Your eyes are itchy, you're sneezing and wheezing -- could you be allergic to your cat? Find out how cat dander causes allergies and what you can do to manage your symptoms.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, anywhere from 15 to 30 percent of people with allergies have reactions to pets like cats and dogs, with cat sensitivities almost twice as common as those to dogs. Almost everyone knows someone with a cat allergy, but when people say that they are allergic to cats, what they're really allergic to is cat dander.
What Is Cat Dander?
Dr. Camille DeClementi, a veterinarian and toxicologist with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), explains that dander is "composed of the dead skin cells that are shed by the cat. Everyone's skin cells, even humans', die regularly and are replaced by new cells."
Why Does Dander Cause Allergies?
While all cats produce dander, not all humans are allergic to cat dander. Dr. Manav Segal, an allergist and immunologist practicing at Chestnut Hill Allergy & Asthma Associates, explains that family history (genes) and the age of exposure to dander are both contributing factors in developing a cat allergy.
"Research has shown that young children living in a house with a cat were actually less likely to become allergic to dander," he says. However, Segal explains that people can develop allergies at any age. So if you're suddenly sniffly around your new cat, it might not be a summer cold. You might be allergic to your kitty, even if you have never before had cat allergies.
"Cats produce a protein know as Fel d 1. It is found in their skin cells, saliva, and urine," Dr. Segal explains, "Once an individual becomes allergic to this protein (after exposure to it), they may manifest allergic reactions. For some, exposure to cat dander (Fel d 1) can also trigger asthma symptoms." Wheezing just from learning about it? Read on.
Ways to Manage an Allergy
Finding a new home for your cat after someone in your household develops an allergy is frequently not an option. Here are a few nonmedical ways you can manage a cat allergy:
- Comb Your Pet
"Brush or comb your pet frequently," Dr. DeClementi recommends. This is easier said than done, of course. "It's best to do this outdoors, if possible," he says. "Wash your hands after handling your companion animal and before touching your face." Of course, you might need to wear falconry gloves to protect yourself from your brush-hating cat, in which case be sure to leave the gloves somewhere outside of your living space, if possible.
- Use Grooming Techniques
If brushing your cat yourself is just out of the question because she simply hates it, Dr. Segal suggests taking your cat to a groomer or even using a damp washcloth on your pet's fur to remove dander.
- Restrict the Pet's Space
"Limit areas in the home where the pet is allowed," Dr. Segal says. Dr. DeClementi recommends keeping your cat out of the bedroom so that you have an allergen-free place to sleep.
- Dust Your Home Regularly
No surface should be left untouched by your cleaning, as cat dander can accumulate anywhere. DeClementi states that even "wiping down the walls will cut down on allergens." If you can't do a thorough dusting weekly, consider getting cleaning help on a regular basis or at least hire someone to do a one-time deep cleaning.
- Be Smart About Decor
If possible, eliminate rugs, drapes and upholstery from your home (it's less to vacuum, right?). These fabrics are hospitable environments for dander. Dr. Segal recommends leather furniture and hardwood floors, making it difficult for allergens to get trapped.
If you do have carpet, make sure you are cleaning it regularly. "Vacuum frequently using a vacuum equipped with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate arresting) filter," Dr. DeClementi suggests.
- Filter the Air
Manage airborne particles with an air purifier fitted with a HEPA filter. Portable purifiers can manage a single room, while permanent installations can take care of particulates in the entire home.
If all of these management techniques can't beat your stubborn allergies, Dr. Segal recommends medication as the next step. For cat lovers with more severe symptoms, allergen immunotherapy or allergy shots are also options. These can "decrease sensitivity to the cat dander and build tolerance," he says," [resulting] in fewer symptoms and less medication."
If you suspect you may have a cat allergy, schedule an appointment with your doctor to pursue testing. If you are diagnosed with an allergy, do not despair. There are many ways to manage cat allergies, involving both medical and nonmedical intervention.
Lauren B. Stevens is a self-professed cat lover lucky enough to never have suffered from cat allergies. Lauren doesn't currently have a fur-baby, but she does have a son and she enjoys writing about parenting [humans] on her blog, lo-wren.
* This article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be providing medical advice and is not a substitute for such advice. The reader should always consult a health care provider concerning any medical condition or treatment plan. Neither Care.com nor the author assumes any responsibility or liability with respect to use of any information contained herein.