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Home > Cats > Can I Have a Cat If I Have Asthma? Safety Vet-Approved Facts

Can I Have a Cat If I Have Asthma? Safety Vet-Approved Facts

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Dr. Lorna Whittemore

Veterinarian, MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Some pet parents with cats do not have problems with allergic reactions initially, but allergies can develop over time and force owners to consider giving up their pets or find another solution. Can an asthmatic cat lover live with a feline? Yes, some people with asthma can live with cats, depending on the severity of the disease.

Patients with chronic and severe cat allergic asthma may not see positive changes in symptoms after making lifestyle and medication changes, and they will have to remove the source of the allergen (their cat) to live healthier lives and prevent their condition from worsening. However, those with minor cases can control symptoms with routine changes, daily cleaning, and limiting close contact with the animals.

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Ways to Reduce Allergic Reactions to Cat Dander

Before making lifestyle changes or modifications to your home, visit your allergist and family doctor to determine if you’re allergic to cats. Your physician will want to know when the asthma symptoms began, how long you’ve had asthma, and how you interact with your pet at home. An allergist can test you for cat allergies and diagnose the severity of your reaction to allergens.

After receiving your test results, your doctor will discuss with you whether or not a cat can live with you. A veterinarian can advise you on minimizing shedding and reducing dander in your home, but a vet will refer you to a physician for questions about your asthma and well-being. If your doctor suggests a cat can stay because your symptoms are minor, you can try these tips for reducing the airborne dander in your home.

Daily Cleaning

Although cat hair and dander are related to your reaction to your pet, it is a protein in cat dander that carries the allergen. This protein is called Felis domesticus 1 (Fel d 1), and is in the cat’s saliva, sebaceous glands, anal glands, and urine. So far 10 cat allergens have been identified but Fel d 1 is the most common to be allergic to. To reduce your exposure to the allergen, daily cleaning is important. Vacuuming your carpet, furniture, and drapes can reduce the dander (flakes of skin) and therefore allergies. Damp dusting surfaces is also helpful. You can also ask your family to keep the litter box area tidy to reduce your exposure to the protein. Wear gloves and a dust mask while cleaning the litter box if your allergies are more severe.

Cleaning materials on the floo
Image Credit: Mariakray, Pixabay

Washing Bedding

Some cats enjoy napping and perching on beds, but you can wash your bedding more so your allergies will not keep you up at night. Washing bedding with standard detergent may be enough to remove proteins from the fabric, but you can also use an enzymatic product to remove all traces of the Fel d 1. Enzymatic cleaners will also clean urine and fecal stains. Better yet, don’t let your cat sleep in your bedroom. Remember to also frequently wash pet bedding and blankets.

Blocking Access

Your pet may object when you restrict their access to your room or study, but it can help your allergies and reduce the dander in the rooms where you spend the most time. Set aside an area in your house where your cat can relax away from you with a cat condo, toys, and a window to watch wildlife.

Grooming

Some breeds, like the Siberian or Russian Blue, may not initiate an asthmatic attack, but no cat or dog is truly hypoallergenic and so this is not guaranteed. Short-haired and bald cats can have the same protein that you’re allergic to, but some allergy sufferers may experience fewer symptoms with cats that shed less frequently. However, cat allergens are hard to avoid, even in pet-free buildings. The irritating proteins can be transferred from clothes to schools, offices, and other places without animals.

Your cat probably enjoyed their grooming sessions with you, but you can let someone else take over the cat grooming duties to limit your exposure to dander. Weekly grooming can remove loose hair, debris, and dander, and you’ll find fewer clumps of hair lying around your home.

Pet hair brush with pet fur clump after grooming cat
Image Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock

Specialized Shampoos vs. Hand Washing

Bathing your cat more frequently may reduce symptoms for a few days, and you can use special shampoos and sprays that minimize dander. However, overbathing your cat can remove essential oils from the coat, and some physicians suggest that frequent handwashing is more practical and effective than cleaning your cat every few days.

Changing Clothes

It’s best to change your clothes after handling your cat to help your symptoms. Keep your hamper with pet clothes in another room, and wear gloves when you do the laundry. If you spend a long time playing with your cat, you should also shower to remove the allergens from your body.

Replacing Carpets

Cat dander collects on carpets and other fibers, but it’s easier to remove from hardwood floors and tile. Although it’s an expensive option, replacing your carpets with hardwood may help your symptoms. If you already have wooden floors, you should keep them bare and avoid adding decorative rugs.

cutting carpet
Image Credit: Syda Productions, Shutterstock

Air Purifiers and Filter Changes

Changing the filters every few weeks on your HVAC system and installing air purifiers can significantly reduce the airborne particles in your home. Tiny particles of cat dander can linger in the air, but a purifier with a HEPA filter can improve the air quality and reduce airborne pollutants. When you change dirty HVAC filters, you can replace them with premium filters rated for allergy and asthma sufferers.

Food

Purina LiveClear cat food has been developed to reduce the Fel d 1 protein that your cat produces. It has been proven to reduce allergies by almost 50% from the third week of feeding it to your cat. The product reviews are full of testimony from happy cat allergy sufferers who have seen an improvement in their symptoms.

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Medical Treatments for Cat Dander Allergies

Daily cleaning and other methods may help your asthmatic reaction to your cat, but if you still experience symptoms, your doctor can prescribe medications to help.

Allergy Shots

Depending on the severity of your asthma, your symptoms may improve with weekly or monthly allergy shots or oral spray. The shots introduce a tiny amount of the allergen to your body to enhance tolerance. It can take years for a patient to develop a tolerance to cat dander, and you will probably not see quick results.

Although it’s not commercially available, a vaccine is being tested at McMaster University in Ontario on patients allergic to cats. The preliminary results sound promising because the shot can reduce symptoms by 40%, and it only needs to be administered a few times a year.

woman teary eyed due to cat allergy
Image Credit: Dmytro Zinkevych, Shutterstock

Antihistamines

Antihistamines like Benadryl can relieve minor symptoms like sneezing or watering eyes, but they cannot treat asthmatic symptoms such as chest tightening or wheezing. Talk to your physician before taking an antihistamine and ask them if the medication can help you with symptoms relating to your cat allergies.

Nasal Sprays and Saline Rinses

A prescription nasal spray contains corticosteroids that help relieve inflammation when you react to cat dander. A saltwater solution can clear out your nasal passages and prevent allergens from entering your airways.

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How to Keep Your Feline Entertained When You Have Asthma

If your pet is not clingy or fond of hanging out with you and the family, you may have fewer problems than a cat that cannot leave you alone. Although you have to limit your exposure to your pet when you have asthma, the cat can also suffer when they feel lonely. A beloved lap cat may take a while to accept your new routine and get used to having a smaller territory. There are many cat toys and puzzle feeders, climbing towers and shelf systems to help keep kitty entertained without you.

Find Another Person to Take Your Place

If you’re the primary focus of the animal’s love and attention, you should find a spouse or child that can take your place as the main caregiver in the home. It may take months or longer for the cat to transfer their devotion to another human, but feeding and playing with the cat every day can help the recruit gain the animal’s affection.

person feeding two cats
Image Credit: Milles Studio, Shutterstock

Outside Play

Depending on your cat and your home situation, it may be possible for them to become outdoor cats or to at least spend much of their time outdoors.  Cats are usually happy to do so, with the outside world full of interesting things to investigate and places to nap. This will reduce the dander in your home and provide natural enrichment for your cat.

Use Safety Gear for Play Sessions

You may look like you’re about to perform surgery when you pet your cat, but wearing gloves and a mask for play sessions may help your symptoms. Avoiding the cat altogether is a healthier option, but it’s challenging to stay away from your pet, especially if you only have minor symptoms.

Cat lying on a person's lap
Image Credit: zavalnia, Pixabay

Send the Cat to a Loved One’s Home

If you have severe symptoms and must give away your beloved pet, you can ask your family or a friend to adopt the cat. Keeping your cat at a loved one’s home is the best option because you know they’ll care for your feline and you may be able to visit from time to time. If this is not possible, contact your local vets and animal shelters for advice.

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Final Thoughts

So the answer to “can I have a cat if I have asthma?”, very much depends on your personal circumstances, but there are many options to try. The prospect of giving away your pet is upsetting, but it may be the only way you can enjoy a healthy life with chronic asthma. Our advice may help you control your asthma when living with a cat, but you should visit a doctor for professional advice. The previous suggestions can reduce allergens in your home, but you’re unlikely to find relief from your symptoms if you only try one method. When you combine medical treatments with lifestyle changes, your chances of reducing your symptoms are much greater.


Featured Image Credit: Image Point, Shutterstock

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