypoallergenic cover on the mattress, wash your coverlet or bedspread and blankets, change sheets frequently, and new pillowcases every time she comes over--or every couple nights. Wash your pillows if you have let the cat sleep with you, or at least put them in the dryer to tumble dry on hot, then air. Hypoallergenic cover on the pillows would be great, also. Get your rug cleaned in the bedroom if you've had the cat in there. Make sure you get under the bed. When you wash clothes, put them away immediately, and keep your drawers and closet doors closed.

Probably the best thing is to keep the bedroom clear of cats, and that may be the hardest thing on you and kitteh if you're sleeping buds. Make sure to have plenty cuddle time on the couch!
posted by BlueHorse at 3:24 PM on September 8, 2013

Just want to say that I wouldn't count on her allergies going away. Mine only got worse and worse, and now I just can't visit homes that harbor cats without feeling awful for two days after exposure.

Two of my friends had to get rid of their own cats because their allergic reactions got progressively worse over the years.

I suggest that the two of you should spend time outside of your house, as much as is practical. If that really doesn't work for you, then keep the cat out of your bedroom.
posted by pizzazz at 1:02 PM on September 9, 2013

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