a kitten surrounded by floating clouds of dander while hands reach for it

My Experience With Cats and Asthma

Like many other people with asthma, my asthma comes partnered with allergies. They co-mingle together and are an infamous duo in my life. This dynamic duo has a very clear accomplice for flaring my asthma too: cats. I’m allergic to many other things, but nothing else has triggered my allergies and asthma like cats have. My current internal debate about cats stems from a long history of trauma but a newfound desire to appreciate them. Allow me to explain my conundrum.

Cats in my childhood

My polarized position with cats began at an early age. My earliest memories of cats are mostly going to the ER because I, or my parents, didn’t know one was in the house we were going to. I say memories, plural, because it has happened dozens of times. The most unexpected time was in elementary school when I was sent to the hospital because the girl at the desk next to mine had a cat. In fact, most of my trips to the ER, with an asthma attack, have been because of cats.

At one point in my life, I was almost an anti-cat activist, which is totally justifiable in my opinion because 95%, or more, of my experience with cats, has been me going to the hospital! It’s hard to love anything that unintentionally tries to kill you every time you come around. Of course, like everything, you hold prejudice against fate brought my aversion to cats into the spotlight, and forced me to see it differently.

Giving cats another chance

Fast forward to my mid-twenties; I’m vegan, stereotypically loving of all animals, and my seasonal allergies are practically gone. I’ve still avoided cats until this point though and had been very successful in my evasion. "I’m a dog person,” I’d say ironically because I'm also allergic to dogs. Then came along my current partner, who would be the catalyst to stir up this dynamic. I love her and her love of life; she loves me too and also loves cats.

The thing is, she’s incredibly cunning and resourceful. Kind of like a cat. Her arguments are concise and logical, so debating with her is no job for a novice. Ultimately, I decided (was coerced) that I would give cats a few test runs; with inhalers in-hand of course. After all, my asthma was the best it’s been all my life and my other allergies seem almost non-existent. Sure, let’s give cats a second chance--or a 20th chance?

My asthma and cat allergy seemed to improve

One of my first newer interactions with cats went great. It was a friend’s cat, whom I had always avoided going to their house because of the cat. They invited us for dinner and I thought it would be a great opportunity to see how my cat allergies and asthma have changed. I’m not sure what type of cat it was, but I had no reaction at all; I even pet it and played with it a bit. I was in utter amazement and disbelief, I even thought it was an interesting and adorable creature.

My second experience came over a year later at another dinner with a good friend of ours. She has a cat, and once again, no reaction. So, I decided to get a little adventurous and rubbed my face, a bit, on it’s back. Just to see what would happen? Wild thought, I know, but I had a rescue inhaler with me and we were close to a hospital.

I felt a slight trigger, but this would have put me in an ambulance when I was younger. I took a single puff of albuterol and called it a success. At this point, I feel as though my asthma and allergy to cats has also gotten better. I would even say I like them now! I’m still a dog person though.

A familiar feline surprise

About a month later, my partner and I went up into the mountains, meeting some good friends of ours to climb. We get up to the mountain about 6:30 am and it is quite brisk, low 40’s and we only have our light summer jackets with us. Our friends were in their camper, finishing up breakfast; the tantalizing warmth was overwhelming. We jumped into their adventure-home, to get warm with them... and their two cats. "No worries", I thought, 'my allergies are resolved!' I thought wrong.

About 5 minutes in their cat-inhabited camper, and I was scrambling to escape for the crisp mountain air. It was just like my childhood; itchy back, itch in my throat, lungs tightening, and eyes swelling. I got out of the camper, went to my car, only to discover I forgot something in my backpack at home: my rescue inhaler.

So silly, I should’ve had it, I always double-check too, but not this time apparently. I was lucky and the mountain air helped me recover a lot. If I had stayed in the camper longer or touched one of those cats, I would have been in trouble!

How I feel now

I miss when I had my cat-aversion. I would just avoid them and they would mind their own; we would both be happy. Now, I like cats! I think they are intelligent, instinctual, primal, and just fascinating to observe! I was convinced to give them another chance and I'm glad I did. The last flare-up spooked me, though. I'm definitely motivated to do some research, but I think I'm a little ways from having a cat of my own.

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