Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics (AANMA)

One Cat Speaks Up: Baths Were Not Part of the Deal

Published December - 3 - 2009 Print This Post

catBy Mr. Whiskers, special correspondent to AAT

Look. When you brought me into your home, you made it all seem so nice. A doting family, long naps in the sun, no chores. I would have my run of the place, and you would cheerfully pluck my hairs from your dark-colored clothing.


You said nothing about baths. Baths were not in the contract.

I mean, hello—I’m a cat. I can clean myself just fine, thank you very much.

I remember how this bath nightmare began. One evening I was lounging on your lap and enjoying my nightly massage as you watched TV. You were sneezing and your eyes started tearing up. You gazed down at me with a look of realization. I thought, “Uh oh.”

I had heard through the kitty grapevine that 25 percent of people with allergies are allergic to their cats. What’s even worse is if our humans are allergic to cats and have asthma. It’s the proteins in our dander, saliva (licking is what we do), urine protein and, yes, our poop (you try stepping out of a litter box without bringing something with you) that cause our humans to cough, sneeze, break out in hives, get drippy red eyes and wheeze. (What, like you’re perfect?)

And don’t think you’re better off with one of those fancy show breeds–there’s not a cat anywhere that doesn’t have all of this, not even that so-freaky-looking-that-they’re-cute hairless breed.

It’s more common for you humans to be allergic to cats than to dogs. Alas, we are probably partly to blame. Being self-sufficient and fastidious types, we prefer to clean ourselves and therefore don’t require the baths that dogs do.

Back to matters at paw. Ever since that night in front of the TV, you’ve been torturing me with weekly baths! I know. It was that Internet site, wasn’t it? The one that said bathing me might help you stop sneezing and wheezing during our quality time together? Now, whenever I hear the bathtub tap running and “Here kitty, kitty…”—I’m not stupid. I shudder uncontrollably and hide.

Fortunately for us bath-averse sophisticates, the jury is still out on whether frequent cat bathing will reduce the allergens that we naturally produce. You admitted this to me—you even apologized when trying to convince me about this cat-washing deal. You told me about how Robert A. Wood, MD, had mentioned a study that evaluated the effects of cat washing. Okay, the results did show a dramatic reduction in airborne cat allergens after cat washes. However, you told me that the decrease in allergens may only be very temporary, and may not be worth the effort or the grudge your cat may secretly (or not so secretly) hold against you.

Hello! What do you think I was trying to tell you as soon as you finished drying me off and I jumped in and out of the litter box then curled up on the couch on top of my pre-bath allergens and proceeded to lick the no-tears cat shampoo residue off my fur?

I found some tips from experts about other (read: non-bath) ways to decrease allergen exposure. I sent these ideas to Allergy & Asthma Today. (Believe me, I have tried to tell you in person, but your simpler human brain is unable to grasp the nuances of my various meows.) The results may be marginal, but it’s worth a try.

  • Wipe me down with a warm, damp cloth daily. This idea I kind of like along with a massage, but be careful of my eyes, please. (And don’t be offended if I also feel the need to wash myself up after you’re done.)
  • Brush my fur daily. It’s best to do this outdoors so my fur-laden dander doesn’t fly all over the house and stick to everything defeating the purpose entirely. Ooh, couple that with a leisurely massage and I’ll cooperate.
  • Bathe me at least once or twice a week. Okay, I totally disagree with this one, but if you really must do this, please use cat shampoo with a pH of 7.0 to 7.5—your shampoo smells repulsive and dries my skin. Or better yet, you can get these pet wipe things and a special non-shampoo solution at www.natlallergy.com. (It’s the website I was on when you shooed me off the keyboard and accused me of losing your Word document.)
  • Give me a bath at a time when I’m likely to be relaxed, such as after a meal. (But don’t count on the meal staying down for long.) It’s a good idea to remove shower curtains, unless you would like a custom-clawed fringe trim.

I don’t mean to sound harsh, but I really hate the whole bath thing, and bathing by itself doesn’t fix your allergies. But I love you. So, I’ll do my part if you will do yours. It’s only fair.

You’ve got to vacuum daily (HEPA please), mop hard surfaces and walls, keep the doors to the bedrooms closed, change the air filters frequently, use your prescribed medications daily and talk to your allergist about immunotherapy (shots – yes, shots).

I know I speak for all the cats that attend my weekly “Cats Coping with Allergic Humans” support group when I say: Please forgive me in advance for any involuntary frantic clawing, gymnastic leaping out of the tub, demonic facial expressions and disgruntled hissing.

Finally, if you’re going to put me through this, the least you can do is make it worth my while. (Hint hint: My very own kitty spa would sweeten the deal considerably.)

(Christie Chapman assisted Mr. Whiskers with the preparation of this article.)

Do you have an amusing cat-bathing story, tips or photos of your cat during bath time? E-mail them to us at editor@aanma.org. We’ll post your stories and photos on our website).

Visit an allergist. Ordinarily we cats are not big on visits to people in white medical coats. (I think I speak for most of us when I say that going to the vet is up there with a field trip to a dog park.) But you going to see someone who’s an expert at helping you breathe better? That’s different. An allergist can help determine if you or a family member is truly allergic to cats, or if something else is to blame for the sneezing and other symptoms (like maybe that mangy mutt). The allergist will give you an allergy test, then evaluate the results and help you develop a plan. The plan might include taking medication. It might also include immunotherapy, or allergy shots. Allergy shots help boost your body’s immunity to the allergens that were causing your symptoms.
For more information and to find an allergist near you, visit the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI)’s website.

First published: Allergy & Asthma Today, December 2009
Medical Review by Peyton Eggleston, MD; Cathy Boutin