Pawsitively Humane

A nonprofit organization dedicated to reversing homeless pets through education, preventative management, rescue, adoption, caring and compassion

Monday, August 27, 2012

Preventing and Managing Pet Allergies


by Deb Barnes


Our goal at PHI is to increase the number of cats adopted in shelters and to keep them from being brought to shelters in the first place. One of the biggest culprits as to why people don’t adopt cats, or why they bring them to a shelter, is allergies. The good news is, in many instances with perseverance and preventative measures, you CAN co-exist peacefully with a cat in your house and manage those irritating symptoms rather than giving up your cat or deciding not to adopt one altogether.

Allergens are caused by proteins in a cat's saliva, urine, and dander (dried flakes of skin) that become airborne. When a cat washes itself, saliva is deposited on its fur (or skin in the case of hairless cats). The saliva dries into dust (dander) which is released when a cat scratches or moves and when humans stroke or brush a cat. An allergy occurs when the body over-reacts to this substance  and produces excessive amounts of histamine. Excessive histamine production leads to the irritating symptoms associated with cat-allergies - itchy eyes, sneezing, skin rash, etc.  While for some, the symptoms can be severe, for most, the allergies can be controlled.

What is critical to understanding these allergic reactions, is that it is not actually always the cat that is the root cause, as you may first assume.  Outside cats can bring in pollen, mold, and other allergens on their fur or there may actually be airborne house-dust mites, furniture polish, dust from a carpet, mold spores, or pollen and chemicals in the environment that trigger allergies. To avoid re-homing, or worse yet, euthanizing the cat, check that the cat is actually the source of the allergen. It is possible to have a skin test done by an allergist to see whether the cat is the cause of the allergy. Some sufferers are successfully treated for the symptoms with allergy shots or over the counter antihistamine tablets (such as Claritin), nasal sprays or homeopathic remedies.

Many times, the shot or medication will do the trick, but here are some other recommended steps to  reducing or eliminating allergy symptoms:
  1.  Since cleaning the home of dander is the first priority in reducing allergens, the best place to start is the air itself. Strategically placed ionizers and HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) purifying systems can work wonders to keep the air fresh and pure. These units come in a variety of sizes, prices, and styles to suit your needs, budget,  and square footage. 
  2.  Depending on who has the allergy, don’t  let your cat sleep on that bed. Whether it be your bed, a child’s bed, or a guest bedroom when you are having company and the guest is allergic, the best way to avoid an allergy attack is to keep the dander off of your bedding.
  3. In conjunction with above point,  keep cat out of any bedroom where the person is allergic. Provide other comfortable sleeping areas for the cat to nap during the day and bedtime at night.
  4.  If you do allow your cat to sleep on your bed (for some of us cat lovers, it is impossible to say no to them), wash all bedding in 140 degree hot water at least twice monthly. This will eliminate both dust mites and cat allergens and there are actually products available, such as “DeMite,” that you put in with the laundry detergent to kill these harmful particles.
  5.  Keep towels and throw blankets on couches and furniture where the cat might nap so that you can wash the linens frequently, while keeping the furniture protected.
  6. Carpeting is a huge collector of allergens, so vacuum frequently with a  high-grade HEPA  vacuum.  Use the hand tools on the vacuum to get into hard to reach spaces  - cat allergen particles are very small and invasive, so you have to do a thorough job. That includes furniture, throw rugs, drapery, walls, under furniture, and anywhere else you can think of.  
  7. Hardwood and tile floors, especially in corners where cat hair tends to drift, should be swept frequently. If you find during vacuuming and sweeping, that your allergies are being triggered, wear a protective mask to cover your nose while doing these tasks. Damp mopping these surfaces also helps to keep dander under control.
  8. Air conditioning filters catch a large amount of cat hair – clean and replace them frequently.
  9. For extra cleaning, use  a vapor steam cleaner to help kill off the cat danders/proteins. These cleaners have been proven an extremely effective way to provide a chemical-free way of cleaning and killing dust mites, bacteria, mold spores, and cat allergens. 
  10. Wash your hands after petting your cat and avoid rubbing your eyes. Rubbing your eyes can result in itchy eyes for hours and a strong anti-bacterial soap should be used to avoid this problem.
  11. Avoid excessive hugging and snuggling with your cat (this is not an easy task to accomplish at all).
  12. This is also not always easy, but in extreme circumstances, confine your cats to one area of the house so that you can concentrate your air purifier and cleaning efforts.
  13.  Clean your cat. Some people bathe their cats to reduce the amount of dander that is released from their cat into the air, but research seems to be conflicting about its effectiveness and most cats would prefer NOT to be bathed anyhow. Keep in mind as well, that tap water leaves a residue on the cat’s fur, so it would be better advised to rinses your cat with distilled water. As an alternative, Allerpet, a well-known brand of liquid that reduces cat allergens, can be applied to your cat’s coat and is available from your local veterinarian or online at such sites as Amazon.com (click on the banner ad to the right and Amazon makes a small donation to Pawsitively Humane for your purchase). The reviews are fantastic and it is worth a try! You can also try a micro fiber cloth and just damp rub down the cat’s coat to rid it of visible dander.
  14. Use a de-shedding tool like the FURminator to regularly brush and groom your cat. This highly effective tool gets deep into the undercoat of the cat fur and significantly reduces shedding. Groom in a well-ventilated area so that the dust dissipates.
  15. Dust from cleaning litter boxes can trigger allergy attacks. Either find someone else who is not allergic to the cat to do this task, or use a protective nose mask while cleaning the box to reduce the chances of allergens entering your body.
1    ALL cats produce dandruff, though some cats produce less than others. No cat is allergen-free, not even hairless cats, although there are some studies that conclude a few breed of cats are less likely to cause allergies than others.  These breeds would be:
 Rex Cats - they have a very fine, short coat which tends not to hold dander as much as other cats.   
Sphynx Cats – even though they are described as being hairless, they actually do have a very fine down, which almost feels like suede when stroked. Sphynx cats DO produce dander, but if rubbed down frequently, its presence can be minimized.
Siberian Cats -   There has been some evidence that Siberian cats produce relatively little of the Feld1 allergen as compared to other cats. This has not been scientifically proven, but it is believed because of the tight, thick undercoat and oily top coat, that the skin stays well hydrated, thereby reducing dander production and distribution.

One, some, or all of the above methods might be needed to keep your allergies under control. But with time, effort, and experimenting, chances are that you and your cat can co-exist  peacefully together in your home and you can enjoy a long and happy relationship with your cat. Or, now that you know some tips to making your house allergen-free, you can  take that plunge and adopt that cat that you always wanted, but didn’t think you could have, knowing that there are effective ways to manage the symptoms.     

Deborah Barnes resides locally in South Florida with her fiancĂ© and gang of seven cats. She is the author of the book, The Chronicles of Zee & Zoey – A Journey of the Extraordinarily Ordinary, that was inspired by the relationship she shared with her cats and lessons learned from them after a life changing event in 2009. She is also the creator and author of the popular blog, Zee & Zoey’s Chronicle Connection, that not only continues to follow the everyday journey she shares with her cats, but covers topics from the humorous behaviors of cats to very serious subjects on the misconceptions of feral cats and the critical need to create public awareness on pet responsibility. 

Deborah has had cats her whole life, as well as allergies. She is quite happy to say that she rarely has an allergy attack any longer and can enjoy all of her cats with peace of mind!

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