Surviving pet allergies

Years ago, Deb, my neighbor, found a litter of kittens. The mother, a ropey black-and-white feral, was a neighborhood darling. “A working girl,” Deb said proudly, as she kept garden mice in check.

We called the Cleveland Animal Protective League for help. “The kittens need to be socialized, neutered and adopted; the mother, spayed and released,” we were told.

I’m cat-allergy exhibit A-Z: rash, runny nose, itchy eyes, coughing, sneezing, wheezing. After visiting cat homes, it takes me days to breathe normally. Deb handed me a kitten, the silky hair, wicked pupils, electrifying purring. In seconds, I was kitten-hooked.

The kittens moved into my house. Within a week, I was on five drugs.

One-third of Americans are allergic to dogs or cats; two-thirds of families own pets. Our paths will cross. Pet allergy is a huge public health concern.

So, what’s making us sneeze? The answer: not hair.

Allergens are the animal proteins allergy sufferers react to. There are many different types. The major sources: urine, saliva (spit) and dander (skin). The most common cat allergen comes from the skin’s oil glands. The most common dog allergen, saliva.

It belies a true “hypoallergenic” animal. People are allergic to different animal components. No breed is free of allergens.  

Hair, coated with spit, skin and excretion, works as a vehicle that spreads allergens around. Unfortunately, allergens, microscopic in size, travel equally well on dust particles, settle deep in furniture, carpet, clothing. They can take weeks to months, sometimes years, to disintegrate.

The National Survey of Lead and Allergens in Housing analyzed “vacuum-collected dust samples” from hundreds of homes. While half of households have no pets, “dog and cat allergens were detected in 100% and 99.9% of homes, respectively.” It shows pervasive allergen transport on clothing.

Heck, a similar study done in living quarters in Antarctica – where no cats ever existed – also found cat allergens.

Therefore, it’s almost impossible to “outrun” pet allergens, but you can reduce the intensity of exposure.

  1. Before visiting your cats-in-law, take antihistamines and maybe OTC steroid nose spray (the latter takes hours to days to work). Carry an asthma inhaler.
  2. Stay clear of carpeted areas and cat-sofas. Kitchen are my favorite hangout.
  3. Upon returning home, everybody showers. Wash all clothes to minimize allergens spreading in your own home.
  4. If you have cats and cat allergy – and you’d sooner get rid of your doctor who nags about your cats, than the cats – consider desensitization shots. Given as injection or liquid under tongue, it may help, but takes months to effect, year(s) to maximum effect. 
  5. Your in-law Sneezy is visiting. Cleaning can be tricky. Vacuums trap large particles like hair and dust, but not allergens. Vacuuming sucks in and blows allergens back into the air, like a dust storm of microscopic napalm. Your guest could be sneezing with the first breath they take. HEPA filters may help. Clean early.

The kitties thrived and went to good homes. Working Girl was spayed, vaccinated (APL's “Trap-Neuter-Return” program, for $20). And free to roam. Amazingly, Deb and only Deb can get near and pet her.

“What greater gift than the love of a cat,” Charles Dickens said. Another great gift: breathing through your nose again.

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Volume 11, Issue 4, Posted 9:56 AM, 02.19.2019