We have five rescue cats and we found out after adopting them that my husband is allergic to cats so here are all measures we take to manage his allergies and make him comfortable living around our cats.
I should note that it is lucky coincidence that the design choices we personally love (minimal decor, no clutter, etc) perfectly align with the most allergen-free type of household so we do not sacrifice these things for the allergy situation because even without allergies, we’d make the same choices anyways.
Also, I’m not a scientist or medical professional so everything here is just sharing our own opinions and personal experience, nothing more. Also it’s worth noting what type of allergic reaction my husband has to cats: he basically starts sneezing around cats and his nose gets quite stuffy. He does not have asthma or trouble breathing, his allergy is not life threatening, and he doesn’t have a physical reaction either (no red eyes or hives etc). So we were already starting with something manageable, it was just about going the extra couple miles to make his day-to-day “normal” even though we have a house full of cats.
- HEPA FILTER. This is the biggest thing we did. We have a whole-house HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter installed as part of our furnace set-up that filters all the air in our house and one of the things it traps is pet dander which is the cause of most allergies.
- HEPA FILTER VACUUMS. All our vacuums have HEPA filters, which greatly help remove the allergens from our home. This is our cordless handheld vacuum: Amazon | Walmart. We also have 2 robot vacuums with HEPA filters. Robot vacuum #1: Walmart | Home Depot (manual disposal). Robot vacuum #2: Walmart | Home Depot (automatic disposal).
- REGULAR GROOMING. This is the most important step. Without this, the whole allergy-controlling system falls apart. I groom all our cats every other day, with no exceptions. I use this tool (Amazon) and it takes very little time, probably about 3-5 minutes for all 3 cats total (our kittens don’t shed yet but when they start it might take 6-7 mins total which is still not much) and the way I remember to groom them is that it’s the last thing I do before bed. I also groom them in their Cat Room so that I’m not releasing a bunch of fur fluff into the house air. Grooming makes a HUGE impact — like seriously, if I miss a day, my husband will start sneezing the next day. But if I stay on top of my every-other-day grooming routing, no sneezing. Very important: do not hold your cat down to groom them and do not force grooming on them. Since grooming is such a regular part of their lives, it MUST be a pleasant and positive experience. So just make sure they’re in a calm state (after a play) and in a non-stressful, quiet, but smaller environment they’re comfortable in. Let them move around you and just follow them. I usually just sit in their cat room and they alternately come up to me and I groom whoever is in front of me. Sometimes, one cat gets groomed a bit more than others in one session but over time it evens out so I don’t worry about it. I focus on their backs from their neck to the base of their tail and the top of the sides of their back. This is where the most shedding comes from so don’t worry about grooming every square inch of their bodies. This regular grooming basically gets the loose hairs off them in a controlled setting and environment and keeps them from falling off on your floors and furniture and also keeps it out of your air.
- WIPE THE CATS DOWN. I do this with a damp microfiber cloth that I let them sniff first so it’s not a surprise to them then I gently drape the cloth over the back of their neck and wipe it down their body towards their tail in the same direction as their fur. This is something I do every morning and it just helps remove any surface dander. It’s not as invasive as giving them a bath and it only helps short term (which is why I do it each day), but if you’re respectful in how you do this it can become a little routine your cat quite enjoys. Our cats all gather around when I get the cloth out and wait their turn to be wiped down because it’s become something fun and enjoyable to them. Make sure you just use clean (ideally filtered) water – no scents, no products, no chemicals, etc.
- DIET. Your cat’s diet can affect their skin which in turn can affect how allergic you are to them. We feed an allergen-reducing food called LiveClear (here’s the link for it: Petco) – you can research it, but there’s real science behind the formula that neutralizes the allergens. I’ve also heard that a fully raw diet (for the cat) can do wonders for reducing allergies. We’ve never done this with our cats, but we used to feed our dog fully raw and it was amazing how much of a difference that made.
- REGULAR VACUUMING. I have vacuuming routines in place that cover our whole house and help keep it free from hair and dander. I do our stairs every other day, I do a quick vacuum around our main floor every day (they spend most time here) and I also vacuum their cat room daily. Then I vacuum the rest of the house (we have 4 floors) on rotation. Note: we do not have a cleaning service, but I don’t spend more than about 10-15 mins daily cleaning so as long as you’re efficient with routines, it doesn’t have to be a big deal. And this is the vacuum I use: Amazon | Walmart.
- HARD SURFACES. We have almost no fabric material in our home. Luckily we love a minimal aesthetic so this styling falls directly in line with what we would choose even if hubby wasn’t allergic, but basically we have leather furniture, no curtains, no rugs, no carpeting, etc. Fabric, rugs, and carpets trap and hold allergens and eliminating these from the home make a space where allergens can’t just sink in and hang out. We do have fabric barstool seats and decorative pillows etc so it’s not like we’re insanely strict about this but the no rugs, no carpeting, and no curtains is a really big help. For our Living Room Sources, click here.
- MINIMALISM. We’re very minimal by nature. We dislike clutter and this luckily is perfect for keeping a house allergen free because it makes it easy to clean the house. It’s so much easier to vacuum or dust if you’re not moving around a bajillion items. I naturally do decorate our home seasonally but I’m very intentional about the items I pick and I rotate them so that I never have too much “out” at once. The more minimal you keep your house, the easier it is to clean. I have written a whole detailed post on: Minimalism: How to Get Started if you want to know more about this.
- HAND WASHING. My husband rarely touches our cats and never holds them. While he doesn’t have a physical allergic reaction to them, still if he touches them with his hand then touches his face, it’ll trigger sneezing so he’s careful to wash his hands anytime after he touches them and, because that can get annoying, he just doesn’t touch them much. This doesn’t stop him from interacting with them. He’ll play with them with toys and they can lie down beside him for side-by-side no-touching snuggles which honestly makes most cats pretty happy.
- BOUNDARIES. The one place in our house our cats are not allowed free access to is sleeping bedrooms. It’s really important to keep where an allergic person sleeps as a safe haven. Plus, I just don’t have the energy to keep on top of the level of cleaning I’d need to do if the cats were in there all the time. So we keep them out of these spaces and they really don’t mind at all. The guest bedroom is the exception in our house and see the next step for how I deal with that:
- BED COVERS. I use these light-weight quilts (Overstock) as bed covers that go over all the bedding. They’re pretty, minimal, and act as a protective shield keeping the cats and their dander away from the duvet etc. I do this because it’s so much easier to just toss this quiltlet in the wash than it is to do all the bedding every time a cat naps on the bed. I use these in all our bedrooms as well just as an extra protection. I mean, it can’t hurt, and they’re beautiful too. Win win!
- LAUNDRY. I never wear any clothing I’ve touched the cats with to bed. I have a separate drawer for sleeping clothes and this prevents any transfer of allergens from clothing to sleeping area.
- NETI POT. Sorry if this might seem gross but it’s real life so I’m sharing. My husband does a nasal rinse twice a day. He finds it helps him a LOT and he just uses salt water. I think this is the neti pot he has: Amazon, but as you can see there are a ton of different options: Amazon.
- MEDICATION. My husband has allergy meds which he does NOT take regularly but he has on hand so if he does start sneezing, he can take one and it’ll clear up his symptoms for 24 hours. It’s a last resort but he probably takes about 1 or 2 per month. They’re good to have on hand just in case, however, the measures we take listed above usually eliminate the need for any medication.
- ROBOT VACUUMS. I’m putting this towards the end because it’s not a “necessary” step, but it is something we’ve recently found has made a big difference in very specifically removing cat hair from the floors of our house (further to normal vacuuming) – like it gets the stuff you don’t even see. I would say that if you live in a smaller house where you can easily vacuum every single bit of your floors in one go, then it’s probably not worth it to get one of these but in our situation, we have a lot of floorspace and while we have no problems with day-to-day cleaning, we were shocked (and frankly horrified) at specifically how much cat hair these roombas were able to get off our floors. Like I thought we were keeping our house clean before but apparently not! I’ll be honest, they’re not great at “normal” vacuuming (like cleaning spills, or crumbs, etc so in my opinion they’re not the kind of tool you can rely on to “take over” cleaning your house) but they’re amazing for getting cat hair off the floors so in our house we use them specifically as cat allergen controllers, otherwise we probably wouldn’t have them. We have 2 different styles of these robot vacuums for different parts of our house because of our layout. First is this one: Walmart | Home Depot (regular vacuum with manual disposal I change daily). Second is this: Walmart | Home Depot (automatic disposal).
- BATHS DON’T HELP. We do not bathe our cats. Cats are naturally very clean. They spend more time cleaning themselves a day than humans do so they don’t usually need our help to stay clean. And even if you bath them to remove the allergens, it just returns a few days later. Plus as a general rule cats dislike getting wet and bathing them is a stressful process (for you and the cat). And then you just have to repeat the whole awful process not to mention that washing them regularly can dry out their skin so I don’t think it’s worth it. So in my opinion, if you groom them regularly and wipe them down, and you do the other tips I mentioned above, then bathing isn’t necessary.
So these methods are how we deal with having a house full of cats and someone who is allergic to cats living in the same space. It’s taken a lot of trial and error but I’m happy to say that we’re finally at a place where we’ve created a home in which our allergic person can live with our cats with minimal issues.
Please note that this list is only what has worked for us and our allergy situation. There is no guarantee that these measures will work for a different person in a different situation. No two allergies are the same so no two solutions will be directly transferable. But these are definitely tips to consider or try!
If you’re unsure whether you’re allergic to cats, consider visiting your local shelter and ask to spend some time in one of the adult cat rooms. This is a win-win because it gives some shelter kitties a bit of love while allowing you to see if you’re allergic to them without bringing a cat home without knowing. Be sure you interact with adult cats over a year old, not kittens. Sometimes kittens don’t trigger allergies the same way cats do. This is not always true, but it’s best to ‘allergy test’ yourself with adult cats to be sure.
If you find out that you’re allergic to adult cats, consider visiting your local shelter and asking to specifically interact with some young kittens only (under 4 months old) because kittens don’t always trigger “cat allergies”. For example, my husband did not show any signs of being allergic to our cats until they grew in their adult coat. So if you’re not allergic to kittens but really love cats, then the good news is that you can sign up to be a foster with your shelter! This means you’ll provide a temporary home and care for kittens who either need socialization or who are too young to be adopted. Your shelter will have more information. But this could be an amazing way to save lives, be around kittens, but avoid allergies.
Given everything you’ve read above, if you’re curious about the types of furniture we chose to use due, check out the following links:
- Whole house sources: click here
- Living room sources: click here
- Kitchen sources: click here
- Master bedroom sources: click here
- Guest bedroom sources: click here
More cat-related posts that might help: