By Deborah Hansen
Cats and allergies—we hear it all the time. Almost everyone seems to be allergic to cats. As groomers, we can and do help humans who have chronic or sudden allergies to their cats.
Let’s start by understanding why many people are “allergic” to the feline. The first reason is that common allergens, such as pollen and dust, collect and get stuck in the fur. When the cat lies in an open window or goes outside, the pollen that is blowing in the breeze gets trapped in the coat. Then when the cat comes to lie next to the owner, blame is placed on the feline for the sneezing and wheezing that follows. Many owners do not even realize this is happening. It is always a good idea to ask about the open window the cat loves to sleep in or patio time before jumping to the fact that the owner is allergic to dander. Suggesting the owner keep the cat inside or out of open windows during a high pollen season will make a huge improvement in reducing allergies.
Another common allergen is dust and/or dust mites. Surprisingly, dust mites will live in any warm, moist area where they can find food. While they like to eat the human cells that are sloughed off, they will also eat the skin cells of pets. Pet beds are a hot spot for dust mites along with human mattresses. Add to that the behavior of cats. Cats like to race behind, on top of and under things that typically are dusty. Think of beds, carpets, curtains, TVs and cabinetry. The cat’s coat has a two-fold problem when it comes to dust and allergens. First, they collect dust in their coats, and second they provide a food source for mites. You may want to approach the subject of dust with clients when discussing allergies.
Once we are past the more common allergens, if the owner truly is allergic to “cats”, the culprit has to do with an allergy to proteins found in feline saliva, urine, and dander. Felines have at least five proteins that can be allergens for humans. (For the scientists—the two major allergens are Fel d 1 and Fel d 4. The minor allergens include Fel d 2, Fel d 3, and cat IgA.) Unlike the pollen and dust (that fall or are rubbed into the coat), these more complex allergens are deposited in the fur from saliva, urine and skin. Cat allergen particles are sticky and small. At a miniscule size—about one tenth the size of a dust mite—they can remain airborne for long periods of time, and then can “stick” to any surface they encounter.
Current studies suggest that these particles can stick to walls and ceilings of homes with felines for up to 30 weeks, while older studies had cat dander sticking to surfaces like ceilings for up to 2 years. There are also studies that are looking at second hand exposure to cat dander. Studies are showing that dander can be transferred at schools and places of employment where items such as coats touch each other. With cat allergen particles being much more complex than dust or pollen, it is much more difficult to help humans find relief from their allergies when the cause is cat dander.
Allergists are now recognizing that in many cases, cats are a part of the family. Removing the cat is not an option for most families in today’s climate and allergists have become more accepting than they were in the “old days”. Many allergists now recommend other solutions before they recommend getting rid of the family’s felines.
As a groomer, you can help keep the feline in the home and help alleviate some symptoms. Not only do you keep the family together, but increase your bottom line while doing it.
What happens when it’s “Groomer vs Allergen”?
First the feline fur needs to be thoroughly washed in a water bath with two shampooings, then blow dried until the coat is bone dry. This process will “unglue” and remove most of the allergens and dead fur from the coat. While you are working on this, the owners need to be wiping down their house to remove as much of the allergy causing proteins in the home as possible. A gentle reminder to wipe the walls, fan blades and shampoo the carpets will go a long way to improving the human allergic response.
Now, like with any big problem, this cannot be solved by one bath. Placing the feline on a four to six–week bath and brush schedule, while the family does a deep clean for at least six months will go a long way to remove the proteins that are currently in the home. Continuing this routine will slow, if not stop the reappearance of the allergy proteins on surfaces in the home and, in turn, will greatly improve the health of the humans who love the cat. With this strategy, the professional groomer is able to keep the allergens from building up on the cat’s coat.
A regular routine of professional grooming significantly decreases the amounts of allergens the family is exposed to. From a business owner’s perspective, this is not only good for the cats and humans that love them, but has the potential to give you four to six–week clients (eight to twelve feline grooms a year), increasing your profit margin.
I know firsthand what a struggle cats and allergies can be. My first cat came to live with my family when I was 17. A few months later my entire family had “cat allergies”. My family refused to give up the cat, so the first Saturday of each month my mom instituted a monthly deep clean day. I would bathe the cat while the rest of the family would scrub the house. Living with a cat, while family members have allergies can be challenging, but possible. It takes a dedicated family and a groomer that understands the situation.
When a groomer keeps up to date on current allergy research and cat grooming skills, it not only keeps more cats in homes with loving families, it also increases the groomer’s bottom line. Why not focus your cat grooming business on cat lovers with allergies? ✂
Deborah Hansen, CFMG CFCG is the owner of a successful feline exclusive house call business, Kitty’s Purrfect Spa in California and the creative talent behind Feline Artistic Creations. She is also the founder of “Deborah’s Programs,” a complete rebooking program for cats, and owner and creator of Kitty’s Kopy Kats, a stationary store for cat groomers. Deborah is an author in multiple grooming and local publications on the topics of feline grooming and business growth and a teacher on the topics of Safety in the Grooming Environment, Creative Feline Grooming and the Business Side of House Call Grooming. She can be found at deborahhansen.com.