A cat owner with allergies can live comfortably with their feline friend. Finding a tolerable balance between the exposure to cat allergens and the symptoms they cause to the owner is definitely an art form, but there are several methods that can be tried. The main goals are to limit direct contact with cat allergens and limit these allergens in the home.
Limiting Exposure to Allergens During Playtime
1. Change clothes after contact. Cat hair has skin and dander attached. The cat hair that is shed on your clothes could lead to exposure to allergens later on that day. If clothing is changed it minimizes the chance of exposure. If changing clothes is not possible every time after contact, then a robe or overcoat could be worn while the cat is being held or close to your body. Something large enough to fit over normal fitting clothing and of durable material is suggested. This way it can be slipped on and off easily and washed often. Cotton-polyester blends work well as they do not trap cat hair in the fibers as much as 100% Cotton materials.
2. Minimize direct contact with sebaceous glands during play. Large concentrations of sebaceous glands are found on the cat's face, back, and the beginning of the tail. These are the locations that we most frequently rub or pet on the cats. Try to avoid the cat’s chin and face, as well as the base of the tail, during play.
3. Wash hands after petting the cat. As mentioned, the largest cat allergen source is the skin, especially the sebaceous glands. Fortunately cat allergens are soluble in water, which is why washing the hands with soap and water is an easy way to remove the allergens. It is important to remember to NOT touch your face or eyes until after you have washed your hands.
4. Wear a face mask and protective eyewear. Obviously this a more extreme measure, but inhalation and contact to eye conjunctiva are major routes of exposure. A face mask should be able to filter out particles < 2μm. Protective eyewear should be similar in design to “wrap-around” or wood-working glasses.
Restricting Where the Cat Lives
1. Keep the cat out of the bedroom. This is a common recommendation of allergists. This is the room that most people spend the majority of their time in when they are home (sleeping!). Many people find this to be a very helpful suggestion. A HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air cleaner) can also be beneficial.
2. Limit the cat’s living area. Restrict the cat to an area of the house that is well ventilated and easily cleanable. Create a “cat room” without carpeting, painted with glossy paint, and with a few easily cleanable furnishing (throw blankets that can be washed are also helpful). Many owners may find this idea cruel, but the amount of “quality” time received by the cat is often the same as if they had access to the entire house, and other options (re-homing, outdoor, euthanasia) are even less ideal. Ideally this room should be cleaned by someone other than the allergic individual. A HEPA filter in this area can also be beneficial.
Making the Cat Less “Allergenic”
1. Removing allergen from the cat - bathing. Scientific studies have produced mixed results regarding the effectiveness of bathing for reducing cat allergen. A mild hypoallergenic shampoo can be used to bathe the cat 1-2 times per week. This should involve immersion in water for at least 3 minutes. It is important to try and make this a positive experience – contrary to popular belief most cats can be acclimated to routine baths.
2. Removing the allergen from the cat - wiping. Although likely not as effective, but certainly less traumatic, some people report improvement in their allergies as a result of regularly wiping the cat with a wet cloth.
Ventilation in the Home
1. Ventilation. Airtight newer homes actually have higher concentrations of allergens than older homes. Open windows can create cross-circulation that is beneficial.
2. Air Vents. Heating and cooling air ducts tend to accumulate particulate matter which is then dispersed throughout the house. Ducts should be cleaned regularly. There are also air-vent filters that can be purchased to help filter out particulate matter. Be sure to purchase a product that filters out particles smaller than 10μm in diameter.
3. Furnace filters. Filters should be changed regularly during the heating and cooling seasons. Most manufacturers recommend monthly, but in allergy situations twice monthly is ideal.
1. Flooring. Allergens are concentrated on carpeting, rugs, upholstery and other fabrics. It is difficult to remove from carpeting, so hardwood or vinyl floors are ideal.
2. Furniture. Easily cleanable furniture (such as leather) is ideal. Alternatively, covers that can be washed frequently can be used.
3. Window treatments. Draperies tend to collect cat allergens as do horizontal or “Venetian” blinds. Blinds that are easily cleanable are ideal.
4. Knick knacks: Decorative objects that need dusting, are difficult to clean, or collect hair should be kept behind glass or removed from the home. Fabric or woven wall hangings are not good choices for decoration.
Clothing and Laundry
1. Washing clothes is a very effective way of removing cat allergens. Loosely woven fabrics tend to collect more allergens than tightly knit cottons. Clothes should be washed regularly. Cat beds and furniture coverings should be washed regularly.
1. Home furnishings. Following the above home furnishing guide is particularly important in the bedroom.
2. Paint walls with easily cleanable semi-gloss paint.
3. Bed linens. Bed linens should be tightly woven machine-washable fabric. Wash linens weekly. Use mattress pad and pillow covers designed to keep dust-mite antigen away from allergic patients.
4. HEPA filter. As mentioned above, this is ideal to keep allergen levels low.
5. Clothes. To decrease exposure to allergens found on clothes, keep closet doors closed and do not keep dirty laundry in the bedroom.
6. Keep the cat out of the bedroom. As mentioned above, since people tend to spend approximately 1/3 of their lives sleeping.
1. Self-protection. Cleaning stirs up dust and allergens, so if done by the allergic person, they should wear a mask and goggles.
2. Vacuuming. Vacuum using a HEPA model vacuum cleaner. All surfaces should be vacuumed weekly (floors, walls, windows, doorway ledges). Vacuum bag should be emptied biweekly.
3. Washing. Surfaces should be washed regularly after vacuuming has occurred.