Portrait of Siberian cat outdoorThere’s little that’s rational about loving a pet (or another human being, for that matter). But what if your fine, furry feline makes you sneeze and wheeze? Are you forced to give him up?
In many cases, the answer is no. Whether it’s you or a housemate that’s attached to a beloved cat, here are several strategies I have found for coexisting in harmony even when someone suffers from a cat allergy.

If possible, invest in a central vacuum system and use it at least twice weekly. Why? Contrary to popular belief, it’s not cat fur or hair that are the allergy culprits. People with cat allergies are actually reacting to proteins in cat saliva, urine and dander (dried flakes of skin). Traditional vacuum cleaners may be able to capture shedding fur, but they also often re-circulate the fine particles of dander that cause the most problems right back into the indoor air. A central vacuum system, by contrast, pulls nearly 100% of all particulate matter into a hose that transports it to a sealed container away from living spaces. If you can’t get a central vacuum system, at the very least use a vacuum cleaner equipped with a HEPA filter.

Regularly wipe down flat surfaces and walls with a dampened cloth.

Try to contain the cat’s living areas to certain areas of the house. At minimum, the cat should not be allowed in bedrooms. An alternative is to allow the cat to go outside, which eliminates a good deal of the hair and dander that would otherwise end up in the house. Just make sure the animal is neutered or spayed.

Eliminate overstuffed furniture as much as possible.

Replace drapes and curtains with slatted blinds.

Always wash your hands after petting a cat, and avoid touching your face, especially the eyes. If you are very allergic, avoid touching the cat at all.

I asked my vet about a special spray you can apply to your cat’s coat to minimize dander.

  • A non-allergenic housemate should clean the litter boxes regularly and brush the cat, preferably outside (use a leash in case the cat hates being brushed and tries to run away!)
  • Over-the-counter antihistamines can be effective, but check with your doctor first.
  • Believe it or not, some cats will actually tolerate being vacuumed gently, and a few even consider it a treat! It might be worth a try. There are special pet vacuuming attachments available for central vacuum systems. Pets seem to tolerate these because the noise level of a central vacuum system is substantially lower than that of a traditional vacuum cleaner, so the sound is much less alarming to an animal’s sensitive ears.

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