Ask Dr. Richards: 05/05

Although Im allergic to cats, I share my home with a black tabby named Buddy. While my allergist is helping me with my allergy problems, Im looking for ways that I can live more comfortably with a cat in my house. Is there anything I can do in my house or with my cat to reduce my allergy symptoms? 

Fel d 1 is a protein produced by various parts of a cats body, including the anal sacs, salivary glands and sebaceous glands of the skin. Its the major feline allergen (that is, the substance capable of invoking an allergic response) that causes problems in allergic people. Fel d 1 is released into the environment on tiny flecks of dander and microscopic particles, and it can remain in the environment for months to years. Its ubiquitous in indoor areas. Many public schools, offices, transit vehicles and homes – even those where cats have never been present – contain Fel d 1 at levels troublesome to allergic people. 

Staying below the threshold
Allergists sometimes use the term rain barrel effect to describe the way allergic people are able to tolerate certain levels of allergen.  A barrel can hold just so much water: add any more and the barrel overflows.  So, too, the allergic person has a threshold, and any amount above it leads to an allergic reaction. Many people who are allergic to Fel d 1 are also allergic to other substances that are common in homes, such as molds, pollens and dust mites. So keeping the exposure to all allergens – not just Fel d 1, but all the others to which a person is allergic – below the threshold is the key to comfortably living with a cat. The website of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology ( contains a wealth of information for allergy sufferers. Their article, Tips to Remember: Indoor Allergens can be found at ( and contains suggestions on controlling common indoor allergens.

Less rain in the barrel
In no particular order, the following steps have allowed many allergy sufferers to keep their kitties:

Consult with your allergist/immunologist on ways to control all your allergies.

Keep the number of cats in the house to a minimum: fewer cats, less Fel d 1.

Spay or neuter. Unaltered males and females produce more allergen.

Bathe the cat or thoroughly rinse him with warm water every two weeks. Study results are conflicting, but this appears to be helpful in some cases.

At all times, keep cats out of the rooms – especially bedrooms – where allergy sufferers spend most of their time. 

Do not let cats sleep on the bed! 

Keep closet doors closed.

Enlist a non-allergy sufferer for house cleaning duty when possible; if you must do the cleaning, consider wearing a filter mask and wash your hands afterwards.


Minimize the amount of carpeting and upholstered furniture, especially in rooms where allergic people spend the most time (e.g., the bedroom and living room). These types of surfaces entrap allergen. Vacuuming will not remove Fel d 1 deep within the carpet and upholstery and may, in fact, kick more of it up into the air. Vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters should help to minimize this. 

If carpeting is a must, install a type that is most easily freed of allergen. Carpeting with low pile height and density, fluorocarbon coated fiber and high denier per filament is best in this regard. 

If upholstery is a must, consider using impermeable covers that can be wet-wiped weekly.

Easy-to-clean hard-surfaced floors throughout the house (vinyl, linoleum, tile or hardwood) are best.

Vacuum and wet-mop floors weekly. 

Wet-wipe walls and dust all furniture surfaces using furniture spray (it helps trap allergen) weekly. 

Wash bedding weekly.  Use hot water (130F) to deactivate Fel d 1.

Cover mattresses and pillows with airtight plastic or allergen-proof covers and wipe weekly.

Do not rub your eyes or touch your face immediately after handling your cat; wash your hands first. Oh, and avoid face-to-face contact with your cat. (I know, its not always easy…)

Minimize your exposure to respiratory irritants like tobacco smoke and cleaning products with strong fumes. Use the most dust-free litterbox filler possible.  Enlist a non-allergy sufferer to clean the box if possible; if you do it, wear a filter mask and wash your hands afterwards.

Sadly, these measures wont be sufficient for all allergic cat lovers.  The severity of their symptoms may simply not allow them to live with a cat, no matter how hard they try.