Depending on the severity of the allergy and the willingness of owner and cat to carry out elaborate hygiene routines, it may be possible to keep both pet and spouse.
In fact, most veterinarians the cat’s own hygienic standards are a big part of the problem.
A specific protein in its saliva and skin glands seems to be the leading culprit in allergic reactions.
A conscientious cat licks and grooms its entire body, coating almost every hair, and its dander as well, with the saliva. When the hair is shed and blows about the room, saliva particles can be breathed in.
If the result is the wheezing of asthma, either cat or spouse needs a new home, as continued reexposure to allergens worsens the inflammation; the allergens can take months to disappear after the cat is gone.
But if the cat’s presence or contact with the cat merely brings itching, red eyes and sneezing, it may be possible to contain the allergen and make a ménage à trois possible.
First, clean the cat. The nonallergic spouse should comb the cat frequently, from head to toe. using a fine-tooth flea comb.
All the fur should be combed three times in two directions, first in the direction that it grows, then backward, then smooth again. This preempts the hair that would fall out and bother the victim. Damp-mop the cat daily with a wrung-out sponge.
Some authorities also recommend washing the cat with special nondrying feline shampoos, but the latest tests are inconclusive about whether this works. Some experts even recommend an antistatic rinse twice a month, using a teaspoon of liquid fabric softener in a quart of water.
Second, clean the house. Rugs, floors and furniture should be vacuumed often.
Third, create a pet-free zone. Most importantly, the cat should be kept out of the bedroom at all times, because sleeping with leftover fur for eight hours constitutes severe exposure. High-efficiency air filters and particle precipitators can also help.
The allergic person’s doctor should be consulted about the use of antihistamines, decongestants and possibly new kinds of desensitization therapy.
These treatments are based on isolating the specific protein that brings about allergic reactions, then injecting increasing amounts of component molecules to turn off the patient’s exaggerated immune response.