How to Live With Cat Allergies

Funny story…I live with five cats, volunteer regularly with a no-kill cats-only rescue organization, and am a cat behaviorist.  So, I come into close contact with a lot of cats on a consistent basis.  And guess what…I’m allergic to cats!  Oh, the irony of life sometimes!  I wasn’t always this way, but as we age, our immune system changes and sometimes people find themselves with allergies that they never had before.  In my case, I met my husband.  Not that he’s entirely to blame, but I had a perfectly reasonable number of two cats when I met him, and he had three cats.  After about a year of living in the same house with five cats, I realized that (while I had never had allergies before), my “seasonal” allergies (that I assumed were the result of me moving to the Pacific Northwest) just weren’t going away.  I joked that I was probably allergic to cats.  Well, I ended up going to an allergy specialist and getting tested, and the ONLY thing I’m allergic to now is cats.  Ugh!  Why???  I think my body just gave up at some point…five cats?  You win, allergens!  But don’t worry – I still have all of my cats, continue to volunteer, AND am even growing my cat behavior business.  How is this possible?  I’ve learned how to live with cat allergies.

Can it really be done?  YES!  And this is great news for cats and their people, because cat allergies are among the top 5 reasons why cats are surrendered to shelters.  If you discover that you or a family member is suffering from allergies, there are definitely things you can try before having to resort to rehoming your furry family member.  And really, they’re not that difficult!  Once you understand exactly what you’re allergic to, it’s easier to avoid the allergens.  Did you know that your cat allergy is not to cat fur?  People are allergic to certain proteins in cat saliva (which they use to groom themselves), urine, and dander (dried skin flakes).  How do you avoid these things?  Here are some of the things that were recommended to me by my doctors, who are pros in the field of alleviating allergy symptoms:

  • Keep your cats out of your bedroom.  Living with Cat AllergiesYou spend a lot of time in there, and this area needs to be free of allergens.
  • If you started laughing at the mere suggestion of keeping your cats out of the bedroom (like I did when it was suggested to me), try changing your pillowcase every couple of nights and wash your bedding regularly.  Two of my cats insist on sleeping right by my face, which is not helpful (see photo).  There’s a patch of fur right next to my pillow that could probably spontaneously generate into an additional cat.  BUT, changing my pillowcase regularly and using a lint roller daily to get rid of the cat fur – that holds dander – next to my pillow really helps!
  • Purchase an air purifier that can remove allergens.  Keeping this in your bedroom will help, but you may want another one in some other location in your home that you and your cats hang out in a lot (like the living room).  You’ll want to make sure that the air purifier uses a high-efficiency particulate arresting (HEPA) filter to get rid of those super small allergens floating around!  And as long as we’re talking HEPA filters, make sure your vacuum cleaner has a HEPA filter as well, since it blows out air (and particles) during vacuuming.
  • Air things out!  This includes opening your windows to get fresh air (unless, of course, you have serious allergies to pollen, in which case you’re out of luck here) and keeping those cat allergens from settling into things like carpets and rugs and upholstered furniture (oh yeah – that’s another tip – if you can ditch the rugs and fabric furniture, that will help, too; steam-cleaning carpet is something you can do if you can’t bear to part with your shag carpeting).
  • Groom your kitty regularly.  Ask someone who is NOT allergic to cats to brush your cat, preferably in an outdoor space (like a catio) so that her dander will simply waft away with the wind.  You might also consider using a product like “Earthbath Hypo-Allergenic Grooming Wipes for Cats” to remove dander from your cat’s fur, in addition to regular brushings.  Baths aren’t necessary, and will probably provide more stress for your cat than benefit to you, so let’s just not go there.
  • Medications.  This may not be a viable option for everyone, so talk with your doctor.  However, if you are in contact with a lot of cats (like me), it might be a necessary part of your solution.  In the morning, I take Zyrtec-D, and in the evening I take Flonase.  Sometimes I can drop the Flonase, but when my allergies get worse, I need both of those medications.  Your doctor will help you decide which allergy medication to take – I had to try a few before I found a combination that worked for me.
  • Natural supplements or remedies may help.  I’ve had coworkers who have successfully beaten allergy symptoms by drinking nettle tea and taking quercetin, a plant flavonoid.  Some studies have also suggested that vitamins C and E (and antioxidents in general) are good for helping reduce allergy symptoms.  I can’t personally speak to the effectiveness of these supplements since I just go straight for the western-style medicinal whammy approach.  But you may find it’s worth a try!
  • Immunotherapy, or allergy shots, may also provide relief by building up your immunity.  Depending on the therapy program your allergy specialist recommends, you could be getting weekly, then monthly shots for a period of months to a couple of years, but some people respond really well to this treatment and are completely “cured” of their allergy.  Other people aren’t so lucky though…so this is an option I didn’t go for myself (as I really really really dislike injections).

I hope I’ve given you some suggestions for beating your cat allergies, or at least provided you with some things to try instead of giving up your cat.  It may take a little work, but in the end, aren’t our furry friends worth it?

Cat Allergies

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Marci and Abbey

Dr. Marci L. Koski, CFTBS, CFTPB

Certified Feline Behavior & Training Consultant


LeeAnna Buis, CFTBS

Certified Feline Behavior & Training Consultant

Fear Free Certified Animal Trainer

Fear Free Certified Animal Trainer

Winner of the Women in the Pet Industry's 2017 Advocate of the Year Award

Marci Koski

Dr. Marci is a certified feline behavior and training consultant, with specialized and advanced certificates in Feline Training and Behavior. She started Feline Behavior Solutions to keep cats in homes and out of shelters as the result of treatable behavior issues. She believes that the number of cats in shelters can be greatly reduced if guardians better understand cat behavior, and learn how to work with their cats to encourage desired behaviors instead of unwanted ones. Dr. Marci’s family includes her four feline companions and her very patient, understanding, and supportive husband.