I desperately want a cat, and my S.O. is slightly allergic.
January 5, 2004 4:34 PM   Subscribe

I desperately want a cat, and my S.O. is slightly allergic. Does anyone know if there are any breeds of cat that are less likely to provoke an allergic reaction? Any suggestions for keeping his allergies from being a problem, other than a HEPA vacuum? Also, he wants a ferret. Is a ferret likely to cause him any problems? Am I likely to have any problems raising a ferret and a cat together?
posted by stoneegg21 to Pets & Animals (33 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I personally don't like ferrets (they're shifty), but maybe you should pick one or the other and see how your friend's allergies react. I have a mild allergy to cats, but have lived with them all my life - I sneeze and get watery eyes for a day or two when I'm around a new cat (when visiting family or friends, for example), and then I'm fine. When I come home to my 'home cat', I have the same problem - allergies for a few days, then I'm ok. Your friend might have the same experience.
posted by drobot at 4:40 PM on January 5, 2004

I've heard good things about Himalayans. They're longhaired cats, but apparently they don't shed much by way of hair or dander. My cousin and her husband had one, and her husband was *very* allergic to cats, to the point where some would trigger asthma attacks.

Do you have any friends who have ferrets or cats and who would be willing to let you borrow one of them for a week or so to see what happens? That way you don't commit to an animal and have to take it back to the shelter/store/wherever if it goes badly.
posted by eilatan at 4:47 PM on January 5, 2004

As far as I know, the allergens people react to in cats is actually dander (small particles of skin). Apparently it's highly soluble in water, so the best method, and the one my allergic girlfriend uses, is to bathe the cat on roughly a weekly basis. If you start bathing it as a kitten, it will tolerate the baths without too much fuss. You shouldn't use soap or anything else, either, since it's completely unnecessary. Also, use a simple allergy pill daily (reactine or something similar) and any other medication prescribed by your doctor (my girlfriend has two different inhalers and a nasal spray for her general allergies).
posted by The God Complex at 4:49 PM on January 5, 2004

This may or may not be very helpful, but I'm allergic to both dogs and cats and I have both, and have had both for a long time. The dog allergy has never really presented in any way that I can tell, but I grew up with dogs. I've had cats on and off as pets since I moved into my first apartment and my experience is that I acclimate to individual cats after a week or two.
posted by mccreath at 4:51 PM on January 5, 2004

Norwegian Forest cats don't produce the same allergens that most cats do that affect people with allergies. I knew a couple with a pair of these cats; alhough the husband was severely allergic to nearly all cats, these cats provoked no allergic reaction. Also, though they are semi-long-haired double-coated cats, they need little grooming. They were also very handsome and sweet-natured cats.

I've heard Siberian Forest, Maine Coon, Sphinx and Devon Rex cats are also less prone to irritate those with allergies. Perhaps check in with a local reputable vet to hear their opinion?
posted by vers at 5:00 PM on January 5, 2004

I know several people with cat allergies, and all of them have been able to "build up a tolerance" over time. The transition period -- from weeks to years -- can be pretty uncomfortable, though.

I only have a single datapoint for the cat/ferret question: Someone once introduced his (fairly tame) ferret to the alpha cat of my household. Within the first 30 seconds of the encounter, my cat took a chunk each out of the ferret's nose and ear. He really didn't like that ferret, and from his reaction he'd probably be all too happy to assault it again if the opportunity came up.
posted by majick at 5:20 PM on January 5, 2004

I had a friend who had a dog and ferret that got along fine. Don't know anything about cats and ferrets but I found this...

From this page:
Most ferrets don't get along with birds, fish, rabbits, rodents, lizards, and the like, though there are some exceptions. For a dog or cat, patience is the most important part of the introduction. Give the new animal a chance to get used to you and your home before introducing it to the other pets one at a time, very slowly.

Cats are generally less dangerous than dogs, simply because of their size. For the first week or so, hold both the cat and the ferret (two humans is handy here) and just let them smell each other a few times a day. Over the next week or two, gradually give each animal a bit more freedom, watching them closely, until they're used to each other. Once you're convinced that they're used to each other and get along all right, let them interact freely, but supervise them for a while to be sure. Make sure the ferret has an escape route, a barrier the cat can't get through or a safe hiding place.

It's generally believed that ferrets get along with cats better if they're introduced when the cat is still a kitten and is more willing to play, but there are plenty of exceptions. The same is probably true of dogs.

posted by puffin at 5:29 PM on January 5, 2004

Siamese cats are supposed to be better for allergies — at least, that's what my parents tell me. They had a Siamese for 15 years and said that people with allergies didn't generally have problems with her.

Of course, then you have the Siamese personality to deal with.
posted by Johnny Assay at 5:39 PM on January 5, 2004

Ragdoll cats.
posted by oflinkey at 5:46 PM on January 5, 2004

In addition to my earlier advice, I've also heard that people generally react less violently to female cats, although I'm not sure how much truth there is in that particular bit of information.
posted by The God Complex at 5:52 PM on January 5, 2004

From the Common Myths page of oflinkey's link:

"Ragdolls are suitable pets for those who are allergic to cats.

Because Ragdolls lack undercoat and shed little, it is sometimes claimed that they don´t cause allergic reactions. It however isn´t the hair which causes allergy, but the dander. Therefore Ragdolls are just as bad to people with an allergy as any other breed [emphasis mine]."
posted by MegoSteve at 5:52 PM on January 5, 2004

im really allergic to cats. the only breed i have found that causes no allergic reaction for me are siamese cats.
posted by rhapsodie at 6:01 PM on January 5, 2004

my brother is enemy to all small furry things. A family of his S.O. once vacuumed their cats prior to his arrival and he had less problems. So vacuuming/bathing is the way to go i'd say.

to bathe a cat that doesn't like water, use wire mesh, like from a window screen, in a frame so it sits slightly higher than the surface of the tub or sink. The cat should freak out, but hold onto the mesh like a fiend. Gauntlets are also wise, as i discovered when bathing a cat that had discovered acrylic paint.
posted by th3ph17 at 6:05 PM on January 5, 2004

I know that I can be allergic to other people's dogs and cats. When I got my cat, as a kitten, I could feel my nose start tingling on the way home in the car.

I remembered this story RD Laing told about himself being in a house with a dog, and there was a music recital. He was fine with the dog until he found out the music was awful, whereupon he started sneezing and had to excuse himself.

As I sat in the back of the car with this little kitten on my lap, I told myself that this was my cat, and I'd better be ok with her, since she was going to be with me for many years.

And the tingling went away.

Sometimes I can feel the musty-dusty tingle, but it knows it has no place in my life and politiely departs.
posted by Blue Stone at 6:37 PM on January 5, 2004

I think the easiest solution is to find another boyfriend.
posted by crunchland at 6:40 PM on January 5, 2004

I got to play with my first hairless cat last year and I was kind of grossed out by the whole thing. Petting a hairless cat sitting in your lap feels exactly like petting a stranger's warm ass.

And not in a good way.
posted by mathowie at 6:57 PM on January 5, 2004

Add Russian Blue and Cornish Rex to the list of breeds that are reportedly good for people allergic to cats.
posted by kindall at 7:16 PM on January 5, 2004

Note to self: introduce self to Matt immediately, so as not to be a stranger.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:02 PM on January 5, 2004 [2 favorites]

Siamese cats worked well when we got him. My father was alergic, but could stand him. We made sure not to have him roam in the bedroom or chairs he would use. We now have a black cat and the same rules apply, but you can tell the sneezing and watery eyes are much more common.
posted by brent at 8:27 PM on January 5, 2004

Okay, I know this sounds odd..... but I have always loved cats, and am also allergic. When I asked a vet about getting a cat, he said to avoid black cats - and try and get a white cat, if at all possible.

Really. I thought he was nuts. But I did what he said, and got a light colored cat - and have had no problems at all. I thought his suggestion was complete bull, but there seems to be some reasoning behind it.
posted by bradth27 at 8:36 PM on January 5, 2004

Now that Claritin is over the counter, perhaps you can just keep your boyfriend supplied with Claritin (or one of its generic alternatives) everyday, and consider that part of your baseline expense of having a cat. IF his symptoms are relatively minor, this might work. If his symptoms are more serious, like say cats aggravate asthma or eczema, I wouldn't recommend it. (I suffered with much worse asthma than I needed to for years because my ex-husband insisted upon getting guinea pigs, even though I was allergic. Then he took off and left me with them. I was attached to them by that time, and I couldn't bear to give them to a shelter. I kept them until the last of them died a few years ago. Since then, my asthma has been remarkably better, and I can't believe how much I suffered for all those years.) However, it's a bit pricey, and your BF has to be okay with taking a pill every day for your convenience. If you decide to try it, you might want to borrow a cat from someone for a few weeks as a test run before you actually get a cat of your own. It wouldn't be good to get a cat and then discover that your BF can't tolerate the Claritin, or it doesn't relieve his symptoms, and then have to get rid of the cat.

As far as a ferret, I'm allergic to cats and rodents, but perhaps not everyone is. He'd be wise to go to the allergist to be tested, and/or hold someone else's ferret for a while to see if he has a reaction.
posted by Shoeburyness at 8:42 PM on January 5, 2004

I can't believe for a moment that a daily dose of Claritin is a Healthy Thing.

Well, I can, actually, but that's not nearly as inflammatory a statement.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:54 PM on January 5, 2004

(which, I suppose, is my means of asking for some evidence that daily anti-histamines are healthy)

(as opposed to just not getting a cat, that is)
posted by five fresh fish at 9:54 PM on January 5, 2004

For allergies, I have read some good reports by people using these. At the very least, they might be easier than bathing the cat and less likely to stress it (which makes it more susceptible to infections).

As for introducing pets, the standard requires cages for at least one, preferably both. Begin by allowing the newcomer to explore a room smelling of the resident, with the resident confined to some other (non-visible, non-audible) room. Then swap out (use a different "haven" room for each). Do this for a few repetitions. Now have one caged animal visible to the other uncaged one, while you're around. Probably caging the cat would be best, if there's any inclination for it to stalk the ferret. After the interactions through the cage calm down, a leashed cat and loose ferret, with constant supervision and short intervals, still. Eventually you can let them meet without restraints. I wouldn't let them have the run of the house unfettered without supervision for quite some time, regardless of their party manners, because cats often turn into fierce jungle beasts in the night. Overall, patience will make for a smoother process than haste.
posted by salt at 10:02 PM on January 5, 2004

If your boyfriend has allergies, I wouldn't advise getting a ferret. Their musk is a common allergen, and even if you get the ferret descented, there would still be a lot of upkeep involved, frequent shampooing, for example, because even with their anal glands removed, they still smell.
posted by Ruki at 10:18 PM on January 5, 2004

It is, I have heard, possible to declaw both pets, shave them both, and dip them in latex rubber. The declawing prevents them from killing each other, and the latex rubber blocks the skin dander.

I can't attest to their happiness with these methods though.
posted by troutfishing at 10:40 PM on January 5, 2004

i'm allergic to cats but have 3 of the hairy little bastids, so i wipe them down with a damp face cloth each day to keep their dander under control. works well, except during the early spring and late fall, when both my cat and outdoor allergies collide with miserable results. taking a single novo-pheniram (aka chlor-tripolon® but the generic is only $9 for 100 tabs) on my bad days solves it.

beware people who swear by a certain breed because they've often just built an immunity to their own cat's dander. despite my having to pop an occasional antihistamine i'm generally fine with my own cats in my own house, but when i have contact with new cats or friend's cats whom i don't regularly visit i can have a bad reaction. we adopted a new cat in early december and it took me a few weeks to get used to her dander.
posted by t r a c y at 5:15 AM on January 6, 2004

I'm allergic as well and used to bathe our cat until it became too much for me. Of course, we started when she was a kitten. Then my husband started to bathe her, and that didn't go as well. We eventually gave up because it was too much work and she started to really resist. The non-allergic person brushing the cat on a regular basis helps.

Thanks, tracy, for your recommendation on face cloths -- wil have to try that.

Has anyone tried Allerpet? I'm skeptical but curious. Would love to know if it really works.

Good luck, stoneegg21. Oh, and don't let the cat into the bedroom (when we got our cat she slept with us for the first two nights, then we closed the door; now she won't sleep with us if we wanted her to). You can also use HEPA air cleaner(s) which should help as well.
posted by evening at 6:02 AM on January 6, 2004

oh, one more thing. A vet told us that it's not necessarily the dander but something in the saliva that we're allergic to. So she said not to bathe the cat unless it's really helping, as the cats lick themselves in a frenzy after getting a bath (and then getting their saliva all over again).

But tracy's idea about wiping the cat down every day would account for either the dander or the saliva, so that's probably the best bet.
posted by evening at 6:04 AM on January 6, 2004

Anecdotal evidence: I have a good friend who, unless she is really drunk or really hungover, cannot spend more than a few hours in our three-cat household before she totally self-destructs. Once, after spending a sober evening with us eating dinner and watching movies, she had to go to a doc the next day to have her eyes, which had nearly swollen shut, treated.

The moral of this story is not to keep your boyfriend on the sauce, but that this highly alergic friend successfully had two pet ferrets, which didn't effect her allergies at all. However, from other posts I've read, this sounds like a very individual thing.

If you are able to keep one "cat proof" room, that might help the situation some. You can make it your bedroom, per evening's suggestion, which would not only give the BF some night-time relief but also keep your clothes cat hair-free, which will make his life easier when he's not at home. (We have to make our spare bedroom the cat-free room, since all three cats will shred the carpet under the bedroom door trying to dig their way in if we dare seal our sleeping selves off from their very aggressive affection.)

As for cats and ferrets together, I would imagine if you raised them both from babies, they would be fine together. If cats and rabbits can be raised together as pals, it seems that ferrets and cats could. But then again, ferrets are creepy little things so it's hard to say how trustworthy they are. (I'm not a fan of ferrets. Early childhood ferret injury. Wormy little bastards.)
posted by jennyb at 7:07 AM on January 6, 2004

I've had ferrets, a cat, and a dog all in the same household at once. I had to pull the ferrets off the cat far, far more often than the other way around. Despite their appearance, ferrets are not rodents (they eat rodents, actually), but are fierce little predators. My cat was a tough mouser, a real fighter, but the ferrets had no problems dealing with her. Make sure the CAT has a safe haven, not the other way around, I say!

The dog loved the ferrets. You know, um, loved them. The ferrets didn't seem to mind much, but it could be awkward around company.

Ferrets are also very easy to bathe. Fill up the tub, and drop them in. They'll swim calmly around. No problem there.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:10 AM on January 6, 2004

I got to play with my first hairless cat last year and I was kind of grossed out by the whole thing. Petting a hairless cat sitting in your lap feels exactly like petting a stranger's warm ass.

Thanks for that Matt - a good coffee-spewing laugh was needed this morning! Those hairless cats honestly just creep me out. Now they always will... :)

As to the question at hand, I can only speak from the experience of my brother. While he's allergic to cats in general, he's also a huge animal freak, and got himself one. His allergies to his (no-particular-breed picked-up-at-the-shelter) cat quickly disappeared. Though when he gets around ours, he quickly takes on that been-smoking-ganja-all-day look... ;)
posted by Doktor at 8:49 AM on January 6, 2004

Lots of people take daily antihistamines because they are allergic to things that can't be avoided, like dust or mold. So I think it would be safe... however, from personal experience, I think it's better to just not have animals you are allergic to, rather than medicate yourself. But, it's a personal choice. Perhaps some people might feel it's worth taking an antihistamine every day so that their SO can have an animal they are allergic to. (shrug)
posted by Shoeburyness at 11:55 AM on January 6, 2004

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