What to Do When Friends and Family Have Cat Allergies

As the holidays approach, you and your beloved feline family are well prepared.

Turkey is baking in the oven, and catnip-scented stockings for all three of your four-legged children are already hanging over the fireplace. Then, as you are setting the table, your sister calls.

She’s bringing over her new boyfriend, Lance. She swears he is super cool, different from all the rest.

"He has his own place, works full-time and even wears deodorant”

She brags to you with delight. But there’s just one small flaw. She hesitates, then takes a deep breath and sheepishly confesses with a hushed tone of concern, “Lance is super allergic to cats.”

Less than ten minutes after they arrive, after drinks and introductions, Lance sneezes out his eggnog right into Aunt Mary's yams. His bloodshot eyes make it look like he just walked out of a Phish concert. He heads for the couch, wilting like a delicate flower in the summer heat.

“Do you have any Benadryl?” he asks. You head to the bathroom and search your cabinets until you finally find some Claritin. It's expired, but hopefully, it’ll help. Lance thanks you for the pills and admits he should have been better prepared and taken some before he arrived. You hide your eye roll, seen only by your youngest cat, Mittens.

If only you'd had more time to prepare, here are some things you could have done to make Lance's visit more comfortable:

Steps you can take

  • Thoroughly dust and vacuum. The primary way to provide your guest with natural cat allergy relief is to reduce the presence of allergens. When you vacuum, use an allergen-proof vacuum cleaner bag or a vacuum cleaner with a high-efficiency particulate arresting (HEPA) filter.
  • Create a safe room for your allergic guest. Change all the linens, washing all sheets and towels in hot water, and keep the room cat-free for at least a day before someone like Lance arrives. Wood floors harbor less dander than carpets, but if you must have carpeting in the cat-free room, choose one with a low pile and steam clean often.Toss throw rugs into the wash and clean with hot water. Lance might be sanctioned to this room for his entire stay, even when eating his turkey, but it's better than sneezing all over his girlfriend's family.
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    Choose litter carefully. Even the cleanest litter box can still contain allergens, so use a brand of litter that is less dusty. 
  • Prepare to deal drugs. Your visitor may or may not have taken something in preparation for their visit, and they may or may not be comfortable with the idea of taking something at all. However, having antihistamines on hand is never a bad idea, just in case. There are plenty of inexpensive options for cat allergy medication over the counter. 

This allergy shouldn’t fall completely on your shoulders, though. Here are some things Lance could have done in preparation when entering cat territory:

Steer clear of upholstered furniture. This is a dander danger zone in households with cats. Hard wooden chairs can't hold onto as many cat allergens, so you're better off taking a seat there. 

Medicate yourself. Non-drowsy antihistamines like loratadine (Claritin) can help keep you symptom-free. If you're planning a visit to a home with cats, you may even want to ask your allergist about starting medication a few weeks beforehand. 

Keep your hands to yourself. Tempted to try to fit in as a cat person in hopes of being accepted by your girlfriend's family? Don't do it. This is not a “fake it until you make it” situation. Even a quick scratch behind the ears can trigger an allergic reaction. If you find yourself doing this, wash your hands with soap and hot water as soon as possible afterward.

Clear the air. If you know the cat owner doesn't have a HEPA air purifier in the room where you'll be staying, you may want to consider investing in a small portable one for under $200. But an even cheaper option might be to simply opt for a nearby hotel. After all, there are plenty of hotels with no animal policies so you’re guaranteed a fur-free zone.

Stop being allergic. All kidding aside, some doctors claim you can build up a tolerance. Cat parlors provide a public space to get coffee and scones while surfing the net, all in the company of several cats just begging to be petted, played with, or admired from afar. I personally used to have a cat allergy, but my stubborn insistence on playing with the irresistible fur balls eventually made it possible for me to cuddle them face-first without repercussions.

Alternatively, immunotherapy involves getting allergy shots once or twice weekly for up to six months, then monthly boosters for three to five years. Some individuals develop complete immunity, while others continue to need shots. Others find no relief at all. 


If you’re in the market for a cat but you or someone close to you has allergies to contend with, you could narrow your search to certain breeds. Here are the top three cat breeds that have less of the two common allergens – Fel d 1 protein in their saliva and dander – than others.

Bengal

A cross between a domestic cat and an Asian Leopard, the Bengal is a stunning breed with a leopard spotted coat and hypoallergenic properties. Be prepared to pay handsomely for this kitty though; they usually start around $2,000 and can go up to $5,000.

A Bengal is not the kind of cat you can leave at home with basic cat toys. He will need to be walked every day or spoiled with an extensive gym area for daily cardio workouts. Bengals are not cuddlers.

Sphynx

Not into hair? You might think the Sphynx is for you, but contrary to common belief, hairless cats are not the most hypoallergenic. Remember, it’s not the hair, but the dander and saliva that cause allergic reactions. However, this cat is low on the allergy scale. It has quite the personality, but is not as hypoallergenic as a Siamese.

Rex Breeds

The closest you can get to totally hairless cats that are hypoallergenic are the Cornish Rex and Devon Rex. Two breeds with very short, curly coats, they have an especially energetic personality.

However, no cat breed is 100% hypoallergenic. 

There are a lot of things you can do to accommodate someone with a cat allergy, but maybe the real question should be, are humans actually worth all this trouble? If someone is so allergic to cats that it's going to make them extremely uncomfortable to be around your babies, maybe this year it's finally time for THEM to make the turkey.