“I love cats. They keep me in business.”- Anonymous allergist
Cat dander is probably the single most potent sensitizer of the airways. Felis domesticus, the common house cat, secretes a protein in its saliva and skin glands that is very tenacious in an indoor environment. Even with removal of a cat from a home, it can take months for cat dander levels to fall to normal background levels.
It’s not just homes with cats that are the problem, however. Cat dander is much more prevalent than most people realize. Studies have shown significant cat dander levels in subways, department stores, and even in brand new plastic-wrapped mattresses. Cat dander is the number one cause of asthma exacerbations at schools, where kids with cat sensitivity are forced into close proximity with kids toting large amounts of cat dander on their clothes.
So what can we do about cat dander? In my decade or so of practicing allergy, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of people who got rid of their cat. And why would you? Pets are an integral part of many families, mine included. It’s the allergists job to fix the problem so you can live the life you want rather than requiring you to change your lifestyle to fit the problem!
Many people laugh at the idea of washing the cat regularly. Apparently cats have claws and many are not afraid to use them when confronted with water. Nevertheless, washing a cat with regualrity is the most effective method of reducing indoor cat dander levels. A HEPA filter in the bedroom can also reduce cat dander levels in the place where you spend the most time.
The reality is, though, that most cat-allergic cat owners wind up going on allergy shots to reduce their sensitivity. Even though the shots work less well when the cat remains in the home, they still are more effective than medications at reducing the sensitivity to cats.