HOW TO Get Rid of Cat Allergies — WITHOUT Getting Rid of your Cat
Want to know to get rid of cat allergies the best way? This article is for you!
I am not a marriage counselor. I’m an allergist. But a few times a month, a couple comes in with one person who has cat allergies and one person who wants cats and I am looked upon as the deciding factor.
Sure, this could be an easy way to pocket $100/couple of hush money as a bribe. But I’m not involved in politics and I haven’t finished my grifting class yet.
So instead, I have to give an honest answer that also shows my marriage counseling prowess:
Why not keep your cat AND feel better at the SAME TIME?
Who should read this article:
- If you suffer from cat allergies, this article is for you.
- If your loved one suffers from cat allergies (and you want to stay in the relationship) this article is for them (and you’ll be a hero for sending it along.)
- If you know someone who suffers from cat allergies (but who loves cats… because, come on, who doesn’t?) then SHARE this article.
- If you want to learn strategies for living with cat allergies… read on!
- If your provider said you needed to get rid of your cat and you don’t want to… you’ve come to the right place.
For everyone else, you probably know someone who has cat allergies (but hasn’t complained about it yet). Just remember that this article is here and refer your friend to it when the subject comes up.
Note: This is a long article full of great information. If you want to reference it easier in the future, just like MyAllergyFriend on Facebook and it will be there when you need it.
Why write this article on how to get rid of cat allergies?
In allergy, we are taught a general adage for treating all our patients that was first shared to me by my mentor, Dr. Cox (an allergist, not from Scrubs… who, now that I think about it, was also a type of bitter doctor mentor too):
- Avoid the allergen
- Avoid the allergen
- Avoid the allergen
- Medications and shots
So, just in case you missed it—the first priority is to avoid the allergen.
That’s why, in most of my allergy articles, I discuss the importance of trigger identification. Identifying and reducing exposure to your triggers is a way to feel better with fewer medications. Cats are no exception.
If you have cat allergies and were never exposed to cat dander, you’d never have symptoms.
So get rid of your cats, right? NO!
I can also tell you I have 4 cats and I adore them (we adopted our most recent cat Hilde after a family got her, developed allergies and then gave her away). I would never want to get rid of them. Even my senile old cat Mao, who lays next to Luke’s stuffies and howls at 2am pretending it’s his proudest kill (I don’t know if he thinks he’s tricking me or if he really believes it).
Either way, his mind only remembers ‘the good ol’ days when coke was a nickel’ and now I get a perpetual 2am wake-up call about 3-4 nights per week. Still, I wouldn’t get rid of my cats.
I understand that cats are family members to a lot of us (and that many people have family members they’d rather remove over their cat!)
And I also think many people suffering from cat allergies are afraid to see an allergist… because they are worried the allergist will tell them to get rid of their cats.
I’m here to tell you: you need not get rid of your cat to feel better!
The great schism of allergists
There are definite grey areas in life, but allergists seem to approach cats with a clear black or white attitude: some say if you have cat allergies you need to get rid of your pet while others, like myself, believe you have options.
I understand you might have avoided an allergist out of fear they’d tell you to get rid of your family pet. I’ve met them myself (you can usually tell these allergists by their horns and pitch forks, but not always).
The advice I will give you in this article will help get you feel better while still keeping your cat.
But IF you need to see an allergist, I recommend calling around first to find one who gets good ratings AND who will tell you they work with pets. If they are sketchy or shady about that point, find another (or just walk in with the treatment plan I give you and refuse to acknowledge there is any other option)!
First, are you sure it’s the cat?
Don’t just assume that you are allergic to your cat.
I admit that if you probably know if you’re allergic without a cat allergy test. But it is possible you have other allergies causing your symptoms. Or your other allergies are making your cat allergies worse!
To help figure this out, you need a cat allergy test!
Here are your cat allergy test options (there are even more if you’re willing to forget about ‘science’):
- First, you can see an allergist and get a scratch test
- This is probably the most expensive option
- This is also the slowest option (waiting for an allergist’s appointment)
- You also have to be off your allergy medications for 5-7 days BEFORE the appointment
- But you get the benefit of seeing an allergist (of course, you have me so you get that benefit regardless)
- Second, you can ask your primary care provider to order a cat (and other pollen) blood test!
- The cat allergy blood tests are just as good as the cat allergy skin tests
- The answer will be straight forward: if its high, then you have a cat allergy. If it’s low, then you don’t.
- This is usually the cheapest and fastest option
- If you have questions, you can always email me and I will help you.
- I recommend against seeing an ENT for allergies if you can avoid it. But it is a third option.
- Please do NOT see anyone who diagnoses cat allergies with magnets, by having you hold a vial of cat allergen and testing muscle strength, or by doing a mail-off cat allergy blood test. These are not valid. And this is a big deal… you deserve a proper diagnostic test.
Before you start a lot of medications, it is best to get a cat allergy test.
But in the meantime, you can start with some cat avoidance strategies (and over-the-counter treatment options).
Want the latest allergy tips and tricks sent to you automagically? Click here to subscribe:
Pet avoidance advice
While you are waiting to get your cat allergy test, there are steps you can do to help with cat dander reduction and avoidance.
General pet avoidance advice
In my article about preventing pet allergy during travel, I list a few general tips that help a traveling GUEST with pet allergies:
- Keep pets out of the guest room before their arrival (and keep the door shut during the daytime to prevent dander from getting in)
- Vacuum the guest room before they arrive
- Change furnace filters
- Clean the common areas of the house
This is fine great advice for someone trying to help their friend/family not experience cat allergy symptoms during their travels.
But if you are living with cat allergies and own a cat, you can see the problem with this plan:
- A cat wants to go into any room they’re not allowed in… and will break down the door or slide under it to get in!
- A cat loves to sleep in freshly vacuumed areas
- Changing furnace filters are still a good idea
- Again, cats love to destroy any clean area of the house (if you want a sure fire way to find my cats, clean the couch and put a nice pair of black pants on it… BOOM instant cat!).
Special cat avoidance advice for living with cat allergies
Trying to reduce cat dander while owning a cat is difficult. But every bit helps.
I’ve written a list of some good options you can try to implement. Try as many as you can… just realize that what you can do/maintain isn’t up to you but rather up to your cat.
- Change your furnace filters monthly.
- Changing them more often reduces the amount of dander floating in the air
- Use the least expensive filter that has a corrugated or zig-zag shape (like the one in the picture)
- TRY to keep your bedroom door closed during the daytime
- Perhaps buy a warming blanket or a nice pair of pants or an expensive hand bag and put it somewhere else for the cat to lay on/in
- Important, irreplaceable paperwork or taxes are also a good cat lure
- If your cat sleeps in your room, try to keep it away from your face (yeah, right. HAHAHAHA. Seriously, though, try).
- One option is to buy a humidifier and use it at the head of the bed at night.
- The mist might convince the cat to leave you alone.
- Side benefit is that this is a natural, non-medicine way to treat cat allergy and regular allergies!
- Change your sheets regularly (to reduced accumulated pet dander)
- If you make your bed each morning this can help reduce the amount of dander on your pillow and sheets
- Second bonus: toss the comforter on the floor each night before you sleep and demote it to only be a “cover” to your bed
- You can try to bathe your cat regularly
- Truth: If you wash your cat every 24-48 hours, you will rinse away enough dander it is the same as not owning a cat
- Second truth: I hope you like scars and scratches
And that’s about it.
The goal with this entire step is to REDUCE (not eliminate) your cat dander exposure. Every bit helps make it so you will get rid of your cat allergies with fewer medications (and that the medications will work better).
Treating cat allergies with medications (over-the-counter AND prescription)
Most likely this will not be enough.
Your next step will be to treat your cat allergy with over-the-counter medications. I’d start adding medications in this order:
Everyone should start these steps:
- Start a nasal saline sinus rinse
- This is NOT a medication (so it helps treat cat allergies naturally!)
- The goal is to reduce any cat dander that gets in the nose and sinuses
- If you HATE nose sprays… you’re not alone. I’ve written this post to help make sinus rinses more tolerable
- Start a nasal steroid
- This will help with both cat allergies eyes and nose symptoms
- Starting a nasal steroid is important because your cat is there all the time so you need a stable, long-term, daily medication that will do a great job for you
- I’ve written this post on the best over-the-counter nasal steroids to treat cat allergies
- Remember that nasal steroids will take 4-6 weeks to work. So give them some time
- Add an antihistamine
- If you do everything above then you might not need an antihistamine every day. Here, only use it “if needed”
- If you need it every day, here is my review of the best over-the-counter antihistamines for cat allergies
This is a great plan for treating cat allergy with over-the-counter medications. It will help you.
But if you need more, then I’ve broken the next steps down based on symptoms.
Treating cat allergies – nose symptoms
If you are still having nose symptoms after following my cat allergy: over-the-counter medication plan, then you’ll need some prescription help. Here’s what I would recommend as the next steps:
- If you nose is stuffy, if you have post-nasal drip, or if your nose is runny out the front AND down your throat:
- Request azelastine nasal spray (prescription nose spray)
- This is a nasal antihistamine and is different from the nasal steroid
- You will likely need BOTH nasal steroid AND nasal antihistamines together
- Generic is just as good as name brand, so pick whatever works best for your insurance
- If you have just a stuffy nose
- I’d still recommend nasal azelastine
- But you can also consider adding a Sudaphed (pseudoephedrine). If you have high blood pressure, read this post about treating nasal congestion with high blood pressure first.
- If you have just a runny/drippy nose out the front of your nose
- Request nasal ipratroprium (also known as nasal Atrovent and is a prescription).
- This works well to treat runny/drippy noses.
- I’ve written about it in this post about treating a runny nose. It would apply for fixing cat allergy nose symptoms too.
Treating cat allergies – eyes symptoms
If you are still having eye symptoms after following the cat allergy over-the-counter medication plan, you will need to specifically target the eyes with these next steps:
- Over-the-counter treatment options
- My first choice would be Zaditor (ketotifen)
- It’s a mast-cell stabilizer and is the closest to a prescription antihistamine
- If you wear contacts, you will want to use this first and THEN put in your contacts
- Second is a ‘symptom relief’ medication such as a Visine or clear eyes
- These medications are more like an eye-drop sudafed
- Read the warnings if you have glaucoma or any eye conditions
- Add a saline eye drop as needed.
- If you keep this in the fridge,
- This adds a cooling/soothing sensation which is AMAZING if you have red, irritated eyes
- My first choice would be Zaditor (ketotifen)
- Prescription options
- The best prescription option is an eye-drop antihistamine
- These are usually azelastine or olopatadine (these are the generics available by prescription, but pick whatever is best covered by insurance)
- Note: these can sting when used in the eyes — keep them in the fridge to help reduce the sting
Treating cat allergies – eyes AND nose symptoms
If you have BOTH eye and nose symptoms after following my cat allergy over-the-counter medication plan, then here’s your best plan:
- Treat your nose FIRST
- Think of the nose as the gateway to the eyes
- Improving the nose will also help improve the eyes
- Follow the nose plan above
- Then ADD eye drops if you are still having eye symptoms
- You can start with an over-the-counter medication OR prescription
- Follow the eye plan above
If you follow these plans, you will be maximally treating cat allergies and have an optimized allergist’s plan. If you have any questions, just ask me and I’ll be happy to help.
What about cat allergy shots / a cat allergy vaccine?
Hopefully at this point you will feel much better! But if not, we have ONE more option.
Remember, allergies are an immune response triggered by a specific protein or antigen (in your case, cat dander). All your treatment options this point work by blocking various chemical receptors to prevent or stop an allergic reaction. And they all work well. But there is another option available to you: cat allergy shots / a cat allergy vaccine.
Since allergies are an immune response, we can ‘retrain’ the immune system to tolerate the things you’re allergic to, including cat. This works similar to vaccines (which is why they’re sometimes called cat allergy vaccines) but are most commonly called cat allergy drops or cat allergy shots. The process is called immunotherapy.
In cat immunotherapy, we give you a small amount of cat allergen either as a drop under the tongue OR as a shot under the skin. These methods bypass your initial allergic response so that your body processes it as something to build immunity against instead. Over time, your body will shift away from causing allergy symptoms and instead tolerating allergy exposure. It can sometimes be as if you never had an allergy at all!
The specifics of immunotherapy are a huge topic and I will discuss them in a larger post later (until then, please ask me if you have questions). Just know cat allergy shots / cat allergy vaccine is an AMAZING option that can (essentially) make you no-longer allergic to cats!
I’ve treated 2 veterinarian technicians and countless husbands/wifes/boyfriends/girlfriends who had terrible cat allergies with cat allergy shots. In most cases, their symptoms went away AND we were able to reduce medications.
If you are having symptoms despite my cat allergy medications (over-the-counter and prescription) plan OR don’t want to take that many medications, I recommend you consider cat allergy shots. But email me first and I’ll be able to help you make sure you’re getting the best possible treatment plan.
Whew. This was a long post.
But I also hope it showed the passion I have for helping you with you develop a strategy for living with cat allergies and different techniques to get rid of cat allergy symptoms… while keeping your cat.
I know how I feel about my pets and how much I would do to keep them.
Just remember that there is no one-trick, magic bullet to fixing this. Instead, it is a lot of little steps that add up when combined:
- Confirm you have a cat allergy with an appropriate cat allergy test
- Reduce your cat allergen exposure through tricksy avoidance methods
- Start a daily, preventative strategy with cat allergy medications (over-the-counter AND prescription)
- Start a nasal steroid and nasal saline
- ADD additional medications to treat your nose and/or eye symptoms as needed
- Consider cat allergy shots / cat allergy vaccine
Just know there is hope!
I can promise you that your treatment is somewhere in this page (I can make that promise… since I went through the entire spectrum of cat allergy treatment).
You are now ready to take control of your cat allergy symptoms WITHOUT getting rid of your cat.
Just print or save this article and work your way down. OR, if you want an easier way, follow me on facebook and it will be there for you when you need it.