There are an estimated 850 million cats in the UK – in fact, cats are fast becoming the preferred pet in the UK, passing pooches. Unfortunately, a large percentage of cat owners are allergic to their feline companions, and if they aren’t chances are good that someone in their family or social circle is. Cat allergies are twice as common as allergies to dogs, but that still doesn’t stop people from bringing kitties home.
What are cat allergy sufferers allergic to?
Many people think that cat allergy sufferers are allergic to cat hair, but they are actually reacting to proteins that are present in saliva, urine and dander. Their immune systems kick into high gear and attack the proteins as they would any invading virus. According to WebMD, the allergic reactions (symptoms) are fallout from the attack. Symptoms can present almost immediately upon contact or they can only appear hours later.
These symptoms include:
- Coughing and difficulty breathing (asthmatic reaction)
- Rashes or red patches on your skin
- Itchy, watering eyes
- Nasal congestion and sneezing
Are you allergic to cats?
Some people think that they are allergic to cats when they have other allergies that are aggravated by having a cat around. For example, people with pollen allergies may show all the symptoms of a cat allergy when a cat comes inside after snoozing under a tree dripping pollen or rolling on pollinated grass. Instead of blaming the cat, it’s a good idea to get yourself tested. A simple blood or skin test will tell you if you are allergic to kitty cat or something else in your environment.
Bear in mind, however, that allergy testing isn’t foolproof, so if your symptoms persist after you’ve taken care to eliminate other factors, then you might want to get tested again. You can also book your cat into a cattery for a few weeks to see if your symptoms subside. If they do, it might be a good idea to rehome your cat.
Living with allergies
If rehoming your cat is not an option, then you can take certain steps to live with your allergy. You can take over-the-counter antihistamines or decongestants, or your doctor can give you prescription steroids or a course of allergy injections. The downside to the injections is that the course is given over a period of several years – about five years – and they don’t work for everyone.
You can also manage your environment and limit your direct contact with cats. Don’t hug or kiss your cat and try not to touch them too much – even a casual stroke down the back can be enough to bring on an allergy attack. Get someone else in the family to clean the litter box and do all the grooming. Grooming the cat is quite important to get rid of excess dander, so bath your cat as often as she will allow and brush her regularly.
Feed your cat a healthy diet to improve the condition of her skin and hair. Don’t allow your cat into your bedroom, so you have at least one cat-free haven. Be a madman with the vacuum cleaner and mop; you don’t want to let dander accumulate. With this in mind you might want to get rid of your thick carpets and even your curtains as they are dander magnets. Soft, comfy couches also trap dander, so get some couch covers and wash them regularly. Consider an air filter. Get the right kind of cat.
What is the right kind of cat?
To start off with, get a male and have him neutered. Sterilised males have been found to produce fewer allergens that females. Then try to get a hypoallergenic cat. Hypoallergenic cats aren’t “allergy-free”, but they are less likely to trigger allergic reactions. Hypoallergenic cat breeds include:
- Siberian (low enzyme levels in saliva)
- Balinese (produces less Fel D1 protein)
- Cornish Rex
- Devon Rex
- Oriental shorthair
- Russian blue
Never ignore allergy symptoms. Always consult a doctor and get proper treatment, so you can at least live in peaceful harmony with your cat.