What to Do If You're Allergic to Cats but Want One

Although some cat owners are actually allergic to cats, they still want feline companionship in their homes. Fortunately, it's easier than ever before to be a cat owner with a cat allergy.

Human Cat Allergy Symptoms

An allergy to cats can cause a variety of symptoms in people, including:

  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Sore throat
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Itchy skin.

Some people also report swelling and skin irritation if they are scratched by a cat.

How a Cat Allergy Is Diagnosed

If your doctor suspects you are allergic to your cat, he or she will conduct a physical examination and some blood tests. You may also be asked to board your cat for a few days or to make arrangements to stay with non-cat-owning family or friends to determine whether the cat's presence makes a difference in your daily allergy symptoms.

How Cats Cause Allergies in People

About 20 percent of Americans have cat allergies, and they are caused by a protein in cat dander and saliva called Fel d-1. Since cats are such frequent groomers, they spread the allergen quickly as they lick their coats with their tongues during grooming.

How to Manage a Cat Allergy

Lessening the amount of cat dander you inhale is one key to successfully managing your cat allergy. An easy way to do this is to make your bedroom a cat-free area. By limiting your cat's access to the bedroom, she can't sleep on your bed during the day or stroll through the room whenever she pleases.

Other aspects of bedroom care can help alleviate allergy symptoms. If you wash your bedding in hot water (140 degrees Fahrenheit) twice a month, you can reduce both the cat allergen and dust mite levels in your bedroom. Vacuuming your bedroom (and the rest of your house) with a HEPA vacuum twice a week can help control dander levels. Run air cleaners with HEPA filters in rooms that your cats use regularly for additional dander control.

Other household chores that can improve cat allergy symptoms include steam cleaning carpets and upholstered furnishings, changing heater and air conditioning filters and wiping down all hard surfaces in your home. Cat dander can stay in a home long after the cat is gone, but thorough cleaning helps keep it under control.

Wash after Close Contact with Your Cat

Immediately after you spend time with your cat, wash your hands with warm water and soap. Don't rub your eyes while your hands still have cat dander on them, because this will cause irritation for hours. Control dander on your pet by wiping her down with a damp microfiber cloth each day, or use a dander-control product designed for pets. Ask a non-allergic family member to brush the cat weekly if your cat can safely be taken outside.

A wider variety of prescription medications, including nasal sprays, eye drops or pills, are available to help control allergy symptoms. Discuss your cat allergy with your physician or allergist to come up with a plan that allows you to successfully manage your allergies while having a cat in your home.