One of the more common reasons for dropping a cat off at a shelter is a family member's allergy to kitty. Do so many people have cat allergies? Too often it is simply a convenient excuse for disposing of an unwanted animal. Unfortunately this can cause genuine asthma or cat allergy sufferers, who sadly had to surrender their cat, to be looked upon with suspicion. If someone does have cat allergies, is there anything that can help reduce symptoms allowing kitty to stay? Is kitty really the source?
Before considering adopting a cat it is worthwhile to discover if anyone in the household has cat allergies. A simple skin test can show this. If anyone living in the house has asthma, a cat is probably not a good idea. Visit an animal shelter and cat-owning friends. Spend time with these cats and see if anyone starts sneezing, has red, swollen and running eyes or showing any other signs of allergies. If so, you might want to stop right there and consider the options.
Many who have companion cats tolerate mild allergies. Some find that antihistamine tablets, nasal sprays or homeopathic remedies are sufficient to control their symptoms. Thanks to researchers at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. a cat-specific allergy solution is close at hand.
What causes cat allergies? It is not the fur but a component of cat dander, the equivalent of kitty dandruff, which is the culprit. Dander consists of old skin scales, saliva and sebaceous cells. Kitty scratches, is stroked or groomed and into the air goes the dander. Despite the fur not being an immediate trigger, long haired breeds can cause a stronger reaction due to the greater quantity of saliva involved in grooming all that extra fur.
What do you do if cat dander proves to be an allergen but no one wants to give up kitty? In mild cases, presuming there are no contraindications, all that may be required is an over-the-counter antihistamine. Cat-allergy desensitizing injections are also available. It is worth remembering allergies are usually accumulative. Finding and removing other allergens may solve the problem, or it may be seasonal, once pollen or particulate levels have dropped, all is well. Wash hands after touching the cat and before touching faces.
If no one showed any allergic reaction to cats prior to bringing kitty home but now one or more members of the household does; is it really the cat? Before marching kitty off to the shelter and possible euthanasia, make sure there isn’t another cause. Do the symptoms go away in a cat free environment? If not, it is probably something else causing the problem. Could it be a head cold? Are the culprits’ house-dust mites, aunt Flo’s new perfume, pollen, mold or any other of the myriad of allergens floating about in the air?
If the cat really is the issue; go to the source. Make sure kitty doesn’t have a skin condition causing excessive skin flaking. Reduce the amount of dander on kitty. Only if not too stressful to the cat, bathe it monthly with a cat-specific shampoo. A kitten can learn bathing is perfectly acceptable; older cats could learn to tolerate it but don’t push your luck. In addition, or alternately, wipe kitty’s coat at least daily with a damp cloth or wipes; there are sprays and solutions on the market made specifically to prevent cat dander build up. Have someone not affected by the dander groom the cat’s coat regularly.
The home environment can efficiently harbor allergens. Carpets, drapes, blinds and upholstery are great collectors. Vacuum and damp-dust regularly, wash animal beds often and change out air filters monthly. Add a HEPA air purifier to the home, spray rooms with an anti-allergen room spray and, if possible, air out the home. Make sure kitty can’t escape if doors or windows are opened.
If you do have to make the heart-wrenching decision to give up your cat companion due to allergies in the family you may find shelters more amenable to taking kitty in if you can produce a doctor’s letter confirming the reason. In the best of worlds you will be able to live with kitty in an antihistamine- and tissue-free environment.