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For some unfortunate souls, living with cats means frequent sneezing, watery eyes, runny noses and wheezing. In severe cases, cat allergies can exacerbate asthma, notes the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. Living with cat allergies can be a misery, but living without that little bundle of purring love? Well, that's not an option, either. So how can people who suffer from cat allergies remain in relative comfort while living with a kitty?
Keeping a cat allergy remedy or two up your sleeve will make life easier if you have cat allergies and live with a cat. Read on to learn about choosing the right kitty companion, keeping your home as free from dander as possible and taking routine care of your pet.
How Cat Allergies Develop
If you do suffer from cat allergies, you're far from alone. In fact, people are twice as likely to be allergic to cats than they are to dogs, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. But how do people develop cat allergies in the first place?
Your immune system works every day to find and destroy foreign substances (or eject them through a sneeze). Some people's immune systems are more sensitive than others. The immune systems of cat allergy sufferers react to what are essentially harmless microscopic proteins that have been released by your cat in her dander (dead skin cells), saliva and urine.
Many people believe pet hair is to blame, but pet hair alone is not an allergen. Hair can, however, collect pet dander and allow it to be distributed willy-nilly throughout your house when your cat sheds. It can collect on furniture, bedding and carpets, and can even last a long time simply suspended in the air.
Some people are lucky enough that they eventually develop an immunity to cat allergies. While this is certainly possible, allergic reactions may also worsen with more exposure. It's also possible that someone who has never suffered an allergy to cats before can develop one. If you suddenly find yourself sneezing, wheezing or sniffling when you are around your cat, you might want to ask your doctor to test you for an allergy.
Choosing a Sneeze-Free Cat
Your fur baby can't help that she suddenly makes you sneeze, of course. You can, however, lessen your or a family member's allergic reactions starting with the cat you choose to bring home.
While there's no such thing as a hypoallergenic cat, allergy-prone pet parents may want to adopt a shorthaired cat over a longhaired cat. Shorthaired cats shed less, which means less cat hair around your home that dander can affix itself to.
Hairless cats shed even less than their shorthaired cousins, for obvious reasons. The sphynx is entirely hairless and extremely affectionate. A rarer breed, sphynx are typically quite expensive, and won't cut down on allergies altogether, since hairless cats still produce saliva and dander. Other good breeds for people living with cat allergies include the Cornish rex, Devon rex and Siberian.
Living With Cat Allergies: Cleaning
Once you have a cat, diligence around the house is one of the keys to limiting allergies.
- Wipe down smooth surfaces in the home (including walls and floors) regularly. Microscopic dander can stick to any type of surface and is there even if you don't see it.
- Use a vacuum with a filter and steam clean carpets often. Restricting the cat's access to carpeted rooms will also help.
- Frequently wash any bedding or blankets that your cat sleeps on.
- Designate specific rooms, like the allergic person's bedroom, as cat-free zones.
- Consider replacing upholstered furniture. Cloth-covered chairs and sofas can retain a lot of allergens and be difficult to clean. Either keep the cat off of upholstery (good luck with that!) or consider investing in wood, plastic or leather furniture that is easy to wipe clean.
- Take down your curtains. Like upholstered furniture, curtains can be a magnet for cat hair. Consider replacing them with blinds or other coverings that are easy to clean. If you decide to keep your curtains, launder them regularly.
- Invest in a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter. These can be attached to your furnace or air conditioner, or purify the air from a freestanding unit. Whatever model you get, their job is to reduce small particles in the air.
Caring for Your Cat
Other ways to lessen the effects of cat allergies include things you should already be doing to take care of your pet. Regular brushing can help reduce allergic reactions because it lessens shedding — and your kitty will appreciate the reduction in hairballs! You can brush her more often in the spring when she's shedding her winter coat. It's best to have someone who is not allergic take on the responsibility and to brush the cat near a window or outdoors on a leash, if possible.
Cleaning the litter box regularly will also help reduce allergies, as the same proteins found in saliva, hair and dander are also found in cat urine. Again, it's best to have someone who is not allergic to cats take on this responsibility. (What a great way to get out of cleaning the litter box!)
Finally, you can try bathing your cat in warm water and pet-safe soap. This might be nearly impossible with some cats, but others don't mind. Giving your cat regular baths can help reduce her dander, though brushing her is more effective.
Have you taken these precautions and are still constantly sneezing? Talk to your doctor to find a cat allergy remedy like antihistamines or allergy shots.
Living with cat allergies is possible for many people as long as you take the right precautions. Keep allergies in mind while choosing a cat, reduce allergens in your house, and groom and clean up after your pet, and you and your cat will be set up for many sneeze-free years together.
Kara Murphy is a freelance writer in Erie, Pa., with a cat named Olive.