Am I not allergic to cats anymore?
September 14, 2020 3:52 AM   Subscribe

I always thought I was allergic to cats, which is why I've never adopted one, even though I love cats. Recently I spent the weekend with a cat and experienced no allergy symptoms whatsoever. Does this mean I'm not allergic anymore?? How can I be sure?

I'd love to adopt a cat. But my allergies/asthma has always stopped me from looking into adopting a cat. I'd feel terrible about giving up a cat after we'd gotten attached.

Salient points:

I picked up, stroked, cuddled, and sat with the cat in my lap for most of the weekend. (He didn't mind; he's very sociable!)

The home in question had wood floors. My home has carpeting.

The cat was an outdoor/indoor cat with long fur (a Siberian cat). He's about 2 months old.

I love cats but they give me asthma, which is not always easily manageable. But this cat gave me no symptoms at all. How is this possible? Can I have outgrown my symptoms? Is it because of the breed? I'd prefer to adopt a rescue rather than getting a pedigreed cat.

How can I be sure that I do not have allergies before looking into adopting a cat of my own? I don't have too many friends with cats that I can socialise with, especially given Covid-era socialising considerations.
posted by unicorn chaser to Pets & Animals (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Oh, and just to make it clear, this is the first cat I've socialised with properly for many years - as I tend to avoid getting too up close and personal with them for fear of setting off my symptoms. Just realised that I hadn't made that clear.
posted by unicorn chaser at 3:55 AM on September 14, 2020

Old thread that may be relevant for you.
posted by like_neon at 4:09 AM on September 14, 2020

I am miserably allergic to most cats, but I have way fewer issues with Siberians. To the point where I have more-or-less successfully lived with one before while taking basic precautions to keep it out of my bed and not, like, rub my face in its fur. I also catsat a couple of them recently and experimentally cuddled them with few issues.
posted by geegollygosh at 4:10 AM on September 14, 2020

....Do you remember having an allergic reaction to cats ever, or were just told this? I have a weird hunch that maybe this is a theory that was never actually tested.

Regardless - there are several de-allergizing options for allergic pet lovers. When I had a cat I also had several allergic friends, so I had a bottle of a solution I would just rub on my cat when my friends were coming to visit. It neutralized the allergens in his dander and my friends were just fine. So even if you aren't certain whether you're "not allergic any more", that's an option.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:12 AM on September 14, 2020 [6 favorites]

Oh, also, I have read (and antecdotally it seems plausible based on my experience?) that lighter colored Siberians cause fewer allergies as well, though ymmv and it may be an old wives tale.
posted by geegollygosh at 4:14 AM on September 14, 2020

....Do you remember having an allergic reaction to cats ever, or were just told this? I have a weird hunch that maybe this is a theory that was never actually tested.

Agreed -- maybe the times that you remember your asthma being triggered by cats it was actually being triggered by something else in the house like dust or mold? As far as how to be sure, an appointment at an allergist for skin-prick testing would be able to confirm whether you still get an allergic reaction to cats, it's certainly possible for you to have developed a tolerance as an adult that you didn't have before.
posted by oh yeah! at 4:23 AM on September 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

Echoing that the best way to find out is to see an allergist. My son had to be tested recently and it was a lot less painful of a process than I remember it being, and their Covid protocols were impressive.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:03 AM on September 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

I used to be severely allergic to cats. I remember when I was 21 I had allergy testing done and I reacted so strongly to the cat allergen on the test that the allergist said it wouldn't be safe for me to get shots for it.

Several years later I heard a theory that kittens produce less dander(the thing that causes allergic reaction) and that it might be possible to acclimate your body to the dander of an adult cat by raising them from a young age. The idea being that at a low dose your body won't react but will build a tolerance as they get older and produce more dander.

I have no idea if that's scientifically valid. But, I can say that my highly allergic husband and I adopted two 6-month-old kittens 9 years ago and sure enough, we never developed an allergy to either. They are just domestic short hair tuxedos, no special "hypo allergenic" breed. Maybe a total coincidence, or maybe that theory was correct. Either way, I have cats in my life now.
posted by joan_holloway at 5:06 AM on September 14, 2020 [3 favorites]

I am very allergic to cats but adopted a Sphynx... Funnily enough no issues at all! Turns out having less dander due to frequent baths and no hair around the house is perfect for me.
posted by teststrip at 5:18 AM on September 14, 2020

Another work around for possibly being allergic but loving and wanting a cat is getting allergy shots if you get a cat and DO end up up having symptoms. I was allergic to cats when I was a child and got allergy shots and eventually became not allergic. I also had a roommate who was allergic and gracefully chose to get allergy shots, and lived with my cat without too many symptoms (although he did keep his bedroom door closed to the cat so he had one allergen-free area).

Not sure if that's feasible for you (insurance, time, tolerance for injections, etc), but just floating it as an option to consider!
posted by carlypennylane at 5:23 AM on September 14, 2020

I was so allergic to cats growing up, the joke was that I went over to friend-with-cat's house to lose weight by sneezing so damn much.

When my now-wife and I started dating, she had two cats, and they didn't seem to bother me *as*much*.

We now have two cats and two dogs, and my allergies are under control with monteleukast, a nasal spray, and an inhaler, plus a HEPA filter on the HVAC system.

So yeah, talk to an allergist.

(plot twist: the childhood friend whose house I'd visit "to lose weight" from sneezing at his cats? He's now so allergic to cats that he can barely visit our house.
posted by notsnot at 5:41 AM on September 14, 2020

Can I have outgrown my symptoms?

Just one anecdatapoint: at 25 I started having severe hay fever, but only to birch pollen. So a month of taking eye drops, nasal spray and allergy suppressants, and the rest of the year I was fine. Until some ten years ago I noticed that the symptoms had all but gone, with only the occasional ultrahigh pollen day requiring a bit of suppression; eye drops maybe once or twice a day where before I did need them about every hour for the entire period.
posted by Stoneshop at 6:56 AM on September 14, 2020

It's totally possible that you're not allergic anymore for whatever reason, or that your sensitivity is only to certain cats / kinds of cats.

Other people have had better advice than I can give about how to find out, but - I've certainly had friends who had a history of being very allergic get past that, or find a cat that doesn't aggravate it, and I hope that that will be the case for you too.
posted by bile and syntax at 7:24 AM on September 14, 2020

I am extremely allergic to cats - it's not just sneezing, my face will swell and eyes swell shut if I spend several hours in most households with cats. But, I do not get this severe a reaction in some households - I will still have some allergic reaction, but not the swelling. The households where I have not gotten the severe reaction have had wood floors and owners who were obsessive about cleaning. They also had longhaired cats, but not purebreds - think cats that look like Maine Coon / Norwegian Forest Cat / Siberian, not the typical domestic shorthair. I have learned wall-to-wall carpeting and cats is a combination I have to stay away from.

Siberians purportedly produce less dander and so are claimed to be a breed that is safe for many allergy sufferers. (I have been researching Siberians as possibly a cat breed I could live with. Siberian breeders will allow you to hold the cat, or send you fur from the cat so you can sniff and rub and see if you get an allergic reaction prior to adoption.)

So it's possible you were not allergic to this particular cat. If you are intending to adopt a rescue, you should try cuddling and holding the cat close to you, or ask if you can foster the cat for some set period of time, and see if you have any reactions.
posted by research monkey at 7:37 AM on September 14, 2020

Siberians often produce less of a certain protein in their salvia. That protein is what I'm allergic too -- maybe you're the same?

I am actually in the process of adopting a Siberian kitten from a breeder because I desperately want a kitty friend but am allergic to many cats. I picked up this little guy, took off my mask, and rubbed his fur on my face as an allergy test, and I didn't even get the slightest itch or sniffle!
posted by cnidaria at 7:42 AM on September 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm convinced that some allergies come and go as your body changes. I got allergies for the first time after I was pregnant, and was told by my doctor this is pretty common. Five years later, it seems to have gone away. I have also known people who developed or lost cat allergies later in life, for no particular reason. My uninformed guess is that our immune systems just change over our life course, based on our changing environment, stress levels, general health, etc.

To add to the data points about growing less allergic to some cates, I have a [self-described crazy-cat-lady] friend who is severely allergic to everyone else's cats but not her own. Her cats are totally normal house moggies.
posted by EllaEm at 10:16 AM on September 14, 2020

Seconding the "some breeds" (including Siberians) produce less of the protein some people are allergic to.

I am a cat owner with cat allergies. I get allergy shots these days (for other reasons than the cat, but the cat allergens are in the mix), but have had a cat since well before that. What helps me:

- Wood floors definitely help. If not an option, vacuuming with a vacuum with a good (HEPA) filter and then leaving the room for a couple of hours works. (Most of the robot vacuums can qualify...) For me, kicking the dander up in the air is one of the most difficult times.

- Air filters also help - I have one in the living room and one in the bedroom. Washing laundry regularly on high heat helps too.

- Making sure the cat does not sleep where I put my head when I sleep (so the pillows get covered with a blanket every morning, so whatever cat dander there is ends up not in my face at bedtime). These days I also use a CPAP, which is great for this problem, since I am breathing filtered air that comes from an area not near where the cat hangs out.

- A lot of people (me included) acclimate to their particular cat, even if they're not particularly low-allergen. I usually only have problems if I spent a lot of time deep scritching/grooming/petting and then am not careful about thoroughly washing my hands after.

- It's possible you also have other allergies (allergies like friends) - if you also have, say, dust mite allergies, the air filter and laundry routines will also help those. Sometimes reducing the overall load can help a lot with a particular allergen you still have around. Allergy testing can help you figure out if that's the case and what steps might be most helpful. (My allergist sometimes peers at me and goes "You have a cat, right?" but also understands that the cat is important to me and I'm not getting rid of her.)
posted by jenettsilver at 11:02 AM on September 14, 2020

My allergic-to-cats husband and I have two Siberians that he's 100% fine with. But not all Siberians are low-allergen. You can have their Fel d1 allergen levels lab-tested, or if they're adults, you can try out an in-person visit. Testing with kittens via a visit isn't reliable, nor with their parents -- low-allergen parents can have kittens that mature into normal-allergen cats.

When Siberians test low, it's Fel d1 that they're low in. They still have normal levels of other allergens. Many people who are allergic to just cats are reacting to Fel d1, so they'd do well with low-allergen Siberians. Many people who are allergic to both cats and dogs, horses, or hamsters are reacting to other allergens, and low Fel d1 levels won't fix that. If your skin reacts to egg-white brushed onto the underside of your upper arm, that's another allergen that even low-Fel d1 Siberians have at normal levels. The fact that your symptom is asthma makes it a Type 1 allergy, which are often Fel d1 reactions. If you also react with swelling, itchy rashes, and other skin reactions, those Type 4 reactions are less likely to be associated with Fel d1.

Siberians lab-tested as low-allergen are very pricey, unfortunately. Rescues sometimes call longhaired cats "Siberian," but finding an actual low-allergen Siberian in a rescue is super-unlikely. Other individual, non-Siberian cats are sometimes low in Fel d1, but it's hard to find them without 1-on-1 visits with a particular cat. Sometimes breeders retire their adults - perhaps less pricey than kittens? I'm not sure.
posted by daisyace at 6:28 PM on September 14, 2020

I am allergic to cats but adopted a tuxedo kitten a few years ago that I have no allergic reaction to. I can cuddle and pet him, he can lick me - none of it produces an allergic reaction. My theory is that cats may have varying degrees of allergy-producing dander, and my little one seems to have very low levels of it. Thankfully!
posted by summerstorm at 10:05 PM on September 14, 2020

Have you asked the cat's owners if they got a Siberian specially bred to be low-allergen or allergen-free? I know a couple, one of whom is violently allergic to cats, but they researched and bought from a breeder that specializes in those.
posted by telophase at 7:51 AM on September 15, 2020

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