Should I get a cat?
September 28, 2006 4:47 PM   Subscribe

I'm thinking of adopting a kitten (or possibly an adult cat) but...

in the past, I've been violently allergic to my friends' cats. Yet, my ex-gf had two cats and I never had allergy problems at her place. She bathed her cats regularly, so I assume that was a factor. I've also read that carpeting could be a factor. Her house was mostly hardwood and lineoleum except for the living room (which was carpeted). My apartment is entirely carpeted except for the bathroom and kitchen.

I don't want to adopt a kitty only to be terribly allergic and have to return it. Should I risk it?
posted by keswick to Pets & Animals (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
There are lots of factors that determine how severe your allergy will be. Bathing, floor coverings, and also the type of fur the cat has (light-colored cats have less dander, I've heard) can affect things.

Perhaps you can foster a cat until you know you'll react.
posted by christinetheslp at 4:51 PM on September 28, 2006

I'd say you're probably better off with a kitten, since they dont really produce as much allergens as adult cats. and supposedly you can acculturate yourself to cats. I had a roomate who, once she got used to my cats, was fine, but visited somebody with a new cat and couldn't breathe. So I'd say you could try it.

But my suggestion would be not to adopt an animal you aren't sure you can keep, for whatever reason. If you know somebody who could take it if you couldn't keep it, that might work out, but returning an animal to a shelter is hard on the animal, you and the shelter. not to mention you'll be paying vet bills for a cat you may not keep.

If you do go for it, there are foods, supplements and bathing supplies that are all supposed to reduce allergic potential. I'd suggest one of those canister vaccums, the ones where you can empty it each time, instead of a bag vac. You'd be amazed what you find after a quick once over every few days. I swear, I could knit a cat a week from the shedded hair. And if you are going to bathe your cat, start young, because i tried it when one of my cats stunk and almost lost a limb.
posted by gilsonal at 4:56 PM on September 28, 2006

"catteries" in the UK quite often vet the prospective adopters.

You'd be allowed to choose the cat you'd like, then they sit and ask questions about your situation: housing, access to the outside world, prior experience, other pets...; in some dedicated establishments they carry out house visits to make sure they're not sending Tabby into a bad situation. During the questioning I've no doubt you'd be able to handle the cat you'd chosen, if nothing else to make sure that you're not allegic to it, and it's not violently opposed to you.

Even if there are none of these procedures in place, it's not going to be hard to convince the assistants to let you handle a cat at a time - you can find out for yourself.

When you say "violently allergic", I assume you don't mean hours later, you would be able to tell if Mr/MrsTibbles was going to give you grief.

If you find that, some time after adopting, you do start having a reaction then there are innumerable cleaning and even food products which are supposed to dampen down allergen production, although I have no experience in this.
posted by NinjaTadpole at 5:04 PM on September 28, 2006

the ragdoll cat is supposedly hypoallergenic
posted by gilsonal at 5:17 PM on September 28, 2006

As a fellow allergy sufferer, here's my thoughts. My animal allergies trigger asthma as well as all the usual allergic responses like runny nose/eyes, sneezing, so I guess I would describe mine as "strongly allergic". I have two cats, because I decided that I would rather make a few personal sacrifices in order to have furry friends around the house. So every day I take a (generic) Claritin tablet, which helps keep things under control. If you don't already take anti-hystamines every day, this would be the biggest help. I could not manage without this medication.

I don't have any carpeting in this house but the old house was carpeted. Carpeting makes it a bit worse, but not bad. I adjusted over time to my own particular cats. When I first adopted them as kittens, if one of them accidentally scratched me I would get a raised itchy welt on my arm. Now no reaction at all. If I visit friends with cats, I am allergic to their cats (but less so than I used to be), but still horribly allergic to dogs. I don't wash my cats or feed them any allergenic-dampening food. So, if you think you can handle the idea of taking an anti-hystamine every day, I say you can happily adopt cats.
posted by Joh at 5:26 PM on September 28, 2006

Another option you may want to consider is to visit some breeders. Their houses are going to have all the dander you could ever hope to deal with and by experimenting with a couple of different breeds you may find one that doesn't bother you.

You may also find this site helpful. I was hoping to be able to suggest a sphinx cat as an option but it would seem that despite being hairless, they still produce dander. (though some people with allergies are much less affected by them)

Another option might be medication (for you, not the cat) My wife is very allergic, but she loves the kittys enough that she visited an allergist and found something that makes it so that our cats don't bother her anymore.
posted by quin at 5:32 PM on September 28, 2006

Only a couple of days ago, hypoallergenic cats were announced.

From memory, a kitten is about $4k, and there is currently a waiting list.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:42 PM on September 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

Short-hair cats aren't as bad, clean hard-wood floors are much better than carpet. But still, I wouldn't even consider owning a cat. I grew up in a house with cats and never really understood what it felt like to be able to breathe normally until I moved out. You can used to it, and lotramine greatly reduces the symptoms, but there are all kinds of secondary effects (more severe colds, asthma, impaired athletic performance, bronchitis, etc.) that I used to consider normal and am now very happy to be free of.

I suppose you could try it on a trial basis if you have someone to take the cat if it doesn't work out. But I wouldn't, esp. with carpet and if you are not extremely good at housekeeping.
posted by Manjusri at 5:48 PM on September 28, 2006

I am violently allergic to my two cats (and lots of other things, to the extent that I'm told by my doctor not to be near anything with fur, eat cheese or dried fruits or mushrooms and I'm also not to garden). Zyrtec keeps me sane. At about $200 for three months it's on the pricey side, but I'm watching the two cats scrap right now on the living room floor and it's so worth the cost.

I don't hold them much, and we certainly don't snuggle, though they do sometimes make their way to my bed for night sleeping.

We do bathe them every week or so with cat bath stuff, which is not a flea repellant. Bathing regularly is not recommended if you use a flea repellant drop, but because we're on the 8th floor we don't see much in the way of insects at all up here.

Use a neti pot for for nasal irrigation in addition to your doctor prescribed allergy medication (get the full panel done, because just being aware of what other parts of my environment cause me trouble allows me to mitigate the whole breathing situation. I had never before really belied that things I ate could cause me so much respiratory distress).
posted by bilabial at 6:00 PM on September 28, 2006

My boyfriend and I were terribly allergic to cats -- mostly respiratory problems. His allergies seemed to vanish after two months of cat ownership, but mine drug out for about 5 months until I finally wound up getting a diagnosis of asthma from an allergist and GP.

I wound up with a steroid inhaler. That worked fine for a couple months until I kept forgetting to take it and realized that I no longer had breathing problems either.

So, I think we both wound up acclimating to the cat allergens. Now, neither of us seem to have any problems with our cat or our friends’ cats.

So I’d say go for it, but keep in mind you are purposefully going to be making yourself sick for a while. My BF and I are both very glad we went through it, though, as the cat has become our main source of entertainment. “Nothin’ on TV? Well, let’s see what’s doin’ with the cat…”

Try taking some over the counter allergy meds and hanging around some friends' cats. See if those work for you. Then you'll know what you have to work with. There are also allergy shots you can get from an allergist, which I guess would be stronger than OTC stuff.

Best of luck to you either way!
posted by Kloryne at 6:41 PM on September 28, 2006

I won't say much about whether you should get a cat. I have three DSHs, and if my friend needs antihistamines at 3 a.m., out we go.

However, if you have allergies, there are at least three low-dander breeds to try: Norwegian Forest Cats, Maine Coon Cats and Siberian Cats. There may well be others that I'm not aware of, of course.

I wish you a happy family!
posted by vers at 6:59 PM on September 28, 2006

Here in Columbus, Ohio we have a cat adoption outfit called Cat Welfare. The people at our Cat Welfare would have no issue with you coming and sitting in a comfy chair and reading a book with the prospective cat on your lap for as long as you wanted. I'm sure if you did that a few times you'd find out whether you were allergic or not.
posted by dgeiser13 at 7:05 PM on September 28, 2006

Neutered male cats tend to produce much more Fel d 1 (the protein in the cat's saliva that causes the allergy), so that might be something to consider. I hope you find a cat you can live with! Good luck!
posted by jengineer at 8:17 PM on September 28, 2006

No, you shouldn't. What will you do if you find you do have some allergy to the one you get, give it back? Plus you'll never be able to have anyone who is allergic to cats over to your house.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 8:22 PM on September 28, 2006

Plus you'll never be able to have anyone who is allergic to cats over to your house.

This applies to any cat owner, so I'm not sure what your point is. To keswick: how much exposure did you get to your friend's cat before it made you sick? The shelter would not mind you spending a couple of hours playing with the cats. You need enough time to figure out whether your kitty's personality jives with yours anyhow. I would have liked to know that they prefer to drag-race around the living room at 1 AM and 5 AM daily - but deep down inside that just makes me love them more...
posted by Saucy Intruder at 10:06 PM on September 28, 2006

I've heard a lot of good things about siberian cats, one of the breeds vers mention. Also, how allergic you are to a cat can be individual to a cat.

I would recommend going to a shelter and really getting into handling the kitties. Then go home, and see how you feel.

If you go the route where you're going to purchase a cat, try to find a breeder that will let you interact with the cats for a while. Maybe you can even help out in the cattery.

If you go through a rescue, find one that does foster-to-adopt, whcih will not only let you test out your allergies, but make sure that you and the cat get along.

I am an allergy sufferer with 4 cats. But the joy they bring me is more than worth the sniffles, itchy eyes, and medicine. (I finally found an allergist who is willing to accept this!)
posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:12 PM on September 28, 2006

Kittens are easier to adopt out. Which means that if you get a kitten and the worst happens (you find you have intolerable allergies), the kitten will be easier to find another home for than an adult cat would be. Good luck; I'll be facing this dilemma soon too.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:50 PM on September 28, 2006

I adopted not one but two long haired kittens from the local shelter. I took them home and within 2 hrs had broken out in hives, welts, bumps, and my eyes and nose were leaking copious amounts of fluid, not to mention triggering a rather severe asthmatic attack.
I went to the pharmacist for antihistamines to deal with the immediate discomfort, and got my doctor to give me allergy shots and up my asthma medication.
Within a month, all the symptoms went away (excluding asthma which i was born with), and i was able to tolerate the cats better.
5 years later and i'm still tolerating the cats pretty well, although once in a while i'll break out in hives when i'm over-exposed to cat hair (e.g. when i dont vacuum the couch for a few weeks and it builds up).
Oh, and for what it's worth, cat hair in your eyes...not a good feeling!
posted by ramix at 12:01 AM on September 29, 2006

So far there's no way to say for sure, as far as I know. My ex boyfriend was not allergic to my two cats, and was violently and immediately allergic to other cats. No apparent rhyme or reason. I don't bathe my cats, one was mostly light haired and the other dark.

Your best approach is a testing one. Explain your situation to the shelters and ask if you can bring back any cat that causes allergies with a set amount of time.

(I have also heard that people can acclimate to cats, given time, but I've never seen it happen. With my ex, the reaction was either immediate or not at all.)
posted by digitalis at 1:36 AM on September 29, 2006

The rescue shelter from which we recently adopted a kitten told us that we could return the kitten to the shelter at any time if the adoption didn't work out. (It's working out just fine, though.) So you could look into adopting from a shelter that has that policy. Though, of course, it's still hard on the cat and the humans involved...
posted by litlnemo at 5:03 AM on September 29, 2006

Go to your doctor and ask for allergy testing, then you'll know whether it's an allergy or something else that has made you react to cats/cat fur.
posted by miss tea at 5:22 AM on September 29, 2006

I'm violently allergic to cats, but I've had my stray about a year and I've got used to her. I heard somewhere it was actually cat saliva that produces the allergen, not hair. And a couple of times when she's licked or play-bitten me, the area on my skin has been itchy.

I'm also allergic to dogs - my family has had dogs all my life and when I've come home for the holidays I've had a couple of days of allergy hell, but then it's settled down. There's a lot to be said for desensitisation in my book.
posted by unmusic at 7:48 AM on September 29, 2006

I just wanted to adress the floors question. Carpet is going to hold more dander than hardwood and rugs which can be washed. Carpet just sucks in and holds dirt and dust and dander. When you have a cat and hardwood floors it's very evident when there's fur around, you sweep it up, no problem. With carpet that becomes harder. My fiance has allergies and is not allergic to our cats, but whenever he goes into a cat house that has carpeting his allergies kick in.

Kittens may produce more dander but they make it up by being not as sedentary as adult cats. Kittens have more energy, spread their dander faster, and don't sleep as much. They don't clean themselves as well as adults and I don't think that's better for your allergies since they trail cat litter more than adults. I find kittens to be more work than an adults.

Everyone I know other than myself who has cats also have allergies.

Getting a cat is a big commitement. It's 15-20 years of your life that you will be responsible for it. If allergies are your only concern, I don't think you should get a cat. Be prepared.
posted by scazza at 8:36 AM on September 29, 2006

My good friend had a long time allergy to cats when he decided to just make a go for it and adopt a kitten as a gift for his girlfriend (who had long wanted one, but was willing to accept never having one for his sake). Since they were also my housemates I was witness to their adjusting to living with the little guy.

For my friend, it was his eyes that reacted most strongly to cats, so they tried to focus on keeping dander away from his eyes. He was very careful to never put his hands near his face before washing them when he had been playing with the kitten or handling its toys. The cat was also forbidden from sleeping in bed or at least the pillows (as sucessfully as one can forbid a cat to do anything) so he wouldn't be sleeping in dander every night. Our house was also 100% carpeted except the kitchen and bathrooms, we shifted the chores around so that he could vaccuum as often as he felt necessary (we also got our ducts cleaned out at about the same time, that helped).

They also got the kitten very young, tried to get the least fluffy of the lot, and resigned themselves to lots of baths. They hoped this would give him time to work up tolerance to the dander as the cat got older. And, in the end, he was also willing to just go on allergy meds if he needed to, because he fell in love with the kitten and there was really no way he could give him up. But, he never needed to, and in time the red eyes and sniffing did lessen and go away.

But, your allergies may be too severe or you may find it's just not worth the hassle. I think the reccomendations to spend time with cats in the shelter (many have "play rooms" for test driving pets) and that yes, a kitten will be able to be re-adopted much more successfully than an older cat. If you'd also just like to have a cat, but are unsure of the commitment as yet, look into fostering programs with the shelters in your area. Some need places to put cats during overflow, or want to help abandoned cats readjust to life with a family before putting them up for adoption. Best of luck!
posted by nelleish at 8:50 AM on September 29, 2006

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