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Allergies to Cats

Help, someone here is allergic to the cat

I don’t think a month goes by that I don’t hear something like that. It may start with, I want a cat but…. Or I have a cat but…

The first thing I have to ask is how do you know for sure that this person is indeed allergic to cats, or this cat in particular? Surprisingly, I hear a lot of answers that start with, ‘well, they once had a bad reaction’… But even if the reaction is recent and seems to be clearly related to a particular cat, it frequently is NOT.

Allergic reactions are the body’s way of telling us that something is stressing our immune system. This is a very complex subject, and out of the realm of my expertise on most levels, at least clinically. However, in following up on these questions/complaints I more often than not discover that the symptoms have subsided and were not caused by the cat/s. The short answer is that it is frequently a combination of factors causing the problem, and not just the CAT, if it even has to do with the cat in the first place.

I will always tell people NOT to rush to rid the house of a cat, or not to end discussions of getting a cat due to one person’s recollection of long ago events. Those events could well not repeat, and may not have been totally or even partially due to the presence of a cat. How old were they when this happened. Is this their recollection or a parent’s? Where did it happen, and what else was going on at that time. Were they ever diagnosed with scratch tests to see if indeed they were allergic to cats? This is where it gets tricky. This is where a lot of information that I would like to have to help them make their decision is missing, or was never really there.

I have seen families go without a cat for years until one day they decide that one person’s long ago recollection should not deprive the entire family of a dearly held wish, or a treasured pet.

Most recently I was called by a grandmother who is concerned that she should find new homes for her long time pet cats because her granddaughter has to come to live with her and she is told that the child is allergic to cats. This is not a good situation for anyone.

When a child must be relocated, for whatever reason it’s usually stressful enough for both parties that adding more stress are not a terrific idea. It is also probably not a super message to send to a child that anything that displeases her will be done away with in her new home. In addition it has been shown in many studies that children who grow up with pets have fewer adult allergies, and that pets reduce stress in the home. So that getting rid of the grandmother’s pets is not a great idea. My advice in this case was to have the child tested and if necessary treated for a period of time and see how it goes.

This may not be what they wanted to hear, but I have to say, it is the best advice. I hope they take it. Too many cats end up in shelters unnecessarily, or worse, due to hasty decisions at times like these.

I have seen allergy tests prove that the allergen is not cat dander

I have seen the one ‘allergic’ person, slowly accustom himself or herself to the cat using an allergy medicine for a short period.

In short, I have found that most of the time it is not a real problem after all.

There are tests, medications, and even substances that can be sprayed or wiped on the cats’ coat, All of which will help even in fairly severe cases.

Keeping the home dust free, and limiting the amount of carpeting and drapery materials helps tremendously. A hepa vacuum can help too.

Even using a Roomba on a regular basis keeps the dust, and therefore dust mites, (another big one) down to tolerable levels.

Air cleaners and purifiers and the right humidity levels, central air conditioning, which dehumidifies the home, keeping mold (a big allergen) down, all help.

When one gets right down to it, cats contribute very little to the problem of air born allergens. An average hotel room, airplane, carpeted home or office, and any street or backyard in the country are far more common places to find multiple allergy offenders.

Please think long and hard before adding to the overcrowded shelters due to allergies. If you are thinking of adding a cat or two to your family first allergy minimize your house and then add the cats. What they bring is a lot more valuable than the possible minimal inconvenience of having to take a pill or an occasional shot.

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