Cat adoption and allergies.
March 27, 2017 8:51 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I would like to adopt a cat! Complication: my husband has selective cat allergies, in that he has been varyingly allergic to some cats (ie, more severely allergic to individual cats at some times and in some situations than others) and not at all allergic to some other cats. We would obviously like to adopt a cat that my husband is less--or not at all--allergic to. The question is, how do we do this?

We would prefer to adopt a rescue cat than to purchase a cat from a breeder. The problem is, we would like to spend a significant amount of time with the cat--a few hours on a few different occasions, at least--before we adopt, to determine whether my husband is allergic to our potential cat. I know some breeders do this, but I don't see this request going over well, say, at the Union Square Petco adoption center. Also, if we spend time with the cat in a situation in which there are also lots of other cats around, it will be impossible to tell whether he is allergic to the cat we're thinking of adopting, or the other cats in the room.

What are our options? Are there any rescue groups that allow this, perhaps a smaller one? Would some sort of fostering situation work? We'd be ok hanging out with the cat either in our own home or in a room without a bunch of other cats that could trigger a false positive.

One thing I am not comfortable with is adopting a cat and having to bring the cat back. I want to be 100% sure we are keeping a cat if we adopt. I am also not comfortable with my husband suffering terrible allergies. We want to be certain he is not horribly allergic to the cat before we adopt.

Another option we've considered is the Siberian forest cat: we have read that this breed produces less Fel d1 than other cats and thus causes fewer allergic reactions. Again, we want to adopt/rescue, not buy--maybe a rescue organization for this breed? Is that a thing?

We live in New York and would travel up to an hour an a half by train to find our cat. We don't drive.

(My husband has had allergy shots, by the way--this is as un-allergic as he can get. And as I said, we've spent significant time--weeks--with some cats he's not allergic to at all).

I'm looking for any ideas to make cat-having feasible for us. We are only interested in cats: please don't suggest dogs, gerbils, rabbits, hamsters, snakes, or any other pets!
posted by millipede to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Here is a PetFinder article on cats for allergy sufferers. Female cats produce less dander than males, neutered cats less than intact ones, and light-colored cats less than dark. So maybe look for a light-colored, spayed, female cat at a shelter. Then talk to the shelter about a "foster to adopt" type situation where you live with the cat for a week or so to see how your husband reacts. I think more shelters are getting enlightened about this sort of thing and would be willing to send you hoe with a cat on a trial basis.

Other things that can reduce allergic load: Keep kitty out of the bedroom if possible. Set a couple of HEPA filters around your house/apartment to keep the air clean. Vacuum daily if possible, if not, then as often as you can manage it. Keep carpets and upholstered furniture to a minimum. Make sure your bedsheets are pristinely clean, especially your pillowcases - yes, this means rotating LOTS of sheets, but, IME when it comes to allergens, keeping your bed and bedroom as allergen-free as possible makes a huge difference. (My allergies are to pollen, not cats, but prevention efforts are the same.) Husband should shower and wash his hair daily - allergens cling to hair.

Lots of people with allergies can keep cats, as long as the allergies are not severe.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:03 AM on March 27, 2017 [8 favorites]

I would suggest letting it be known among your friends that this is what you're looking for, and/or keep an eye on Craigslist or neighborhood mailing lists, looking for an individual who needs to rehome their cat. (I've seen this happen with friends who have a baby and the cat turns out to be not baby-friendly, or their ex moves and leaves them with a cat they can't afford alone, or they have to move overseas for a job and can't take the cat because quarantine, all sorts of reasons.)

You might find that an individual person looking to rehome a beloved cat would be more open than a shelter/PetCo to letting you come visit the pet at their home a few times. They're going to be highly motivated to get a good fit for their beloved pet, and will likely take your allergy concerns seriously. (That said, if their choice is between you and another friend who is like "yup, I will take your cat, done, sold," the other person's probably going to get the cat. But this kind of situation might work out, and is worth keeping an ear out for.)
posted by Stacey at 9:07 AM on March 27, 2017

My wife and I both are allergic to some cats but not others. We found that shelters were generally amenable to us hanging out with the cats at the shelter; it was pretty clear to us which ones we were allergic to and which ones we weren't. I suspect it's unlikely that they'll let you take the cat home to try it out, because being transported is itself stressful for cats. We now have two wonderful cats that do not aggravate our allergies.

One of our cats is at least part ragdoll, we believe; that's a breed we'd considered buying from a breeder, but my wife was an obsessive watcher of our local humane society's website. The other one basically looks like she's made from spare parts and we have no idea what she is.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:07 AM on March 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

Would some sort of fostering situation work?

Yes, do this! This is the best way to see if a particular cat living in your home will bother your husband's allergies. And since you're fostering, no guilt about returning the cat if it turns out to be an allergy trigger.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 9:30 AM on March 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just an anecdote but I've always been a bit allergic to cats. My young shorthair neutered female tabby causes me no issues though. I'd recommend the shorter hair the better. And fostering is a good idea.
posted by derbs at 9:49 AM on March 27, 2017

I've heard the above things about which cats tend to be more allergenic than others. I've also heard that having a cat from the time it is very young reduces your change of developing an allergy to it. This sounds perhaps logical...that you are slowly introduced to teh potential allergens that come off the cat as they mature and start producing them. But I have no source to cite on this, so it could be an old wives' tale.....
posted by Tandem Affinity at 9:52 AM on March 27, 2017

Oof. I too have cat allergies. It's tough. Siberians are OK as kittens, but can cause issues when they are older which is a problem if you never want to rehome. It all starts when they learn to lick themselves :(
posted by wingless_angel at 9:57 AM on March 27, 2017

I brought my cat home from Anjellicle as a foster for a couple of weeks while I figured out i I could live with him and my allergies. Lucky for me, the answer was yes. You can meet their cats in at four locations in NYC, though I'm partial to Koneko on the LES.
posted by minervous at 10:29 AM on March 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just be aware his allergies could grow to include your new kitty. I wasn't allergic to my guinea pig for the first month - then couldn't be anywhere near him. My dad even had cats, then one day at random had a reaction to a friend's cat and now is super allergic.

On the flip side, I test positive for bunny allergies but have never had any reaction. Even when I owned one who slept in my bed.

Fostering seems like a great idea until you're sure.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 10:56 AM on March 27, 2017

Sometimes people are allergic to the weeds that cats roll around in, rather than the cats themselves. Also I can pet my cats all I want and live in a closed space with them, as long as I rinse my hands close after, and if I get some cat dander in my eyes, I immediately rinse my face. I cover my bed with a blanket they sleep on in the day time, and take it off at night, always keeping the not cat side down, on the bed.
posted by Oyéah at 11:00 AM on March 27, 2017

TLDNR- We have a Siberian. We got her because my son wanted a cat and I'm severely allergic. They have only been in the US since 1990 and there are no rescue organizations just for Siberians. We contacted several breeders and all wanted us to have allergy testing (at our expense, but would be deducted from the price of the kitten if we ended up buying) except one. She was great! She told me, "All I have are Siberian cats in my home. Come spend a morning or afternoon and see if you have a reaction. If you do, don't buy a cat." She was about 4 hours from me but I drove one day and spent the afternoon at her house. She had about 5-7 cats inside and some kittens and other cats in a house out back. I looked at the kittens (that I had originally came to look at) and they were cute...I guess. I've always been a dog Anyway, the kittens were only about 5 weeks old and were not ready to leave yet. While I was in her living room, one of her cats kept getting on my lap, or behind me on the couch, and wanted to get in my face. She was a silver tabby (not like the calico kittens I had just seen) and just beautiful. I asked if she was for sale and was told no, she was being kept to be a breeder cat when she was old enough. She was only 4 months old. Like I said, I spent the afternoon with her, and while we were talking, this silver kitty kept getting in my face...she was so sweet. Long story short, I never even so much as sniffled while at her house that afternoon. I also left with the silver kitty, who I convinced her to let me buy. Her name is Mischa and she's been with us almost 6 years. She's slept on my bed every night and to this day I have never even sneezed because of her. It's also helped me with my allergies to other cats. Because she still secretes a little of the Fel d1, I have built up an immunity. When I'm around and pet other cats, my eyes no longer swell and I never have any problems breathing. The cats are expensive, but IMHO, so totally worth it! She's one of the best pets we've ever had. She even plays fetch. Good luck on your hypoallergenic cat hunt!
posted by Amalie-Suzette at 2:10 PM on March 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

Just to add, my allergies were severe. My eyes swelled shut, my throat would swell, I would start wheezing, my nose would stuff up and my eyes continuously water. This would happen if I went into a house where a cat lived. I didn't even have to touch the cat.
posted by Amalie-Suzette at 2:17 PM on March 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

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