I'm Tired Of Feeling Vaguely Apologetic for Being Allergic to Your Pets

It’s not that difficult to implement a few lifestyle changes to make an allergic pal or significant other more comfortable.
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Publish date:
March 31, 2015
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health, pets, allergies, How-To, Pet Allergies, Visitors

Isn’t it hilarious how, when someone who’s allergic to cats comes over to your place, the cat always goes straight for them? It’s like it knows! It just wants to make friends! That’s so cute!

No. Stop it. Stop it right now. Pick up your damn cat, and put it somewhere else.

My name is Sara, and I’m allergic to so many things (when my test came back, the doc summed it up as, “You’re basically allergic to everything except food”). Pollen and dust are big ones. Tops, though, is animal dander. All cats -- yep, even the hairless and supposedly hypoallergenic ones -- and some, but thankfully not all, dogs.

I'm also allergic to horses and their ilk, which is less of a problem in everyday life (and also once got me out of having to ride down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon on a mule). I'm allergic to ferrets, hamsters, bunnies and guinea pigs. Never gotten to touch a sloth, but I’m not optimistic.

I’m here to have a little talk with you on behalf of the millions of other people (15% of Americans, according to a recent report) who are allergic to your adorable pets. We’ve been sniffling stoically for too long.

You know how it feels when you have a cold? The runny nose, the constant feeling you’re about to sneeze, the watery eyes? How’d you like to come down with one every time you walked into the home of a pet-owning friend? If your friend had some magical and easy way of making you NOT catch a cold, wouldn’t you be kind of pissed if they didn’t?

Because I’m tired of feeling like a killjoy when I avoid touching, or actively inch away from, animals I know will make me sneeze or itch. Our culture is pet-centric like never before -- what is the Internet really for, if not videos of kitties trying to fit into boxes? -- and, thus, not being able to hang with some people’s pets IRL seems to have ends up being treated like a character flaw.

It’s not. It’s a medical condition, and I’d love for you to treat it like one. God knows we spend enough time on food allergies; these days, the world will cater to whatever culinary sensitivity you can dish out. Being allergic to animals, on the other hand, is the opposite of trendy.

I grew up in the ’80s, a time when allergy testing wasn’t really a big thing. We always had a cat, and I always had a “cold.” My childhood friends can attest that I left a constant trail of Kleenex wherever I went, which you can only imagine is a wildly attractive quality. It wasn’t until I moved into the blissfully pet-free zone of a college dorm that I began to glimpse the joy of a life lived without a neverending stream of snot.

Fast forward to today, when I once again live with both a cat and a dog. I blame love: My boyfriend Todd had them when we met. Actually, he had two cats, one of which dropped dead about a week after we met; I think he still suspects I ginned up some sort of allergic-person sorcery. (She was terrifyingly longhaired, but I swear I had nothing to do with the demise of his beloved Schmoopy.)

I moved in with him in January, and I’ve since been navigating the tricky business of co-catbitation.

Here’s how I cope: I’m on four kinds of allergy medication (Zyrtec, prescription antihistamine and two different nasal sprays), and I maintain a healthy distance from Georgia, our elderly, cantankerous and possibly senile feline. I give her treats and verbal salutations, and Todd provides all the cuddles. We vacuum often.

Our dog, Soupcan Pete, is less of a problem; a coonhound/beagle mix, he’s sleek and shorthaired and doesn’t make me sneeze at all. Which is the best thing ever, because I adore snuggling him (and playing the banjo for him, because is a hound dog).

I’m sure I would love cuddling Georgia too, in theory, but I just can’t. So I don’t. And I’m OK with that.

Per my doctor’s recommendation, the cat is not allowed in our bedroom. Occasionally, Todd will slip and give me a guilt trip about this (“She’s gonna die soon! She’s so lonely out there!”) To which I can only say, Dude, she’s a cat. She’s nocturnal. She can handle it.

I’m sorry if that sounds cold-hearted, but I’ve spent my whole life feeling vaguely apologetic about being allergic, and I’m kind of done with that. It’s not that difficult to implement a few lifestyle changes to make an allergic pal or significant other more comfortable.

To boil it down:

1. When hosting, find out whether any of your guests are allergic to whatever type of pet(s) you have. Same goes for dating and hooking up; I’d assume the person would eventually mention it, but on a first or second date they might be embarrassed.

2. If you are indeed having an allergic person over, vacuum and/or lint-roll pieces of furniture they’re likely to sit on. Not only does this make them less likely to breathe in fur and dander, it also makes them less likely to bring some home with them. (If you live in a small apartment, regular vacuuming is KEY. If you’re in a bigger apartment or a house, at least in my experience, the dander seems to get more widely dispersed and isn’t quite as virulent.)

3. If your pet is the sheddy type, lint-roll yourself before you leave the house. There are some people who are so doused in cat hair they make my eyes water and my nose itch just to be near them.

4. If your cat or dog is the friendly type, verbally check in to see if it’s OK before letting them get all up in your friend’s business. A lot of us are too polite to ask you to call them off, or we don’t want to seem uptight or like we don’t like pets. (Most of us do. Some of us don’t. Really, it’s irrelevant.)

5. Particularly if you have multiple pets, it might be nice to keep a supply of Benadryl. If you a guest suddenly become sneezy, offer one. (Fun party/family gathering tip: Benadryl plus booze gets you druuuunk.)

6. If you’re living, or about to move in, with a roommate or partner who’s allergic, sit down and talk about how you’ll handle the pet situation. Don’t expect the other person to just dose up on meds and be OK with whatever. Because that is rude.

7. Designate certain areas of the house or apartment as pet-free, if the allergic person needs a non-hairy space to escape to. Maybe this means buying a kiddie gate, or keeping a door closed where you previously didn’t have to. Hey, life is about compromise.

Hopefully, the benefit of having said allergic person in your life will outweigh the inconvenience of your cat or dog not having the full run of the place anymore. As mentioned before, they’re pets (and, I’m assuming, because you xoJane’ers are good folks, well-cared-for pets at that). They will adjust. And our non-sneezy selves will be ever so grateful you took our stupid allergies into consideration.

Yes, we think they suck too, but you gotta play the genetic hand you’re dealt. At least it’s not gluten -- ‘tis a far better thing, in my opinion, to have to avoid cats than cookies.