I am allergic to cats.  My boyfriend has two of them in a rather small house. The first time I visited him, after 15 minutes my eyes itched, my nose ran, and I could not stop sneezing.  So as my very first romantic gift to him, I gave him a brand-new Hepa vacuum cleaner!  It improved the situation a little, but after sitting for an hour on the couch, I had to evacuate.  Long story short, I went to the allergy clinic.  The allergist, after hearing my story, asked me the following two questions: “How serious is your relationship?”  “How old are the cats?”  I turned to ever-helpful networks, the Internet and my friends.  They were a lot more encouraging than the doctor! Here’s what I’ve put together from all these sources and from my own experiences, in hopes it will help others allergic to cats, too.

First, good news!  Even though all professional allergy specialists will deny it – an overwhelming majority of people in my situation adjust over time and their allergies weakened substantially or even disappear.  Having constant controlled exposure to pet allergens seems to work in the same way as allergy shots do.

Second, controlling the exposure is not that hard! It does take some investment in technology, some organization, and some dedication from the person not allergic to pets (in my case, my boyfriend).  It is the exposure to allergens you need to control, not the exposure to pets.

Many people erroneously think that the allergens are in the hair/fur of the dogs or cats.  This is not the case.  The allergens are actually the proteins found in saliva.  This is why cats, who lick themselves all the time, tend to cause more allergies than dogs.  Also the proteins in dogs and cats are not the same, so a person can be allergic to cats and not dogs or vice versa. These proteins are rather small and sticky, which means that they tend to stay in the air once they are released, and that they do not necessarily get picked up off the carpet by a vacuum cleaner.  Here are some fixes nonetheless that could lead to great improvements for you and the cats you wish to befriend!

Fix #1, the vacuum. As mentioned above, consider getting a top of the line, powerful vacuum cleaner with a Hepa filter.  I prefer the bag-less ones because they are more economical.  I even put a surgical mask on if I’m the one emptying the stuff from the vacuum.

Fix #2, the air cleaner.  Some of these proteins will escape the vacuum cleaner filter or will be launched into the air by wind, air conditioner, or forced air heating systems.  We tested the Pet Machine by Austin Air which worked great.  My boyfriend turns it on as soon as he is done vacuuming and leaves it running until I come over. The air feels so fresh. If I start feeling a little tickle in my nose, I stand right next to it for a couple of minutes and it goes away.

Fix #3, the chemicals.  Allersearch ADMS is a spray that binds proteins. This means that if you spray it on your carpets and couches a few hours before vacuuming, you will actually be able to remove the allergens. AllerPet topical solution, which has a cat version and a dog version, neutralizes the proteins on the skin of your animals. It can be used as a shampoo if you bathe your animal (note: I find it works better for dogs!), or it can be put on a wash cloth which you can pat your animal with (note: wiping from the tail towards the head works better for cats.)  If you can’t avoid direct contact with a pet that you are allergic to, AllerPet is your a very helpful tool as it mostly nips the problem in the bud.  Of course all of these products are designed to be harmless to animals.

There are a few more tips, and even though they may only help marginally, those small benefits can help make the difference between having symptoms and not having symptoms.

– Allersearch Anti-Allergen Wash can be added to your laundry to get allergens off the sheets and clothes.

– Keep the litter box clean!

– Use an allergy-proof mattress cover and pillow cases.

– Try to avoid having other allergens in the air (dust, pollen, etc.).

– Shampoo your carpets once a year.

There is no need to choose between pets and a loved one who is allergic to them.  For more, consider reading a great book by Shirlee Kalstone called “Allergic to Pets? The Breakthrough Guide to Living with Animals you Love.” As for me, I’m happy to report that after a year of making these improvements I can spend an extended period of time at my boyfriend’s house without resorting to anti-histamines or nasal steroids. I’m not quite ready to have the cats on my lap, but I no longer freak out when they make themselves comfortable on top of the quilt or under my chair!  Most importantly, although I do have occasional sneezes, I don’t have to leave the house! The air is cleaner and we can enjoy each others’ company.  I’m sure it will only get better – and I am looking forward to a long-term relationships with the cats, and with my boyfriend!

Galina Hale never had a pet in her home growing up, but has now become a true animal lover. She currently lives and works in San Francisco, CA.