Tales of Happy Tails: Cats & Allergies – a personal story
As cat owners, we can confidently say that they are the best pets ever and our life would not be nearly as joyful without them. But if you are allergic to cats, we can attest to the fact that it can be a challenge to live with them. Having any kind of allergy can be frustrating — being allergic to something living in your home can be even worse. But just because you’re allergic to cats doesn’t always mean you can never own one. So this is why we asked Felix, proud father of Hecktor and Marie (superstars at Happy Tails) to tell us how is like to have cats if you are allergic to them. He’s german, but was kind enough to share his experience in English. Enjoy the love story!
„You have a severe cat allergy“, the doctor told me. „What‘s an allergy?“, I asked, my nine year old self had never heard the term before. „It means that you get sick, whenever you get close to a cat.“ Before the doctor had finished this last sentence, I had begun to cry. This is how my story with cats ended, I thought. I had loved cats, all pets really, always, since before I could form a coherent sentence in my head. My family had a dog, a rabbit, a guinea pig, even a horse who lived at a stable, a few kilometres from my home who we‘d visit regularly. And thanks to my infatutation with ninja Turtles, we even had two turtles at the time. Yes, I was certainly spoiled in that regard, supported by parents who both loved animals and had the means to take care of them. They also served as an educational tool for my brother and me, feeding them, cleaning their habitats, loving them even when they acted out. I never had enough.
What we were missing were cats. So when a classmate of mine told me, her family had just had kittens, the begging started. I asked my mother if we could add one or two kittens to our family. She didn‘t seem excited at the time but muttered an uninspired „We‘ll see“. From experience I knew, „We‘ll see“ was an open door with my mother, and persistence would certainly pay off. Pestering her with information about the kittens I wanted, where they could stay, how good they‘d get along with our dog and that I‘d take good care of them, eventually led to her asking questions. Another good sign, the damn was broken. „Who‘s that classmate of yours?“, „How many kittens do they have?“, „Where are they going to sleep and who‘s cleaning their toilet every day?“. My mother seemed satisfied with my answers. Shortly after, Max and Kraul came to live with us.
Fast forward two weeks. I was lying on the couch in the living room, fighting for air to enter my lungs and get out again. I felt weak, sick and started to become desperate. When my parents entered the room, saw my labored breathing turning from an inconvenience into a struggle, my blue lips and tired eyes, my father picked my up and drove my to a hospital. Crying over needles, waiting for tests, swallowing pills while living of flavorless food at unusual times…. I‘m not sure if they were particularly dilligent in their tests or if I was so low priority, they just took their time. Either way, after three days the doctor told me my diagnosis and I was devastated. The kittens or me, one of us had to move out.
Overruling my brother‘s vote, the kittens were given to distant friends, living about 30 minutes from my home. I probably could have tried to visit, see them from the distance. But my heart was broken, as cheesy as this sounds and I stayed away from cats from there on out. A few times over the next years, I dared to visit friends who had cats living with them. Once or twice that got me back into a hospital but over time, things got better. Or less worse. If my exposure was limited, I‘d only get hayfever like symptoms, a runny nose, teary eyes and it would take some time, until the obstruction of my lungs would set in. Medication also helped. Emergency asthma spray became available, anti-histamines delayed or reduced the effects but never held them entirely at bay. I became a „dog person“, even though deep down, I knew that you either love animals or you don‘t, you may favor one for practical reasons but if you love dogs, you love cats and vice-versa.
Fast forward to my mid-thirties. My girlfriend has a cat, I‘m allergic. So whenever I‘m spending time at her place, high doses of anti-histamines are required, cortisol for emergency as well as my asthma spray. It works but it ain‘t great. And I‘m reminded by the fact, that I hate living without a pet but a dog doesn‘t make sense with my work-schedule etc.. My girlfriend spends most of the time at my place, hayfever is more prevalent because of the catfur on her clothes but it‘smanageable.
The new chapter started about 19 months ago. A new colleague of mine invited the small team of coworkers for coffee, cake and strategy to her private home. Pleasant company and many work related things to discuss, I stayed there for four hours until suddenly, something brushed up between my legs. A baby leopard, meaning a big, beautiful bengal cat was asking for my attention. He must‘ve thought I‘d never seen a cat before because I marbled at him for a while, impressed by his beauty but also confused. Why isn‘t my allergy acting up? I mentioned this to my colleague and she just brushed it off with „Yeah, many people aren‘t allergic to bengals.“. I started to pet her bengal (Noah) and he didn‘t seem to mind. Neither did my immune system. In my mind I made a quick inventory of the emergency medications I had in my car. There were plenty. So I picked up Noah, held him in front of my face and inhaled deeply. It felt silly, probably looked even sillier but aside from a weak scent of cat smell mixed with dry food, I didn‘t feel anything.
A lot of google research followed. Some people claim that some cat breeds don‘t cause allergies for some people. There is no conclusive scientific data on that but it’s definitely more than just a few cases. From what I understand it all depends on whichenzymes the cat produces and which one you‘re allergic too. Some say it‘s the saliva, some say it‘s the fur, some say it‘s both. I gave up on getting a definite answer to that and quite frankly, I don‘t care. There was a possibility I could have a cat! Several sleepless nights later, where I had investigated everything there is to know about bengals, I started looking for a breeder. Less than 12 hours later, I met a three week old kitten, whom I raised slowly to my face while he was resting in the palm of my hand. No allergies.
Current situation: I‘m writing this, sitting on my kitchen table. Hektor, as he became called, is sitting on the chair next to me, washing. His sister Marie -a Norwegian-Siberian mix, both breeds that also produce less of that enzyme that produces allergies- is snacking in the living room, I can hear her munching. We just came back from a little walk, they‘re indoor cats but with the help of an harness, they get to see and smell the outside world too.
It wasn‘t an easy road, the first weeks with Hektor, I still had some allergy symptoms. Not the really bad kind but enough to freak me out and make me wonder, if I had made a huge mistake. But as he grew older, the symptoms subsided, baby kittens produce more of those enzymes and even less, once the cat is castrated. For 25 years of my life, I loved cats but couldn‘t be close to them. Now they‘re the best room mates I ever had. I could be sad that I didn‘t grow up with them, annoyed by all the inconveniences that my allergy brought on over the years. But the one word I can think of when I look at my kittens, my spoiled, beautiful and fun little kittens is grateful.