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If you want to understand how much we love our pets, you need look no further than the antihistamine aisle of any drugstore. There you’re sure to find people hoping for some over-the-counter cure for the downside of owning a cat: They make many of us sneeze, wheeze and reach for the tissues.
These folks are in good company. Estimates are that anywhere from 10 to 30 percent of us have had an allergic reaction to cats, and more people are allergic to cats than to dogs. Reactions range from mildly itchy eyes and a sniffle to the potentially life-threatening flare-ups of asthma. The culprit is a protein called Fel d 1. Some cats have higher levels of it in their saliva than others, and black cats and male cats are thought to be the worst.
The best medical advice is that which resolves the problem completely, so don’t be surprised if your allergist starts by suggesting re-homing your cat. When my patients are sick, I give their owners all the options, even those I suspect they aren’t interested in hearing. That’s my job as a doctor, and that’s your doctor’s job, too. While not having a cat is more than likely the best solution for someone with a life-threatening reaction to cat dander, for other people with milder allergies, finding an allergist who is willing to experiment with other options is the key to better health and quality of life.
Make it clear that you’re interested in getting help so you can keep your cat, and stand firm on that point. Once that option is off the table, you and your allergist can get down to business. Will you have to make some compromises? In many cases, yes. But it’s worth it to be able to live with both your cat and your allergies.
Before your first appointment with the allergist, make a list of all the ways you have tried to manage your allergies. There are some easy lifestyle changes you can make, such as having the litterbox in the garage or basement (if your cat will use it there) and getting another family member to maintain it. That’s because what ends up in the box is packed with allergy triggers, and the dust from the litter itself can make matters worse.
Getting someone else to groom your cat (including a weekly rinse with water and regular swipes with unscented baby wipes) will also help, as will such tried-and-true strategies as maintaining your bedroom as a pet-free zone for allergy-free sleeping.
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