November 21, 2006 11:56 AM   Subscribe

Will minor cat allergies translate to rat allergies?

I'm considering getting some fancy rats as pets, but I have slight cat allergies (runny nose after prolonged exposure). Will rats give me similar reactions, or is each type of pet an independent potential allergy?
posted by lpctstr; to Pets & Animals (10 answers total)
I suffer from plague-level feline allergies. No other critter inflicts the kind of allergy pain upon me that a cat can. Horses are a distant second, dogs and rodents don't even register.

What you're actually allergic to is the cat's dander and possibly some of the compounds in their saliva. I don't forsee any drastic issues in your future regarding rats.
posted by EatTheWeak at 12:00 PM on November 21, 2006

Not necessarily. I am allergic to cats, but not to rats.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 12:11 PM on November 21, 2006

Data point: I'm allergic to both cats and rats, but discovered the rat allergy first. The onset was very gradual--my first rat caused no problems, but over the course of a year I became so allergic to my second rat I ultimately had to rehome her.

There's a very dry article here about preventing asthma in animal handlers. Unfortunately it looks like having cat allergies means a much better chance of developing rat allergies. Some more info and ideas for dealing with it can be found here, which is much less technical than the first link. (Sounds like rex rats might be the way to go.)

Wish I had a different answer for you. Rats are the best; I still miss mine.
posted by Vervain at 12:17 PM on November 21, 2006

In speaking to people who work with laboratory animals extensively, it's been my understanding that rat allergies are different from dog or cat allergies in that they become more severe with increasing exposure, rather than a unchanging severity.

I don't know, however, if a cat allergy makes one mroe likely to actually be allergic to rats in the first place.
posted by Eldritch at 12:21 PM on November 21, 2006

The best thing to do would be to get an allergy test. An allergist can give you a skin test that will tell you exactly what you're allergic to, and can test for rats specifically. If you've had very little past exposure to rats, you may react only mildly to the test, but if you are allergic, you should have some reaction.

My allergist has told me that most people he sees who have one animal dander allergy (which is the most common type of cat allergy) are also allergic to the dander of one or more other animals. So you may be more likely to have other animal allergies.

Please, PLEASE don't get a rat and then plan to give it away if your allergies flare up. It's irresponsible and cruel to the animal. Find out whether you're allergic before you make a commitment to take care of a rat.
posted by decathecting at 12:45 PM on November 21, 2006

i would second gettint the allergy test if you're really allergic to cats.

i wasn't allergic to cats as a child, but am somewhat now. my boyfriend is very allergic to cats. we knew before i got a guinea pig that we both might be somewhat allergic to her. lo and behold, we are! he doesn't handle her, and i make sure i brush her, keep her cage clean, wash her towels/blankets in seperate loads, wear a guinea pig only sweatshirt when petting her and it's been ok. she makes my eyes itch a bit, and i get extra congested if i let the cage go an extra day or two before cleaning.

i know some people can be deathly allergic to rodents without know it, so a test would be advisable.
posted by kendrak at 12:51 PM on November 21, 2006

The allergen that humans react to in rats is their urine. Keep them quite clean (use unscented baby wipes to give them a wipe-down daily and keep their claws trimmed so they dont give you hives and welts when they walk on you) and dont let them pee on your bare skin (also raises temporary, but itchy and painful welts/hives) and youll never have to deal with rat allergies. Never touch your face...especially your eyes...after handling your rats.

Mine are as free-range as I can let them be with cats in the house, so I find that I'm washing my hands all day long since I'm constantly in contact. It dries out my skin but saves my sanity.

The cat allergens, as mentioned above, are saliva and dander. I also find that the hairs that are raised when you pet cats also trigger my allergies. Cats mark you with their saliva when they are being affectionate (that's why they rub the side of their mouth against you), and of course they are constantly grooming themselves, so this is a losing battle.

Again, unscented baby wipes come in handy here. Wipe kitty down before you play with her. This removes the loosest hairs and removes some of the saliva residue. There are also wipes you can find specifically to minimize allergic reactions, but theyre expensive and I find baby wipes work as well, if not better. Brush kitty regularly (wear a dust mask if you have to), and bathe her every few weeks to help keep dander and shedding down to a minimum. Keep your hands away from your face and wash after contact.

I have severe allergies to both cats and rats; I live with five of each, and my roommates run a small cat rescue out of our home. I am a pro at handling my allergies. :)

Trust me on the rat pee thing. Once you control that your life will be much easier. Rats mark one another (and you) with urine as a sign of affection and belonging. Wear long sleeves and wipe their fur, feet, and tails (dont tug too hard on their tail; it detaches very easily!) down before you play with them, and change the litter very often. Youll be fine. I find I am more allergic to the urine of female rats than males.

Incidentally, since I have had pretty severe allergies since birth (I'm allergic to most animals and plants, bad hayfever, yaddayadda), I've had a number of full-on allergy tests done. There is currently no test for rat allergies. According to my allergist, they used to have one, but discontinued it. The last full-range allergy test I had was about six years ago, so if it's changed since then I am not aware of it.

It occurs to me that I have four rats now; my darling old hairless boy, Nutmeg, died this morning. *sigh* It's still not sunk in yet.

Good luck.
posted by perilous at 1:13 PM on November 21, 2006

Also, just wanted to add here that if you or anyone else has any questions or needs advice on rats, please feel free to drop me an email.

I've had rats as companion animals for over a decade and I adore the little buggers, so I'd be more than happy to help out. :) Dont feel like youre intruding; I encourage you to write with any questions. I can give you some great web-based resources, too.

Youll find if you keep pet rats you will rely on the "rat community" for help and advice very often, especially since agonizingly few vets know anything about rats at all.

If you do get rats, remember that they are incredibly social animals and you should always have at least two to prevent them getting lonely or bored. Males are more affectionate but have much shorter lifespans. Females are prone to tumours, and males lose use of their hind legs in old age. Caring for elderly rats is extremely time consuming: make sure you have the devotion and dedication necessary before adopting any.

Rats are also extremely intelligent, so make sure you have plenty of toys and vary their diets. And for the sake of the gods, dont put them on pine or cedar litter. The aromatic oils in these woods scar the lungs and cause respiratory failure.

I could go on and on because there is simply so much lack of information or just plain misinformation out there, but I will restrain myself and instead urge you again to email me with any questions.

Rats are completely awesome. They are mischievous, fun-loving, highly affectionate, and very, very smart, but they can be a challenge because they are prone to certain ailments and diseases, and so they are not the easiest animals to care for. I highly recommend adopting them, but I dont want you to go into it thinking it's a piece of cake.
posted by perilous at 1:29 PM on November 21, 2006

this is unscientific and anecdotal, but i am allergic to cats AND rats.
and hamsters. and lions... i'm just sayin'.
maybe you could hold a pet rat and have some kissytime with it,
and see how your allergies are, before you commit?
posted by twistofrhyme at 7:04 PM on November 21, 2006

I'm allergic to both, but when we had rats they never caused as much trouble as the cats. As long as their cage was clean and I washed up after handling them, they didn't bother me a bit.

Some rat cages are much easier to clean than others, so watch out when you're buying a cage.

Another thing to remember: You should probably be careful what you use for bedding in the rat cage. I'm more allergic to pine and cedar shavings than I am to rats themselves. Cedar in particular is also supposed to be bad for the rats. There are bedding materials made from corncobs and from newspaper that worked well for us.
posted by mmoncur at 9:50 PM on November 21, 2006

« Older I think I need to switch my Master's project, but...   |   Winds of Change! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.