Girlfriend moving in, she's allergic to my cat

Originally Published: December 16, 1994 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: October 2, 2009
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I am very much in love with my girlfriend. She would like to come live with me next summer (between semesters), but I have a cat and she is allergic. I was thinking that if I kept the house well vacuumed, and bought an air filter, gave the cat baths, or something, it might help. Do you have any suggestions? I love them both, neither more than the other, but I don't know what to do. Thanks.

—Friend of Cat

Dear Friend of Cat,

Your intentions are all for the right things. Namely:

  • loving your girlfriend and wanting her to be healthy,
  • loving your cat and wanting to take good care of it,
  • and taking actions that will help the three of you live peaceably together.

Allergies to household pets are quite common. Those allergic to cats and dogs often experience swelling and itching of the membranes, like a congested itchy noses and inflamed, watery eyes. The best treatment for allergies is to remove the allergen, which is in this case the cats, but if that is not something you want to do there are other steps you can take. Some allergy prevention steps you can take are:

  • Giving your cat a bath each week and brushing it more frequently (ideally, a non-allergic person should do this).
  • Keeping cats out of your bedroom and other sleeping areas.
  • Removing carpets and plush home decor, like pillows (these collect animal allergens).
  • Using a vacuum cleaner and room air cleaners with HEPA filters.
  • Wearing a face mask while house- and cat cleaning (if the allergic person is doing the cleaning).
    Adapted from Airborne Allergens by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

If these methods don't help enough to keep your girlfriend's eyes dry and nose un-dripping, she can try taking over-the-counter or prescription allergy medicine. Antihistamines and topical nasal steroids tend to be very effective, though decongestant nose drops and sprays should not be used for more than a few days. If these treatments are ineffective, your girlfriend can also try immunotherapy, or allergy shots, that reduce allergy symptoms over a longer period of time. However if you are only living together for the summer, this might take a longer time to work than you have together. If your girlfriend and your cats are both stable and continuous elements in your life, this might be a great long-term solution. You could also try calling your veterinarian and see if s/he has additional suggestions for dealing with pet allergies.

If medicines are ineffective or un-desirable, it might be necessary to consider prioritizing either your girlfriend or your cat. Perhaps you could find friends who would be happy to have your cat stay with them for the summer? Or your girlfriend could rent her own place and you could spend time with her there? Relationships are always full of compromises, and the ability to find creative solutions that work for everyone is one of the many skills individuals in long-term relationships learn well.