by Barbara George, Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
Do you love cats but feel itchy, sneeze, or break out in a rash when there is one in the room? It is possible to live with cats in reasonable harmony.
The allergy is to the protein in the dander from the cats’ skin, and sometimes the urine, not the hair as many people believe. The dander is made up of saliva, skin cells and proteins to which your body reacts by producing histamines. People may be allergic to one cat but not another, and some cats only at some times.
Studies have shown that most allergies to cats begin in the teen years, peak in the twenties and slowly diminish after that. However, people can begin or end an allergy at any stage of life. Recent studies indicate that babies living with cats during the first year are less likely to develop allergies later in life.
There are different approaches to dealing with the allergy and keeping a cat; taking medication or controlling the environment. The first step is to ascertain how severe the allergic reaction is, as there may be other allergens in the environment. Adding a cat just tips the scale and the immune system can no longer keep up with the level of allergens. An allergy test should show the potential allergens; resolving some of these may reduce the effect of the cat allergy.
The medicinal route involves either allopathic medication such as antihistamines or homeopathic remedies specially formulated to your needs. Allergy shots are now available for cat allergies, and acupuncture may help. While some people become de-sensitised to their own cats, this may be a long-term requirement.
Managing the environment includes the home, the allergic person, and the cat,
Dander is minute particles which float off the cat while he is grooming. It settles on all furniture and fabrics such as clothing, curtains and bedding, attaches to dust particles and flies around the house.
Where possible, avoid carpets, curtains and soft furnishings as these hold the dander. If it is not possible to do away with these they must be thoroughly vacuumed every day, preferably with a cleaner with a HEPA filter. If the allergic person is cleaning, use a face mask to avoid ingesting the allergens disturbed by the cleaning process. Steam clean carpets and curtains regularly. Throws over furniture also need to be washed in hot water regularly. Use a damp cloth or a dusting spray to prevent allergens from flying into the air.
Filters in air-purifiers and air-conditioners should be cleaned or changed regularly. Keeping the humidity level to 40 percent or higher will reduce the number of allergens in the air. Scented candles, potpourri, and plug-in air fresheners can exacerbate allergy symptoms. An insulated home will trap allergens, open windows and allow fresh, clean air to blow the allergens out.
The bedroom of the allergic person is definitely a no-go zone for the cat, although this will be his preferred space! Outer clothing that may have come into contact with allergens should be removed immediately before entering the bedroom and put on again immediately after leaving the bedroom to keep other clothes clean.
All laundry, both before and after washing, must be kept away from the cat. Clothes should be washed regularly at the highest allowable temperature. Coats should be shaken out outdoors by a non-allergic person, and where possible, left to air in the sun away from cat-reach.
The allergic person should avoid touching the cat or sitting on furniture that the cat frequents. Hands should be washed after touching any item, and always before touching the face. Be aware which of your visitors have cats, or are in touch with other cats, as they may bring different allergens into your home.
Allergic reactions are rarely limited to only one trigger, removing common foods that cause allergies, such as corn and wheat, and keeping general stress to a minimum, may reduce the intensity of the cat-allergic reaction.
The dander that causes allergies comes from the saliva and skin. Feeding a good diet will lessen the amount of excess protein in the saliva and maintain a healthy skin, and therefore make the dander less allergenic. The best diet is an appropriate raw diet with the required nutrients and supplements, including omega-3, for the cat.
The cat should be groomed at least daily by a non-allergic person. An alternative for some days would be to wipe the cat down with a damp cloth or specified cat-wipe. Bathing the cat has not shown to reduce the allergens, but will dry the skin which could lead to more dander. Anti-allergy shampoos and wipes have little effect on the amount of dander released. The dander comes from the skin, not the fur; shaving the cat creates more dander as the exposed skin dries and comes into contact with more surfaces in the home.
The litter tray should also be cleaned by a non-allergic person.
Where possible, cats should be allowed to spend time outside. This reduces the number of allergens released in the home.
Any sign of illness, itchy skin or over-grooming in the cat requires a visit to the vet.
Are some cats better suited to allergy-sufferers than others? Each cat and each allergy sufferer form a unique pair, and with the numerous factors around environment, other allergens, diet, stress etc., it is not possible to say that one cat would suit a particular person better than another. Hairless cats have the same amount of skin, and therefore dander, as regular cats. Entire/un-neutered males may have more protein and therefore produce more allergens.