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What is the Best Antihistamine for Cat Allergies?

cartoon people allergic to cats

Picture this: There’s great excitement in your household because you’ve just brought home the newest member of your family — a fluffy-faced, wide-eyed kitten who lights up your lives. But within a few days, you develop a runny nose and itchy eyes that does not improve. Understandably so, you are getting worried and probably have so many questions about what’s going on and what can be done to alleviate this new problem.

After doing some light reading online, you find out that there’s a good chance these newly-developed symptoms are from a pet allergy. Being heartbroken about the possibility that you have to part ways with this newest, adorable addition to the family, you are probably researching different alternatives for your kitten can stay. At the same time, you do not suffer these allergy symptoms, which can negatively affect your quality of life.   

The best way to prevent and treat pet allergies is to reduce exposure to pet allergens by avoiding the animal that’s causing them — in this case, your new kitty. However, this defeats the purpose of owning a pet, so another option is an allergy medication that can help.

Please continue reading to learn more about some of the best medications for cat allergies.

What is a pet allergy?

A pet allergy is an allergic reaction triggered by allergens (microscopic particles) found in an animal's skin, saliva, or urine. The most common allergens (triggers) for pet allergies include fur and pet dander (dead flakes shed from the skin’s surface). This varies with the breed of your pet and their hair length. Usually, longer-haired animals trap more dander so allergies aren’t as severe.

An allergic reaction occurs because the immune system identifies a harmless yet foreign substance such as your cat’s fur or dander and mounts an attack against the allergenic dander. This leads to the release of immune system chemicals called cytokines that cause your allergy symptoms. 

Allergies to a furry animal are common, especially in people who have asthma. In the United States, approximately 30% of people have dog and cat allergies. Interestingly, cat allergies are twice as common as dog allergies.

What are the symptoms of an allergic reaction to a cat?

Animal allergens, including cat allergens, can cause sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, postnasal drip, watery or itchy eyes, and facial pressure. They can also cause asthma symptoms such as cough, wheezing, chest tightness, and difficulty breathing and even trigger an asthma attack. Skin symptoms of an allergy to a cat’s dander may include eczema, itching, and hives (a hive is a red, itchy raised area that can differ in size). 

Your primary care physician may refer you to an allergy medicine specialist who may perform allergy testing consisting of a blood test or skin tests to identify the allergen.

What is the treatment for cat allergies?

The treatment depends on the severity of the cat allergy. Allergy meds called antihistamines are usually effective and minimize allergy symptoms in people with mild cat allergies. They work by blocking histamine receptors and preventing the release of a chemical called histamine that mediates allergy symptoms. People with more severe allergies may need corticosteroid nasal sprays or allergy shots. 

Best Antihistamines for Cat Allergies

Allegra Allergy 24 Hour Gel Caps

Active ingredient: Fexofenadine

Strength: 180 mg

Form: Gel capsule

Availability: Over the counter

Appropriate for ages: 12 years and older

Advantages: Non-drowsy, fast-acting formula, 24-hour allergy relief

 

Claritin RediTabs 24-Hour

Active ingredient: Loratadine

Strength: 10 mg 

Form: Tablet

Availability: Over the counter

Appropriate for ages: 6 years and older

Advantages: Melt-in-your-mouth tablet, all-day allergy relief, non-drowsy

 

Zyrtec 24-Hour Allergy Relief

Active ingredient: Cetirizine hydrochloride

Strength: 10 mg 

Form: Tablet

Availability: Over the counter

Appropriate for ages: 6 years and older

Advantages: Small, easy-to-swallow tablets, fast-acting, 24-hour allergy relief 

 

Xyzal Allergy 24HR

Active ingredient: Levocetirizine

Strength: 5 mg 

Form: Tablet

Availability: Over the counter

Appropriate for ages: 2 years and older

Advantages: Fast-acting, 24-hour allergy relief, small tablets

 

Clarinex

Active ingredient: Desloratadine

Strength: 5 mg 

Form: Tablet

Availability: Prescription

Appropriate for ages: 2 years and older

Advantages: Non-drowsy, once-daily allergy medicine

Note that fexofenadine (brand name Allegra), cetirizine (Zyrtec), loratadine (Claritin), and desloratadine (Clarinex) are new generation antihistamines that are less likely to cause drowsiness or anticholinergic effects like dry mouth compared to older antihistamines.

Other Medication Treatments for Pet Allergies

Nasal Steroid Sprays

A nasal spray can deliver steroid medication directly to the nose to relieve inflammation that blocks the nasal passages and other symptoms. Examples include Flonase Allergy Relief (fluticasone propionate), Nasacort Allergy 24HR (triamcinolone), Nasonex (mometasone furoate), and ciclesonide (Omnaris). Nasal steroid sprays contain a low dose of steroid medicine and are safer than oral steroids.

Decongestants

Some over-the-counter allergy medications contain a combination of an antihistamine and decongestant. The decongestant helps to reduce swelling in the nasal passages and makes breathing easier. However, OTC decongestant nasal sprays should not be used for more than 3 days due to the “rebound effect,” where symptoms become worse, and your body ceases to respond to the medication. Also, keep in mind that oral decongestants can cause high blood pressure.

Leukotriene Inhibitors

Certain medications called leukotriene inhibitors, like Singulair (montelukast), block chemicals called leukotrienes and reduce the immune response to pet dander. If you do not respond to antihistamines and corticosteroid nasal sprays, your doctor may prescribe these medications.

Allergy Shots or Immunotherapy

Allergy shots consist of very small doses of cat allergens given through a series of shots once or twice a week over a 4- to 6-month period. These shots desensitize the immune system and train it not to respond to the animal allergens causing your allergies. 

Lifestyle Modifications to Relieve Cat Allergies

The best treatment for pet allergies is to avoid exposure to the animal. However, if it is not possible or symptoms are not extreme enough to rehome your pet, there are certain things you can do to reduce allergens and relieve symptoms.

  • Get family members who don’t have pet allergies to brush your cats and clean their litter box.
  • Brush your cats outdoors. Wear gloves if you are doing the brushing.
  • Wash your hands after touching your cats.
  • Make certain rooms, such as your bedroom, a cat-free zone to reduce allergen levels.
  • Remove upholstered furniture, horizontal blinds, and carpets that can attract and trap allergens shed from your cat’s skin, fur, saliva, and urine.
  • Use air purifiers with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to reduce pet and dust allergen exposure.

References:

  1. https://www.aafa.org/pet-dog-cat-allergies/
  2. https://www.allegra.com/en-us/products/allergy-relief/24-hour-allergy-gelcaps
  3. https://www.claritin.com/products/claritin/reditabs-24hr
  4. https://www.zyrtec.com/products/zyrtec-tablets
  5. https://www.xyzal.com/
  6. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pet-allergy/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20352198