cartoon drawing of woman awake in bed from sleeping with cats allergies

Sleeping with cat allergies: What’s at stake and 15 practical remedies

By Jason Wooden, PhD | February 13, 2022

If you’re struggling to sleep with cat allergies, you’re not the only one since 20% of pet owners are affected by allergies to cats or dogs.  The most common cause is an immune reaction to a protein secreted by cats, called Fel d1, which is present in tears, saliva, hair, and urine.

For better sleep, your options include allergy meds, immunotherapy, anti-allergen sprays, air purifiers, frequent bedding washes, removing allergy traps such as carpets, and various other remedies

Here’s what’s really at stake if you’re sleeping with cat allergies

It’s no surprise how many people there are who struggle with cat allergies and getting a decent night of sleep.

After all, the domestic cat is the second most popular pet in the US and many other countries.  In some countries, they’re actually more popular than dogs.

With over 370 million cats worldwide, they’re bound to be more than a few people dealing with allergies to a furry friend.

And it’s no surprise some pet owners still want to sleep with their cat even with allergies.

All the same, as much as we love our pets, there’s no escaping what a pet allergy can do to make us miserable.

Yes, there’s the sneezing, itch, runny, and blocked noses.

And the itchy and watery eyes…

There’s also the swelling of the face and eyes, diarrhea, and vomiting.

photo of man with runny nose from sleeping with cat allergies

Would you believe more than 50 million people deal with various types of allergies every year in the US alone and it’s 6th leading cause of chronic illness?

What’s worse is how it can wreck our sleep.

All those symptoms can make for miserable nights – it’s harder to fall asleep and stay asleep, you’re more likely to snore, and you’re more at risk for sleep disorders such as sleep apnea.

We all need our sleep.

After a night of poor sleep, your brain doesn’t work as well as it should, you have a harder time learning, and don’t cope as well.  Over the long-term, it can increase your risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, anxiety, depression, and dementia.

That’s some pretty serious stuff and bad news for cat owners, especially if you enjoy having it in the bed.

If you’re struggling to sleep with cat allergies, it’s not something to be taken lightly.

Let’s take a look at what you’re up against, the pros and cons, and what you can do about it.

What causes cat allergies?

An allergy is what happens when your immune system reacts to something that normally doesn’t bother people.

Among the things that can cause an allergy are:

  • pollen
  • dust
  • mold
  • food
  • insect stings
  • drugs

Unfortunately, pets can also cause allergies.

Would you believe as many 20 percent of people deal with allergies to dogs and cats?

And that as many as 30 percent of people with asthma have pet allergies?

Do you know the signs of a cat allergy?

  • Sneezing or a runny or stuffy nose
  • Facial pain (from nasal congestion)
  • Coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and wheezing
  • Watery, red or itchy eyes
  • Skin rash or hives

Source:  American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology

So, what’s causing all those cat allergies?

For most people, their immune system is reacting to a protein called Fel d1.  It’s in the cat’s skin, tears, saliva, and urine.

It’s also on the cat’s hair.

Pets can carry other allergens in their fur such as dust mites and pollen.

As to why some people get cat allergies and others don’t, you can blame your genetics.  It’s more likely to happen if allergies or conditions like asthma run in your family.

Also, lack of exposure to cats at an early age may increase your risk for an immune reaction later on when your older.

The reasons why cat allergies may get worse at night

Cat allergies, like any other allergy, can certainly get worse at night.

First, it’s pretty common that when people lay down to get even more congested.  Sleeping on your back also encourages the flow of postnasal drip into the throat and can lead to more spells of coughing.

Another thing is that you may be exposed to more allergens in your bedroom.  Besides your cat, there’s dust mites, pollen, mold, and chemicals.

And it’s pretty easy for pet dander to accumulate on carpet, curtains, bedding, and pajamas.  That stuff sticks to everything.

Lastly, your cat is hanging out in your bed.  That’s bound to ratchet up your allergen exposure during the night.

So, if you have cat allergies, it’s no surprise if they’re worse when you try to sleep.

cartoon drawing of cat sleeping on a queen size bed

Do cat allergies go away with exposure?

I’ve already mentioned how everyone is different when it comes to allergies.  The immune response can vary widely among people and change in severity within an individual.

For reasons not well understood, allergy symptoms for some may even disappear over time.  It could be that the body naturally becomes accustomed to an allergen or that there are changes in a person’s exposure to allergens in their environment.

All the same, it’s all still a bit of a mystery so you really need think about practical remedies especially if you’re dealing with severe symptoms.

Should you let your cat sleep in your bed if you have allergies?

Okay, so what are the pros and cons for people with allergies who still want to sleep with their cat?

The benefits are obvious – companionship, connection, and comfort.

Hanging out and interacting with a pet at night can be pretty relaxing before you turn the lights out.  For some people, it makes them feel less lonely and less anxious which help them transition to sleep.

photo of person rubbing a cat laying on a bed

That’s all good stuff.

However, if your cat allergies are keeping you from getting sleep and you’re struggling during the day, that can be a real downer.

Ditto, if your symptoms are pretty serious and affecting your health during the day. 

Your doctor may recommend you avoid cats entirely or at least keep them out of your bedroom.

15 Practical remedies worth a try to help you sleep better with cat allergies

So, you’re struggling with sleeping with cat allergies but still want to keep a cat in the house?

Perhaps, you still want the connection of having it your bedroom…

Or you’ve seriously thought about the downsides and you’re not ready to give up…

And maybe keeping your cat in the bedroom is your only option.

Regardless, you should know that the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America recommends that you keep your pets out of the bedroom if you have allergies to them.

The challenge is that it’s so easy for pet allergens to accumulate and stick around in a room.  That’s why the most effective way to deal with a cat allergy is to avoid having them in your living space.

It’s worth seeing a doctor, especially if your symptoms are seriously bad.

 

However, depending on your situation, there may be some things you can do so that your symptoms are more manageable:

1) Allergy medications

This one is pretty obvious.  Your choices include antihistamines, decongestants, and nasal steroids.  Depending on your symptoms, it may not be the best long-term solution. 

Learn more

Photo of may help when sleeping with cat allergies

2) Allergy shots

Also known as allergy immunotherapy, a doctor can give you a specialized shots to train your immune system to react less to dog allergens. 

Learn more

3) Wear a mask

This may seem a bit extreme, but may still be worth a try depending on how desperate you are.  An N95 mask can block small particles such as allergens.

4) Rinse out your nose

A nasal rinse can help remove excess mucus from the nose and provide some temporary relief.

5) Weekly baths

While experts may disagree on whether it really works, it may be worth a try if you’re desperate and your cat will put up with a bath.

As an alternative to baths, you can try pet cleaning wipes.

photo of lady giving a cat a bath to help her allergies and sleep

6) Brush your cat more frequently

Another way to keep the allergens and fur from spreading throughout your bedroom.

7) Try an anti-allergen spray product

Ask your vet for a cat-safe treatment to prevent dander from building up in your living space.

8) Keep your carpets clean

Pretty obvious, vacuum your carpet frequently and steam clean it on a regular basis.  Make sure your vacuum cleaner has a HEPA filter attached to it.

9) Remove the allergen traps

Even better, stick to bare surfaces such as a hardwood floor in your bedroom and other living spaces.  You may want to get rid your upholstered furniture too.

10) Use an air purifier

Another way to cut down on allergens in your sleeping space.  Try running an air purifier with a HEPA filter.

Better yet, you can add a certified allergen HVAC filter to your central heating and air conditioning system.

11) Wash your bedding more frequently

Try washing your bedding on hot cycle at least once a week if not more frequently.

12) Use allergy-resistant bedding

Look for hypoallergenic sheets, blankets, and pillow cases.

13) Keep your cat out of the bedroom

The idea is to keep the amount time yourcat spends in the bedroom spreading allergens to the bare minimum.

14) Try a less allergenic cat

This one is a bit controversial as there isn’t any clear scientific evidence that some breeds are less allergenic than others.  However, living with a short-haired cat may be easier since they shed less.

15) Check for other allergens

Cat allergies may not be the only thing you’re up against.  You could also be dealing allergies to mold, dust, mites, food, drugs, or seasonal hay fever.

Eliminating some these other allergy sources may make things more manageable.

Other things that can help keep your sleep on track

It should be obvious that cats allergies isn’t the only sleep challenge people face.

Unfortunately, there’s a long list of things that affect sleep.

That’s why it’s important to practice good sleep hygiene, the everyday habits that set the stage for restful sleep.  Poor sleep hygiene can sabotage everything else you do for your sleep.

Cartoon drawing of lady sleeping peacefully in bedroom

For better sleep hygiene, you should:

  • keep consistent wake up & sleep times
  • avoid naps
  • exercise during the day
  • avoid large meals, alcohol, or stimulants such as
  • caffeine before bedtime
  • maintain a regular bedtime routine
  • avoid using TVs, laptops, or other electronics before sleep
  • keep your bedroom dark, cool, quiet, & relaxing

It’s also important to see a doctor, especially if your insomnia becomes a long-term issue.

Too many people are unaware how many other medical issues can cause problems or worsen sleep. 

The list includes chronic pain, heartburn, cancer, dementia, and asthma.

You could also be living with an undiagnosed sleep disorder such as sleep apnea.

Sources:

1. “Pet Population 2021”, Pet Food Manufacturers Association

2. “Cats vs. Dogs: Which Does the World Prefer?”, 2021, Budget Direct

3. “Number of dogs and cats kept as pets worldwide in 2018”, Statista.com

4. “Allergy Facts and Figures”, Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America

5. “Dog Allergies: Symptoms and Treatment”, 2021, American Kennel Club website

6. “Allergies and Sleep”, Sleepfoundation.org

7. “Allergies and Sleep”, Sleepfoundation.org

8. “Allergy”, MedlinePlus website

9. Dog and Cat Allergies: Current State of Diagnostic Approaches and Challenges, Allergy Asthma Immunol Res. 2018 Mar; 10(2):97–105.

10. “25 Noteworthy Allergy Statistics & Facts to Know in 2022”, 2021, MedAlertHelp.com

11. An update on molecular cat allergens: Fel d 1 and what else? Chapter 1: Fel d 1, the major cat allergen. Allergy Asthma Clin Immunol. 2018; 14:14.

12. “Cat Allergies”, 2020, Healthline

13. “Why Do My Allergies Get Worse at Night?”, MedicineNet

14. “Can You Outgrow Your Allergies?”, 2013, Live Science

15. “Pet Allergy: Are You Allergic to Dogs or Cats?”, Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America

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