Cat advice for allergic family

My family has toyed with the idea of getting a kitten for a long time, but never acted on it because of all the questions that come up around this. Neither my husband nor I have ever had a pet at home, so we are really clueless. One issue has to do with allergies - my 4-year-old and I have "reactive airways syndrome", and I know I am mildly allergic to (at least some) cats. It doesn't show up immediately as sneezing or itchy eyes, rather, an overnight stay in a home where a cat lives will trigger breathing symptoms (like wheezing, shortness of breath). I have heard that some breeds are "hypo-allergenic", such as Russian Blues. What are people's experiences with breeds vs. allergies/breathing issues? Are there steps one can take to decrease the incidence of allergy symptoms in the home? Also, we would like our cat to be able to roam indoors/outdoors - are there breeds that are better adapted for this kind of lifestyle? Finally, I am pregnant and worry a bit about toxoplasmosis. Should we just wait until baby is born? (of course I will get advice from my OB, but it's always nice to hear about people's experiences) Many thanks! 

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RE: Cat advice for allergic family ()

I don't have allergies myself, but as a cat owner for 20+ years, I don't think you'll find a breed that's truly hypoallergenic - hopefully I'm wrong.  I'd also strongly advise against having a cat that goes outdoors - it's bad for the cat (cars, coyotes, disease), bad for wildlife (https://www.allaboutbirds.org/faq-outdoor-cats-and-their-effects-on-birds/), and, since you're worried about toxoplasmosis, increases the chances that the cat will pick up things like that outside and bring them in.  We had (indoor only) cats during all 3 of my pregnancies without any toxoplasmosis issues, even when I occasionally had to clean the litter box (carefully, with gloves on).  But given all the disruption a baby brings to any household, maybe you want to wait and see how things shake out with the baby before you add another critter who needs you for food and poop management. :)

RE: Cat advice for allergic family ()

Our family is allergic to cats and we will sneeze if we are in a "normal" cat home.   But, after doing some research, we decided to get a Siberian cat from a local breeder in Berkeley.  It's a process: application, waiting for a litter (took about a year) and very costly.  But it was either that or no cat.  We have had her for over four years and she is the kindest, sweetest, smartest, most beautiful cat. She wants to go outside but for many reasons we keep her indoors.  The breeder allowed us to visit her home and spend time with her cats and we were fine. Once she has a litter, you can choose a male or female and the coat color.  I felt guilty about purchasing from a breeder as I'm an animal lover and know there are many unwanted pets. I have offset my guilt with donations to local shelters though. 

RE: Cat advice for allergic family ()

I'm severely allergic to cats but have a cat anyway. I do have to take asthma meds though because of my decision to have a pet.

Through research, I've learned that female cats and lighter colored cats tend to have less dander than other cats. Dander is what causes allergic reactions. Coat length apparently doesn't have anything to do with how much dander a cat produces. 

As to toxoplasmosis, indoor only cats do not get this parasite because they don't have the opportunity to eat infected prey. 

I hope this info helps! 

RE: Cat advice for allergic family ()

Also note, the life of cats are significantly extended if they are indoor-only. They don't get parasites and diseases, they don't get into fights which can lead to infection and sepsis, and they don't get run over by cars.

That said, not every cat has the personality to be an indoor-only animal, while other cats need to be indoor-only! 

RE: Cat advice for allergic family ()

I adore cats and kittens and understand your desire for one, but I do NOT recommend that you get a cat at this time. Investigate. Wait until the baby is born and then proceed slowly.

--Cats and kittens require time and attention to integrate into the household and you have a number of changes. Despite what you've heard, cats are not low maintenance. They need attention, veterinary care, security, and they do best with ROUTINE and RITUALS. They are often not really happy when paired with small children.

--Get yourself and your child tested to see HOW allergic you are before bringing on into your household, and talk about allergy medications and treatments.  You will not keep a cat if you or your child can't breathe, and that is traumatic and unfair to everyone. You can't just toss it away because it's "not working out."  Plus, you need to allocate responsibility for feeding, cleaning, going to the vet, etc.

--There really isn't any such thing as a hypoallergenic cat. The allergies are triggered by cat saliva, not cat dander. Hypoallergenic is more of a marketing term for hairless cats or cats that supposedly don't shed. Generally these "designer cats" are expensive and inbred, so may be prone to more health issues. Friends of mine got a hairless cat that they later learned required 3 times daily medication for some virus. Look at individual cats rather than breeds.

--Spend some regular time at the Humane Society or other cat adoption places playing with felines to improve your understanding of cat behavior and see how actual contact affects your family's allergies.

--There's no breed especially adapted to "roaming outdoors"; although many cats should never go outdoors, particularly those touted as "hypoallergenic."   Some cats are fast and savvy and some are not, and ALLl are at risk outdoors (cars, dogs, poison, and coyotes to name a few). There are feral cats that do live outdoors, but they're usually not socialized to be pets, and their lives are likely to be cut short. Some places won't even let you adopt unless you promise to keep the cat indoors at all times.

We always bring our cats in at dusk and let them out after 9 am to minimize the risk, but it would be safer to keep them inside. (Both were street cats and go nuts if they can't go out.  But our yard is extremely secure with 9 foot fences.) If your cats do go out, they need a very secure enclosure (fenced in yard or patio that can't be dug under, jumped over, or escaped from).  It's not cheap, and requires attention. So does cleaning the cat box, which must be done frequently whether it is convenient or not.

Pets can be a wonderful addition to a family. However, a lot of what you have posted tells me that you a cat may not work out for your family. A smallish dog who likes to cuddle may suit you better, but again, get tested, make sure you have the time and money to take care of them, spend time playing with dogs before you adopt.

Good luck!

RE: Cat advice for allergic family ()

Hi. I'm someone who has had cats and dogs her whole life. I currently have 2 of each. I also have a long history of allergic asthma.  The only cats that I am aware of that are "hypoallergenic" are the hairless ones.  It's not the fur that gets you, it's the dander, and the dander gets all over everything in the house via cat saliva from cleaning themselves. Hairless cats don't seem to need to groom.  Those hairless breeds are expensive, and don't do well outside.  If you live in a city, I don't recommend indoor-outdoor, it's too dangerous. Between cars and rats, it's a struggle. If you live in a rural area, outdoors can also be quite dangerous (coyotes), but a cat that survives for a year going outside will probably have a long life. (continued)

RE: Cat advice for allergic family ()

If you are mildly allergic to cats, you are likely to become more allergic as you increase your exposure. Reactive airway disease (asthma) can become more serious if you live with a cat. You may be faced with having to get rid of a cat after you have taken one in as a pet. That would be hard on your kids. Cats can present serious health problem.Consider a different pet - cockatiel or something without fur. I am a physician.

RE: Cat advice for allergic family ()

Suburban areas are ideal for indoor-outdoor cats. I have found that any rescue cat/domestic shorthair, usually does well with this set up. Maybe because they spend some time outside on their own prior to rescue, or because Mama Cat taught them how to hunt and survive. I would avod all pure breeds if you want them to go out. Having them go outside reduces the allergens in the house. As for toxoplasmosis, as long as you don't change, scoop or handle cat litter, it's fine. You can have a cat tested to see if they have it. I get tested for it every few years because we know it can cause certain mental illnesses. So how to accomplish reduced allergy triggers? Get a kitten and train it well - keep it in one area or floor of the house. Don't let it sleep with you. Hire a cleaning lady who doesn't mind sponging the walls on a semi-regular basis. Get rid of all carpets, they trap dander and also fleas. Never bath a cat (if an emergency arises, let a vet do it). DO get them used to frequent combing or brushing early on, this will help. By a few different ones and see what the cat enjoys best. It's going to be a lot of work, and with a new baby, probably too much. I'd wait til the baby is a little older, just in case they end up with the same issues, in which case, by majority, I would suggest not getting a cat and looking into a small dog instead, like a poodle, which is hypoallergenic and has hair (not fur). Good luck!

RE: Cat advice for allergic family ()

I use to have allergies like that too but loved cats so much I endured. Surprisingly over time my allergies dissipated and my symptoms became much more manageable I guess it was kinda like getting allergy shots. 

The thing with cats is the saliva has the allergen and because they groom constantly...I've always had short haired cats but they can shed pretty heavily in the spring. Best way is to groom them regularly and not have carpet for all the hair to migrate too.  Also get them a kitty tower and a designated place to sleep to keep the hair to a minimum on your bed/pillowcases.  Cats love to be up high looking down upon their human servants. Bathing them doesn't do much but if your adventurous it can be helpful maybe once a week

Good luck with your kitty adventure!