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Dealing with cat allergy

One in three cat owners and 10 percent of Americans have or develop an allergic reaction when around pets.

Cat allergies occur twice as much as reactions to dogs. Pet breeds labeled “hypoallergenic” seldom are. However, ongoing research is showing how humans can reduce or eliminate symptoms.

First, it is important to understand what triggers the allergy. Small particles of skin called dander – common dandruff – are licked up and spread over the cat’s body during self grooming. When dry, those particles become airborne and land on people and things. This is why it can take up to six months to remove the potential for allergy reaction from a home which has had a resident cat in the past. In addition, outside cats bring in pollen, mold, and other allergens which accumulate on their fur, just as dogs do.



Dr. David Rosenstretch, an allergy and immunology specialist, explains that ordinary pollen is five times as large as the particles of cat dust that become lodged in the bronchial tube when inhaled. Anyone can become allergic. Sometimes the particles build up over time before causing symptoms. Additional cats or young, active pets can cause increased dust distribution in a household.

Three ways to deal with the allergy are controlling the environment to limit the spread of cat dust, trying over-the-counter allergy drugs, and/or embarking on a course of vaccinations to build immunity. Dr. Rosenstretch’s experience is that after a two-year vaccine treatment one third of patients are permanently immune, a third are immune for several years, and a third take vaccinations for another two years to gain the immunity.



Here are common-sense practices for enjoying the rewards of allergy-free feline companionship:

1. Designate and keep the bedroom and the bed a feline-free zone.

2. Wash all bedding in hot water at least twice monthly. Increase washable surfaces with wood or linoleum floors, furniture and venetian blinds that wipe clean. Use non-allergenic pillows.

3. Use HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) air filters in rooms where cats frequent. If possible, invest in a large commercial-size air purifier.

4. Vacuum with a high grade HEPA vacuum cleaner twice weekly. Vacuum walls, carpet, flooring, chairs, and furniture. Install a central air cleaner with vent filters to help prevent dander from circulating.

5. Use a vapor steam cleaner, proven by research to kill cat dander and more allergy-causing elements in carpets and upholstery in a chemical-free way.

6. Wash hands with an antibacterial soap after petting a cat and don’t rub your eyes.

7. Allerpet, a brand of liquid that reduces cat allergen in the air, can be applied to a cat’s coat. Use a microfiber cloth for a damp rub down to remove visible dander. Reduce shedding with daily combing and brushing. A coat conditioner can be added to food to help prevent dry skin and reduce shedding. If bathing is possible, do it about every six weeks with a veterinarian-approved shampoo and rinse the cat well. Many pet groomers specialize in bathing cats.

8. Use plain clay unscented litter. Avoid deodorizing filters with chemicals. Use low-dust or dust free litter. Pour litter slowly to keep dust down. Have someone without allergies do vacuuming and litter box cleaning or wear a pollen mask.

9. If you expect guests or plan to be a guest, plan ahead. Cat-owning house guests can bring dander with them on clothing and luggage. If you will stay in a house with cats, ask that they be kept out of the guest room for a few weeks before you arrive. Start taking allergy medicine a few weeks beforehand.

10. Avoid fabric toys. Give children plastic, metal and wood toys and washable play animals.

Thousands of cats become homeless because families give them up due to allergies. Often it is not the pet. Take the time to determine the real source first. Work with your doctor and note that allergic people often build up a “resistance” to their own pets over time.

– Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals to help “Keep Tahoe Kind.” Dawn Armstrong is the executive director of the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and SPCA.


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