Should I get a cat? A question from the formerly (?) cat-averse
March 12, 2017 5:55 PM   Subscribe

I've never ever wanted a cat until about a month ago, but now I can't stop thinking about it. My husband likes them, my kid adores them, and I'm pretty sure I'm allergic. Should we try fostering a cat to see how it goes? Or just take the plunge?

I am distrusting my cat interest because it seems ridiculously like my earlier urge to get pregnant: hormonal and illogical. But we aren't having more kids, I just love the idea of my cat-smitten 4 year old growing up with a little feline creature, and I think it would make our home feel more complete. I'm willing to take Claritin/eye drops and vacuum more, but I've never had a cat before and don't know how much grossness I'm willing to sign up for (my kid is potty trained, and I have enjoyed the last few relatively poop-free years). What should I know about cats as someone who previously distrusted them and generally never saw the point of having one?

I know the standard metafilter answer to the "should I get a cat?" question is "yes, and you should get two of them." But I haven't read about cat-related changes of heart, so please let me know if I should let this wave of cat craving crest and subside.

(We stopped by the humane society today to see how our kid would do, and I can't tell if the itchiness in my eyes and throat are due to large quantities of cats and/or multitudes of bunnies - it was bunny socialization afternoon. But the kid was so happy.)
posted by Maarika to Pets & Animals (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You might look into whether you could serve as a foster owner to try it out. (I'm not sure the requirements; foster cat parents tend to be cat geniuses, but I'm not sure if that's because that's who wants to do it, or a requirement.) You could also try to work with a foster-to-adopt program that would take the cat back if your allergies are too much.
posted by slidell at 6:04 PM on March 12, 2017

If you know you're at least a bit allergic but you are thinking about getting a cat anyway, definitely foster first before adopting. With fostering there isn't the expectation you'll give the cat a permanent home, and if you aren't sure just how bad your allergies might be, you shouldn't go whole hog without finding out.

I have mild cat allergies and had cats as a kid, and cats for nearly 20 years as an adult. It was fine. I loved my cats and would definitely have them again except my partner has more serious allergies and asthma, and I decided in fairness to him, no more cats after the old ones passed away.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:04 PM on March 12, 2017 [7 favorites]

I agree that fostering first would be best, but will the four-year old understand that the kitties aren't going to stay? I assume all kinds of families foster without trouble, but maybe that varies by kid?

I also wasn't a cat person, didn't come from a cat family, but I got the itch and I'm a convert on cat number two. When you're ready, my advice is let the cat pick you.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:20 PM on March 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm a slightly-allergic cat lover, and there are LOTS of us. Individual cats vary in how much they will set off your allergic reaction, so fostering is a great way to see if you can tolerate that specific cat — your reaction at the shelter isn't a good predictor. (And those 'hypoallergenic' hairless cats aren't always hypoallergenic for everyone — and I find the lack of fluffiness disturbing).

Another factor is that if you live with a cat for a while, the allergic reaction to that specific cat tends to decrease.

In general, cat care is WAY less poopy than baby care. No worries there. But kittens are cats plus babies, they CAN have human-baby-level poop situations. Don't ask me how I know. Adopt an adult cat or two if it's your first time — maybe try a kitten once you are ready for a more challenging level of cat ownership.
posted by 100kb at 6:21 PM on March 12, 2017 [6 favorites]

Anecdatally, cat allergies for me and one or two others I've known have gone away after continuous exposure (living with cats).
posted by exogenous at 6:21 PM on March 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Foster if you think your little one will understand if kitty goes to a new home (should you not be able to handle daily Benadryl or whatever you choose for management). You can foster fail and adopt one, depending on the rescue. Alternatively, you could see if a friend needs a cat sitter for a weekend away and spend some hours there.

Key to managing cat allergy is keeping the house clean. Hardwood will help. Vacuum often.

The Siberian cat breed is alleged to be hypoallergenic, but you are vanishingly unlikely to find one in a shelter. (There will be cats that look like them, but cat breeds are not like dog breeds - similar cats can have no breed relation at all.)
posted by Nyx at 6:26 PM on March 12, 2017

I dunno about fostering if you end up not keeping the cat. A four-year-old might be crushed by that (signed: Still haven't forgiven my long-dead parents for making us get rid of the dog when I was a kid).
posted by old_growler at 6:26 PM on March 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

Foster first, since your child might also have an allergy issue.
1) Keep a clean house. Carpets are the instrument of the devil for allergy sufferers.
2) Keep two litter boxes (or one per cat plus one), away from food and water bowls, along an escape route (if the cat could be cornered, he might not use it). Clean frequently.
3) High tip-proof perches are good. Cats like to be either above the action or below it (under couches or beds, in closets).
4) Please, please, please, say no to declawing. Multiple scratching posts and replacing conflict furnishings is infinitely better.

And yes, two kittens from the same litter are better to avoid future conflict. Cats are loners and territorial, so two introduced into the same house at the same time will get their dominance issues out of the way early. And someone is going to be top cat.
Consider fostering an older pair of cats from the same home. They are past the kitty crazies, house trained, and have their routines down. I hate to say it, but long-haired breeds could be an issue for allergy sufferers.
Good luck!
posted by TrishaU at 6:55 PM on March 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Nthing fostering to see how your allergies adjust if you think the little would handle saying goodbye. I'm one of those slightly allergic cat owners. I do fine with my own cats so long as they don't sit on my face, and even then eye drops fix it. I still react to other people's cats, itchy ears, red eyes, some are worse than others.

Except for Siberians, which for me at least were awesome for my allergies (minimal eye irritation on first contact, it was amazingly pleasant). The two I know are also super friendly. But their owner spent a lot of time and money getting them, so I'm not sure if that's feasible for you.

There are some other hypoallergenic cats, but I don't have direct experience.

We have a self cleaning cat box, so that may be an option for you to consider if cat box cleaning bothers you. A more cost effective option is a roll over one. We used that with flushable litter when we had room in a bathroom and it worked pretty well.
posted by ghost phoneme at 7:06 PM on March 12, 2017

Like allergies, cat-loving can develop any time in life.

Not all cats will trigger all allergies but it'd be better to find out before you commit to a particular cat. If you don't want to foster, you can visit a cat in its foster home to see how you feel.

It's really, really okay to only have one cat. Really really.
posted by kapers at 7:17 PM on March 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have a cat and have serious cat allergies (my throat closes up). Completely controlled with daily cetirizine. I'd be taking it for a few months every year anyway for pollen allergies.

Things people need to know about cat ownership:

They require some attention every day.
They require discipline and attention to operant and behavioral conditioning. Get a book on cat training. It will be worth the investment.
You will need a good vacuum and a roomba. You will need to maintain your vacuum and your roomba. You will need to run your roomba at least once every couple of days. You will have to vacuum your furniture a lot more.
Get a cat that matches your home's furnishing colour scheme if you can.
You must get a scratching post.
Don't feed your cat first thing in the morning or first thing in the morning will get earlier and earlier.
Expect your cat to wake you up at sunrise.
I scoop poop and pee twice a day every day. We use a roll over litterbox.
Don't let your cat get fat.

When you 'shop' for a cat beware of the really friendly cats. They can be extremely needy. I got a 1+ year old rescue cat and chose her because was calm and just slightly friendly. Perfect match for my disposition.
posted by srboisvert at 7:27 PM on March 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

You mentioned "cat changes-of-heart", and I'm not sure if this means a change of heart to absolutely adoring them, or a change of heart from "let's give this a shot" to not wanting to deal with them anymore. I can give an anecdote about the latter.

I also have mild cat allergies, and they used to be far worse as a kid, but as I grew up they seemed to subside so I thought "hey, cats are chill and single-person friendly; this could work out." I've always grown up with dogs because my dad absolutely could not live with a cat due to his allergies, so once I moved out and thought about it for a few years, I decided to get one along with my roommate also getting one. I was ecstatic. I was really happy to go through the process of finding a local shelter and finding a long-term buddy. I really loved in those first few months seeing this shy cat open up to me.

Ultimately, when the apartment contract is up this year, my roommate and I will both move out to separate places. I am not taking the cat I picked out.

Things I have learned from which should be considered:
- Allergies can be dealt with, but it was ridiculously hard to bond with our two cats because I can't nuzzle them like I did my dogs, I can't have them in my bed to wake up to a fuzzy face, and I always wake up anyway with a blocked nose. Mentally, this took a toll, and I'm always worried about keeping my own space allergen-free as possible.

-If you get a cat from a shelter, or a foster family, take the time to spend an afternoon or so in their environment. Especially at feeding time. The cat my roommate picked out screamed at the sight of food, he still screams at the sight of food, and he never-ceasingly screams in the hope of food whenever I walk near the kitchen. If you are so-so on cats now, this will most likely build into resentment. Get an older cat who is calm and chill. The cat I picked out is calm and chill. I like him a hell of a lot more than my roommate's. If the two weren't pair bonded, I'd maybe consider taking him with me.

-If, due to allergies, you already have a sensitivity to dust and hair (whether physical or "this needs to be clean NOW"), cats will add to this. Yes, I knew cats shed. My dogs growing up shed. But tiny wiener dog hairs from an animal I wasn't allergic to is another thing entirely from cat hair and dandruff that I was allergic to, even mildly so. This is a daily source of stress.

-Sometimes it just doesn't work out. Sometimes the pet you pick isn't the one for you or your family. You might feel guilty about it (like I did, a lot), but it'd be much kinder to everyone involved if the pet has a loving environment, whether that's with you or someone else.

All in all, I strongly recommend fostering. I know some have mentioned it would be rough on your kid if the cat doesn't work out. But it'd also be a rough 10-15 years having a pet you dislike.
posted by lesser weasel at 10:21 PM on March 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm allergic to cats and have (one) cat. A long-haired non-Siberian cat from the shelter, even. In a 600-sqft carpeted apartment.

First, do you have any friends with cats? Take yourself and family over there and visit with them, see if you're allergic to just a few cats. I was pretty allergic in the shelter, nose running all over the place, but as a cat owner with lackadaisical cleaning habits (I scoop the litterbox only every few days and don't clean at all besides paying a cleaner once a month), I'm 95% non-reactive to my cat, including non-recommended activities like sleeping with the cat regularly and sticking my face in her belly. For the 5%, a week of OTC allergy medication clears it up.

I also second the recommendation to adopt a young adult rather than a kitten. The two-at-a-time advice is most important for kitten socialization. Many adult cats, especially in shelters, actually prefer to be only cats. Some will have "only cat" be the requirement for adoption, in fact, and those cats are hard to adopt out.
posted by serelliya at 10:23 PM on March 12, 2017

I have had allergies and asthma my whole life. I always desperately wanted a kitty. I got allergy shots for four years, which greatly improved things, to where I could hang out at other people's houses with cats without problems. I thought I was ready to adopt my own cat. I was SO excited, went to the shelter, took my time hanging out with a bunch of them, and really hit it off with one sweet little buddy. I experienced a few days of absolute bliss and really bonded with this cat. But then my allergies swung into overdrive, to the point where I was taking a bunch of medicine and my asthma was so bad I thought I would either die in my sleep or have to go to the emergency room. I had to give the cat to a friend (and I was so lucky that was an option rather than returning him to the shelter) and I was devastated. Even though I only had him for a week, it sucked having to give him up. Just a precautionary tale to do whatever you need to to make sure your allergies, and especially with a particular cat because it can vary a lot from one to another, will be okay, before committing.
posted by Dilemma at 10:40 PM on March 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

I would not adopt a pet I was allergic to. Having your immune system be in overdrive all the time isn't good for you, it can significantly impact your long term health. I'd either do the shots first to become less allergic or get another type of pet.
posted by fshgrl at 11:37 PM on March 12, 2017

As a long-time cat owner (currently 5, 3 upstairs, 2 downstairs, no inter-floor canoodling), here are a few items to consider:
1. litter, purchase and maintenance, never-ending and relentless,
2. fur, never-ending and pervasive,
3. any friends you have who are allergic won't be able to visit you ever,
4. hairballs, fact of life, gross,
5. vet bills, in sickness and in health, they're yours for life. You are their health-care plan.
That said, I can't imagine life without those hairy little beasts.
posted by lois1950 at 12:17 AM on March 13, 2017

Except for Siberians, which for me at least were awesome for my allergies (minimal eye irritation on first contact, it was amazingly pleasant). The two I know are also super friendly. But their owner spent a lot of time and money getting them, so I'm not sure if that's feasible for you.

I have two Siberians. They don't trigger my wife's quite mild allergies, but they are a problem for an allergic family member and an allergic friend.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:49 AM on March 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

it was ridiculously hard to bond with our two cats because I can't nuzzle them like I did my dogs

You can bond with cats quite well by playing with them regularly. They love this. Also clicker training -- which is also great fun for them if done right.

You might want to wait until your child is old enough to understand "pet very gently" and "don't chase the cat and especially "let him come to you". Four might be old enough, I don't know. Kittens can be fragile and underfoot!

Also, you could potentially wait until your child is old enough to clean the litter box... just saying...

Finally, I don't know what kind of material is out there to back this up, but it may be that allergies are more likely to form when other allergies are present. So, you might want to get the cat and/or start desensitizing everyone during a time when other allergies are not an issue.
posted by amtho at 4:10 AM on March 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

We adopted a Russian Blue looking older cat. My allergies got much worse (occasional seasonal ick to very often and consistent misery). I use a nose spray now which helps but if my partner slacks on his side of housework and doesn't vacuum my life gets sucky really quick.

The cat has bonded very strongly with him because he plays and snuggles with her more. I could barely pat her at the start without my hands itching. She gets along okay with my kid but LOVES my husband. She seems to see him as a big defective kitten - brings him dead things, yowls until he goes to bed, frets when he leaves. She is very neurotic (common in rescues) and needs a lot of reassurance. And at one point medication (we renovated the kitchen). Two years later and she is starting to be a lot more chill and play like a cat, instead of acting like we were going to beat her.

She bit my kid once, when she was 5 and jammed her finger in the cat's jaw/throat by accident.

All in all our cat has been a good addition. But a lot of work. But in the event of a break up she goes with my husband and I will probably not get another.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:20 AM on March 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have (mild, manageable) cat allergies, and I am generally much less reactive to my own cat than I am to other people's. (There is some science to this idea, though I don't have a link handy.)

Not mentioned yet is that an air filter in your bedroom (if the cat is allowed in there) and other rooms where you and the cat will spend a lot of time is a really helpful thing. That and some allergen management about dustmites (I wash everything on hot, which helps a lot) keep things manageable for me.

Both the cats I've had as an adult (one at a time) were adopted at about a year old from their respective humane societies - old enough that I had a pretty good sense of their personalities, but young enough that I'd have lots of time with them and they were a bit more adaptable. They were both very grateful for having a warm home with food (they'd both spent significant time as strays), and I adore coming home to my current Astra and having a warm furry wriggly bundle of happy to see me.

There are lots of possible solutions to things like litter - some cats are really opinionated, but many are pretty tolerant of you finding a type/method that works for you. And there are automated devices, if that's a thing.
posted by modernhypatia at 5:42 AM on March 13, 2017

If it were me, I would give it at least another two months of thinking about it (ideally more like six months, maybe a year) before I went ahead and gave this a try. I say this as someone who grew up with cats and ADORED ours (like, to an unhealthy extent - I was bigtime into Cat Fancy and dressing as a cat at Halloween for a while there). And my asthmatic, cat-allergic, initially cat-averse father adored them - I remember him nuzzling his face into one of them on many occasions going "You make me sneeze and wheeze but I love you!". So I'm not saying that it couldn't work out. But if you're worried this is just an impulsive thing, why not give yourself time to live with the idea first?

To think through some of the potential issues: Are you prepared for the first time the cat bites or scratches your daughter? Even the most loving cat can bite/scratch. Are you ready to vigilantly teach your daughter to respect the cat and ALWAYS treat it gently - and is your daughter ready to be consistently reliable on this front, for both the cat's welfare and her own? Are you ready for a smelly litter box (yes, I know, if you your cat-loving husband cleans it daily it won't be too bad ... cat poop and pee smells pretty intense to me, though, so I've never come across a box that wasn't at least a bit unpleasant). Are you ready to deal with a cat that likes to pee outside the litter box? Of the cats I've known reasonably closely over my life (not all mine), one regularly peed on board games and carpet, one peed on shoes, one peed on furniture and clothing, one peed on a suitcase, one pooped and peed in the bathtub on the reg ... these were well-loved cats whose owners took them to the vet and tried many things to fix this with no luck - I can think of two who did not pee outside the litter box and of course #notallcats, but are you ready to work hard to solve the problem if your cat does this?

Don't get me wrong, of course cats are wonderful but I suspect that if you do get one, even a foster on a "trial run" basis, it's going to be much more difficult to say no to a permanent cat at that point. And you REALLY don't want to get into a situation where you're living with an animal you don't want. Since you've only been into the idea for the last month or so, give yourself more time. Maybe seek out people who actually do regret getting a cat and talking with them to get a better sense of how likely you would be to feel that way.

There's no need to rush, after all - there will always be plenty of cats out there who need a home whenever (and if ever) you decide to get one.
posted by DingoMutt at 7:24 AM on March 13, 2017

I am mildly allergic to cats as an adult, much more so as a kid. I do have a cat and take daily claritin and singulair. One thing I wanted to share, a friend of mine has two rabbits and I am hugely allergic to those adorable bunnies, much much more so than with cats. It's hard for me to be at their house for any length of time, so... I'd put in a strong vote for re-testing your allergies with specific cats one at a time and not near any other animals.
posted by mirabelle at 10:41 AM on March 13, 2017

For my allergic husband, who adores our Rupert with all his heart, medium- and long-haired cats are the least triggering; maybe the dander stays entrapped by the fur until the cat washes himself clean or something. We gradually increased exposure and with it, his toleration. Rupert started out as an office cat and just came home on weekends, giving Mr. Carmicha a daily break and limited exposure; we cleaned house on Mondays to eliminate any residual contaminants. Rupert eventually came home full time, and we then didn't let him into our bedroom at all to provide a totally cat-free zone for sleeping. But over about eighteen months, and probably thanks to all the head butts and nuzzling, Mr. Carmicha became acclimated and now there's no problem at all. Plus Rupert taught himself to slide open the bedroom's pocket doors and started sneaking in to sleep with us so now we just leave them open. Rupert is now about nine and I'm already terrified about how devasted Mr. Carmicha will be when the inevitable happens.
posted by carmicha at 11:58 AM on March 13, 2017

Follow up: we didn't get a cat. I bought a shit ton of fruit trees/bushes and now have elaborate garden plans and decided not to take care of another thing that poops and vomits. I will probably have cat ownership cravings next winter and recognize said feelings as my biological need to take care of something and then buy more trees and random vegetable seeds off the internet. I also hope that a neighborhood cat will hang out on our doorstep again this summer so my son can pet a cat on the regular.
posted by Maarika at 7:41 PM on May 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

« Older How to deal with and understand issues with...   |   What to do when someone kisses you without... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.