Pet Q & A by Karen Geissert, D.V.M.
Q: I recently adopted a cat but now seem to be having allergies to my new pet. What can I do to minimize the allergic symptoms I have developed?
A: Many people believe that the main cause of allergic symptoms is the hair shedding from a pet, but pet dander, which also includes dead skin cells and protein containing material, is actually the main allergen causing symptoms. Non-shedding pets such as poodles, Portuguese water dogs and other breeds that need regular hair clipping also produce dander and can still cause allergic reactions in people.
There are many steps that you can take to decrease the dander from your cat. Giving him short regular baths using an allergen-reducing shampoo will help to significantly decrease the dander. The amount of allergen on the pet’s skin redevelops within three days so you would need to bathe about twice a week to reduce dander amounts. You could also try using a non-foaming pet shampoo on a dampened cloth to wipe down your pet’s coat. This will decrease the dander on the skin’s surface. Regular brushing will also remove some of the offending dander but may cause increased airborne exposure during the brushing.
Controlling the shared environment that you and the cat occupy is another excellent way to decrease the amount of allergen in your home. Replacing carpeting with hard floor surfaces provides a surface that allows most of the allergen to be removed each time it is cleaned. You may need to train your cat to stay off upholstered furniture because the dander can get into the fabric and the furniture padding. Washing curtains, scatter rugs and other household fabrics on a regular basis can also decrease your exposure to your cat’s allergens. Vacuuming furniture and non-washable surfaces is also helpful. A vacuum cleaner with Hepa filters (filters that remove much smaller particles) is the best way to remove the particles from your household. Replacing the vacuum collection bags and Hepa filters often will also make the vacuum most efficient. Use of dusting products that attract the particles to a cloth or duster implement is another way to remove many of the allergens that have settled onto hard surfaces. If you have a forced air heating and cooling system, consider installing filters to catch the offending allergen particles from recirculating in the air inside your home.
You can still enjoy your cat by petting, handling and grooming him — just remember to wash your hands afterwards. If you are still exhibiting allergic symptoms after taking these many preventive measures, you may need to seek medical treatment to minimize your symptoms.
If you find that none of these actions are sufficient, you may be forced to find an alternative home for your cat. If giving up your cat is your only solution, hopefully another individual or family will be able to provide a new home. Perhaps another pet species may prove to be a more compatible pet in your future.
Karen Geissert, owner of Acton Animal Hospital, has practiced veterinary medicine for over 30 years. Questions for her may be submitted to ActonAnimalHospital@comcast.net.