Having a feline housemate or two doesn’t have to mean closing your doors to visitors with cat allergies. It does mean that you should think about doing a bit of additional prep before playing host.
Make allergy-prone guests more comfortable with our pointers and expert advice from Dr. David Rosenstreich, chief of the Division of Allergy & Immunology at Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.
Though giving your cat regular baths can reduce allergens on their fur by up to 84 percent, studies have shown that you’d have to bathe your cats every two or three days to get those results, and baths can’t control the allergens released once they go back to grooming themselves. Makers of anti-dander topical solutions such as Allerpet claim that they can reduce the effect of pet allergens, but there isn’t much recent data to support that, and “it’s not clear to me that those really work,” Dr. Rosenstreich says.
Thanks to oil glands on their heads and necks, cats have especially high concentrations of allergens in those areas — and every piece of furniture they twine around or human they head-butt helps to get their dander circulating around your home all over again. The most effective way to keep your little buddies from aggravating your guests’ allergies is to isolate them for the duration of the visit — with everything they need to be comfortable, of course.
As allergens go, Dr. Rosenstreich explains, particles of pet dander are far smaller than dust particles–think five microns in diameter (a micron is one millionth of a meter) versus 20 microns in diameter. That means that they circulate easily and tend to remain airborne, and that the best way to deconcentrate them is to provide as much ventilation as possible by opening windows and using fans. Soft floor coverings such as carpets harbor 13 times the allergens you’ll find on surfaces like hardwood, so roll up and remove area rugs wherever you can, then run your vacuum (a model with a HEPA filter will remove 99.97 percent of all particles 0.3 microns in diameter or larger from your environment) or use a wet or static mop to clean the floor (dander is water-soluble). Avoid dry tools such as brooms and feather dusters, which will just kick those tiny dander particles back into the air.
An over-the-counter antihistamine is worth its weight in gold for an allergy-prone guest who didn’t take one before they arrived at Cat Central (though if you can warn them to do so 40 minutes before they come over, so much the better). Non-sedating products such as Allegra, Zyrtec, and Claritin “are all equally potent,” Dr. Rosenstreich notes. He adds that Allegra’s active ingredient, fexofenadine, offers an optimal balance of potency without drowsiness. (On the drowsiness-to-jitteriness spectrum, Zyrtec is associated more with the former, Claritin with the latter.)
The artificial scents and other chemicals in commercial allergen-reducing room-and-furniture sprays have the potential to be just as irritating to people who react to cat dander as the dander itself, especially if their pet allergies trigger allergic bronchitis or asthma. There’s also little evidence that active ingredients such as tannic acid can truly “denature” (or render inactive) the products in dander; a 2012 research roundup cited by the National Institutes of Health reported that topical treatments haven’t been proven to significantly reduce the health effects of cat exposure. In other words, “room freshener” spray isn’t likely to do any good, and it could make your guest feel even worse.
Experts are divided on whether or not portable air purifiers can provide consistent relief from allergens and environmental pollutants (because they aren’t considered medical devices, they aren’t regulated by the FDA), but if you’ve got one, turn it on before your guests arrive (and after you’ve closed your windows and doors; Dr. Rosenstreich notes that air purifiers are only effective in closed spaces). If nothing else, they’ll know you’ve gone the extra mile to welcome them — which is, of course, the hallmark of a gracious host.
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About the author: Lauren Oster is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She and her husband share an apartment on the Lower East Side with Steve and Matty, two Siamese-ish cats. She doesn’t leave home without a book or two, a handful of plastic animals, Icelandic licorice mints, and her camera. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram.