When I first met my husband, he told me he was allergic to cats. That fact shocked me, given the adorable little kitten sitting on his lap! The truth was, he took an antihistamine pill daily to manage his symptoms as well as choosing one of the more hypoallergenic cat breeds. So, he had it under control. It was a small price to pay for the company of a loving pet.
Now, three years later, his body seems to have adjusted to the cats and allergies are rarely a problem. However, we still keep a box of antihistamine tablets in our medicine cabinet just in case. In this post, I’m going to share everything you need to know about choosing the best antihistamines for cat allergies and how to use them.
Around 10% of the US population has some kind of pet allergy, with cat allergies being twice as common as dog allergies. In addition, if you suffer from allergy-sensitive asthma, there’s a 20 – 30% chance that you will have a severe flare up after spending time with a cat (source). Although it will probably be fairly obvious if you have a pet allergy, you can get a diagnosis by taking a skin or blood test at the doctor’s office. Cat allergies are in most cases genetic, so if you have a family member with a pet allergy, it’s more likely that you’ll have one too (source).
Why are people allergic to cats?
An allergy is a reaction (or rather, overreaction) of your immune system to an allergen. What’s an allergen? Some examples are peanuts, soy, milk, eggs and pollen. Allergens found on cats include dander (dead skin flakes), saliva and urine.
Your immune system is designed to fight things which can harm your body like bacteria and viruses. In allergic individuals, the body mistakes something harmless such as cat dander, for something dangerous. This triggers a chain of biological reactions designed to expel or neutralize the “intruder”. In this context, you can understand why some of the symptoms happen – coughing and streaming eyes to wash out any unwelcome particles, along with sneezing and a runny nose.
What about hypoallergenic cats?
Both of our cats are so-called hypoallergenic breeds, i.e. a Siberian Forest cat and a color point British Shorthair (source). I can’t say that my husband had no reaction at all to them, but perhaps it’s less than a mixed breed cat would have caused. No cats can be completely non-allergenic because they all have dander and saliva. However, some breeds have lower levels of the allergy-causing protein Fel d 1.
Symptoms of a cat allergy
I have mentioned some of the general symptoms of an allergy above, but what is specific to a cat allergy? Well, you’ll usually start to notice a reaction within a few minutes of being exposed to a cat but in some cases it can take hours. Bear in mind that cat dander is made of tiny particles that can travel through the air and settle on clothes, carpets, furniture and walls. This means that even if the animal’s not present, the allergens can linger. You’ll notice the following symptoms during an allergic reaction to cats:
- Coughing, wheezing
- Hives or rash
- Itchiness of the eyes
- Reddened skin where you’ve had contact with the cat
- Runny, blocked nose
What is an antihistamine?
An antihistamine is a type of drug that blocks the action of a substance called histamine in your body. Histamine is a signalling chemical that tells your body to start an allergic reaction. So when that’s out of action, your symptoms should calm down a lot.
Using antihistamines for cat allergies
There are a few points to consider when choosing an antihistamine for cat allergies. For starters, some varieties can cause drowsiness so those are definitely a no-no if you need to drive or carry out any other important tasks. They can be good for nighttime however, if you find your sneezing and sniffling keeps you awake.
Some types of antihistamine last the whole day whereas others are short-acting so you need to take several tablets throughout the day. If you’re likely to forget or simply prefer the convenience of a single dose, then you should avoid the short-acting varieties.
If you take any other medicines or have any ongoing health conditions, always check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking an antihistamine. They can cause interactions. Don’t give antihistamines to children unless they have been prescribed by your doctor. Adult doses are not safe for smaller humans.
My picks for the best antihistamine for cat allergies
These All Day Allergy tablets from Good Sense are my favorite cat allergy pill. Since it’s a generic medicine, the price is fair and you get a whole year’s supply – important if you know you’ll be around a cat regularly or if multiple family members have allergies. The active drug is called cetirizine and it’s a long-acting antihistamine. This means you just need to take one tablet in the morning and you’re protected all day. If you don’t want to take a generic medicine, the (more expensive) original is Zyrtec.
You can also use decongestant nasal sprays or tablets to unblock the nose and dry up the eyes but they can only be used for a few days. There are also corticosteroid sprays which also aren’t suitable for long term use. Personally I think antihistamine pills are a better option as it gives exactly the same relief in a more convenient form. If you don’t like swallowing pills, cetirizine is available in a liquid form. It’s marketed at kids but adults can use it too – however the bottle will run out quickly if you’re taking higher doses.
How to take antihistamine for cat allergies
Ideally, you should take an antihistamine before being exposed to the cat. Thirty minutes to an hour beforehand will give you the best protection. If you live with a cat, just take it first thing in the morning. You can take cetirizine with or without food, it doesn’t matter so there’s no need to wait until breakfast.
Some other things you can do to make life with cat allergies a bit easier include:
- Wash your cat occasionally with an anti-dander shampoo
- Get a vacuum cleaner designed for homes with pets – ours made a huge difference, it removes most of the hair and dander
- Try to keep the cat at arms length. Snuggling will only make things worse!
- Don’t let the cat in your bedroom. We made this mistake and our pillows are now her bed. This means we are breathing in dander all night long.
- If it suits you, consider having an outdoor cat. Although he might bring pollen in from outside, the house will be less contaminated dander.
- Use an air purifier. I’m going to write a post on this soon as it’s another life-changer for those with pet allergies.
I hope this article has been some help to those of you with cat allergies. I do think cetirizine is the best antihistamine for cat allergies and it’s what my husband has been using for the past three years. Obviously it’s better not to own a cat at all if you are allergic to them but we simply couldn’t resist. However, if your allergy is more severe or if you have asthma, it’s probably best to avoid cats, I’m afraid.