If you suffer from a cat allergy, the best solution is to keep your distance from them. However, this isn’t always possible.
Maybe you’re an animal lover who can’t imagine life without a cat. Even if you don’t have a pet of your own, allergies can be triggered by spending time around people who have cats.
Luckily allergy medicines can solve the problem. I’m a registered pharmacist as well as a crazy cat lady, so I thought I’d make some recommendations on some of the best antihistamines for cat allergies.
How do antihistamines work?
Antihistamines work by blocking histamine – the signalling chemical in your body which tells your immune system to start an allergic reaction.
Allergies occur when your body has an extreme response to a harmless substance called an allergen. The main cat allergen is called Fel d 1 and it’s found in their dander (dead skin flakes) saliva and urine. Other examples of allergens include peanuts, soy, milk, eggs and pollen.
When a person with allergies comes into contact with an allergen, their immune system mistakes it for something harmful and histamine triggers a biological chain reaction to fight the “intruder”. Within a few minutes to a few hours of being exposed to a cat, this results in the allergy symptoms we’re all familiar with:
- Hives, rash, reddened skin where you’ve had contact with the cat
- Itchy eyes
- Runny, blocked nose
What are the Best Antihistamines for Cat Allergies?
The new generation of antihistamine drugs (cetirizine, levocetirizine, loratadine) are all very effective against cat allergies and generally don’t have strong sedating effects. I wouldn’t say that any one is better than the other, they all work the same way and should be equally effective. That said, everyone is different and if you don’t have success with one type, you may benefit from trying another.
I would avoid older antihistamines such as diphenhydramine as they can cause severe drowsiness to the point where it can be dangerous. Older antihistamines also need to be taken in multiple doses per day whereas newer antihistamines are taken once a day.
Below I’ll discuss some of the most popular new generation antihistamines for cat allergies.
These All Day Allergy tablets from GoodSense contain a new generation antihistamine called cetirizine at the regular adult dose of 10mg per 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.
Because cetirizine is a long acting antihistimine, 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. 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.
Allerclear tablest from Kirkland Signature contain a different but similar new generation antihistamine called loratadine at the standard adult dose of 10mg per pill. Again, this is a generic product which gives you great value for money with a full year’s supply; the brand name version is Claritin.
Again, it’s a once daily tablet which provides 24-hour protection from cats and other allergens. If you need a form which isn’t swallowed whole or is suitable for children, Claritin Chewable tablets have the same active ingredient.
Xyzal is a brand name medicine which contains a third type of new generation antihistamine – levocetirizine at 5mg per pill. This drug is very similar to cetirizine but slightly refined so you get an equivalent effect from a 5mg pill as a 10mg cetirizine pill.
Since this is a brand name product, the price is slightly higher and you don’t get as many tablets per pack. A liquid version with a children’s dose is also available
How to take antihistamines for cat allergies
- Your first port of call when taking any medicine is to read the package instructions.
- Ideally, you should take an antihistamine before being exposed to a 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.
- All of the new generation antihistamines I mentioned above can be taken with or without food, it doesn’t make a significant difference.
- New generation antihistamines are generally effective for 24 hours so you only take one dose per day. For other varieties, follow the package instructions with regard to dose timing.
Side Effects of antihistamines
Although the new generation antihistamines that we have discussed generally do not cause drowsiness, some people do experience it on rare occasions. Do not drive or operate machinery if you are effected. If you take an older antihistamine, drowsiness is very likely so it is best taken at night. Never combine alcohol with antihistamines as this can result in extreme sedation.
Other rare side effects include dizziness, headache, dry mouth and nausea (source).
When not to take antihistamines
Antihistamines are only recommended for mild cat allergies. Severe or anaphylactic reactions require urgent medical attention and can be life threatening. If you have asthma, talk to your doctor about treatments for cat allergies as there may be more effective options than antihistamines for you.
If you find antihistamines are not relieving your symptoms, do not continue to take them and seek medical advice. Allergy symptoms are often confused with infections like cold, flu or bronchitis.
If you have an allergy skin test planned, do not take antihistamines for three days prior to the test as it will lead to inaccurate results.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, do not take antihistamines unless advised to by your doctor.
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 which may be dangerous.
Other tips to minimize cat allergies
As I mentioned in the introduction, the best way to avoid allergy symptoms is to avoid cats. If you have to visit a home with a cat, try to avoid touching it and wash your hands afterwards if you do. Definitely no snuggling!
If you already own a cat, there are a lot of things you can do to reduce allergens in your home:
- Wash your cat occasionally with an anti-dander shampoo. Even the physical act of scrubbing your cat will release dander which will be washed down the drain rather than being deposited on your sofa. Ideally have someone who’s not allergic do the washing!
- Get a vacuum cleaner designed for homes with pets. The good ones have filters which remove even the tiniest of allergen particles from your furniture and carpets.
- Don’t let your 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 with dander.
- Use an air purifier to remove allergen particles from the air, it’s another life-changer for those with pet allergies.
For those who don’t have a cat yet but are considering it, some cat breeds are considered hypoallergenic because they produce fewer allergens than normal. These breeds include: Siberian, Balinese, Bengal, Burmese, Colorpoint Shorthair, Cornish Rex, Russian Blue, Siamese and Sphynx cats (source). Our two are both on this list and my husband’s allergic response was much less than with other cats.