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Cat allergies: causes and treatment

Woman with cat allergies advice

Washing your hands after stroking your cat may reduce your allergy.

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When you're cuddling a cat, do you sneeze and have itchy eyes? Then you may have a cat allergy.

By Dr. Helen Donald BA BVetMed MBA MSc MRCVS

Updated on the 12/08/2020, 10:36

Many cat owners are allergic to their pet, but still manage to have a happy (and cuddly) relationship, so you really shouldn't let it put you off having a cat.

What causes cat allergy?

Many owners think that they are allergic to their cat’s fur and are surprised to find that, in fact, it’s certain proteins in their cat’s saliva and dander (skin flakes) that are the problem. These proteins are spread around your home in the air and trapped in soft furnishings, particularly when your cat grooms themselves. Breathing them in or having them touch your skin can provoke an allergic reaction.

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Can you live with a cat if you are allergic?

It is possible to live with a cat if you are allergic, but you may need to make several adjustments to your home and your lifestyle. If your symptoms are mild, taking oral antihistamines and washing your hands after stroking your cat may be sufficient to control your allergy.

How do you get rid of cat allergies?

To successfully get rid of allergies you may need to manage yourself, your home and your cat. Some cats are amenable to bathing or sponging and this will certainly reduce levels of dander. Yet many cats are not happy at being washed and the benefits are short-lived. An allergen-neutralising lotion applied to your cat’s fur may give better results, if your cat will tolerate it. Some breeds of cats are alleged to produce lower levels of allergy-provoking proteins, but so-called hypoallergenic cats are a myth. Scientists report that a cat vaccination and a specialist food in development are both showing promise and may be available soon.

Can you all of a sudden become allergic to cats?

Allergies can develop at any time in your life and this includes cat allergies, even if you have lived with cats for a long time. Classic symptoms such as sneezing and itchy eyes, particularly after cuddling your cat, should alert you to a possible allergy.

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How long do cat allergies last?

Symptoms may disappear quite rapidly, if you take antihistamines. But, sadly, cat allergies continue for as long as you are still exposed to the allergens. Some people report that their symptoms are better in the summer when they can open windows and spend more time outdoors. But, generally, the only time your symptoms may get better is when you are away from home for a while.

Will a cat allergy go away?

Occasionally children who have been born with allergies can become less sensitive over time, but usually allergies are managed rather than cured, particularly if they have started later in life. Some people will also find that their symptoms become worse with time and, in rare cases, can become severe.

Can you desensitise yourself to cat allergies?

If other treatments don’t work, you could talk to your doctor about immunotherapy courses that gradually desensitise you to the cat proteins you are allergic to. Not all patients are suitable for treatment and it can be quite expensive, but many owners report good results. Yet you will need to persist with treatment and have regular top-ups, so immunotherapy is definitely not a simple solution.

How do I get rid of cat dander in my house?

Getting rid of soft furnishings that may trap dander is the best starting point. If you can, replace fitted carpets and rugs with plain, hard flooring, cover your sofas and chairs with removable covers that you can wash, and use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter. Some owners also report good results with electrostatic air filters.

Talk to a vet online. Visit myfamilyvets.co.uk