How do I cope with an allergy to cats?
The obvious answer is: stay away from them! But if you're a cat lover, you'll be pleased to know there are ways to make things a lot easier:
Are you allergic?
Many cat owners don't actually realise that they're allergic to their cat initially. Karen Hayes is a cat owner who didn't find out until a friend took her to a cat show:
"I had got used to frequent bouts of sneezing and sore eyes, but blamed them on the fact that I lived in an old and dusty house. It wasn't until I went to a cat show, held in a hall with hundreds of cats, that I discovered I could be allergic to my own two cats.
Being at the show soon affected me quite badly; my eyes stung and my palms were incredibly itchy. I began to notice that when my cats were in the house for long periods of time, or they slept on my bed, I would wake up with all the symptoms of a bad cold".
Luckily for Karen, she was able to do something about her allergy, and now lives with her cats without too much discomfort.
So what actually causes these allergies?
Many people think a cat's hair is the problem, but it's actually protein secretions from her glands. After all her grooming sessions she'll have dried saliva (full of these secretions) on her coat. She'll also drop dried skin (dander) around the house. This is five times smaller than household dust particles, so it floats in the air for a long time before settling - making it easy to breathe in.
Are shorthairs better than longhairs?
Not really! In some instances, research has shown that longhaired cats may even be better than shorthaired cats. A breed which causes no problems just doesn’t exist, but it's worth knowing that male cats produce more of the protein secretions than female, and neutered males produce less than non-neutered.
What can I do to lower the risk?
There are two major factors which affect the amount of the allergen in your home. Firstly, how many soft furnishings you have, and secondly, whether you keep your cat indoors or outdoors.
If she stays indoors, try to limit the amount of time she spends inside, or keep her in certain parts of the house. Mattresses, duvets, sheets and furniture covers attract allergens, so don’t let her sleep on them, however comfy she thinks your bed is!
Cleanliness is key
You're going to have to steam clean your carpets every three months, so it's best to get used to the idea. Allergens cling easily to carpets and vacuuming can make the problem worse, by causing the allergens to fly into the air. One idea might be to try using a special carpet cleaner - there are lots available.
Also, make sure you use washable anti-allergy covers wherever possible in the house, and especially on your bedding. Wash your bedding at least every two weeks at a temperature above 40°. You should also keep windows open for as long as possible, helping the allergens on their way out and encouraging new, fresh air to circulate.
At the more extreme end of the spectrum, you could always consider switching to smooth wooden or vinyl floors, and wipe-clean sofas which can be washed regularly.
There's a lot of work, but she's worth every second!
What about medication?
Don't forget that you can always get medication to fight back against your itchy throat and runny eyes. There are lots of different medicines available over the counter or by prescription, or even injections. Combine a regular course with all the advice above and you'll be able to live much more comfortably with your cat.