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Hi, Anon,

Welcome to EmpowHer, and thank you so much for your question. You are wonderful to be concerned and proactive on your mother's behalf.

This is a tough question, isn't it? I'm sure the cats are loving and funny companions in your mother's home, and that she would hate to be without them. But the answer to your question is yes, the cats could be affecting her emphysema.

Anything that gets in our lungs can contribute to breathing difficulties, and that is even more true for people suffering from such things as asthma, emphysema or severe allergies. Smoke, dust mites, pollen, cold dry air, pollution and mold can all affect their lung function. And pet dander is on that list too.

Cats sometimes bother people more than other pets for this reason: Cats groom themselves often, and their saliva cakes on their hair and then flakes off when dry. People who are allergic to cats are usually allergic to their dander, as opposed to their actual hair. And specks of dander are so tiny -- and they have almost a "sticky" component -- that it's very hard to rid an environment of it.

Dusting and vacuuming can help keep the dander out of the air, but it can also stir it up, which isn't good. Shampooing the cats can help. However -- and I speak as someone who has two cats -- this is a monumental task for both the owner and the cat.

Here is a page by the National Emphysema Foundation that talks about irritants and how they affect asthma patients. I realize your mother doesn't have asthma, but the information seems to be quite pertinent for anyone with a lung condition:


Here is a page from the New York Times' excellent page on emphysema management. If you'll scroll down to the "Minimizing Airborne Contaminants" section, you'll see that pet dander is listed among the things to avoid:


The primary objective when a person has a breathing disorder is to keep the air as clean as possible, which helps keeps inflammation in the lungs to a minimum.

If getting rid of the cats is not possible, I wonder if perhaps reducing the number of them might make a difference? Or getting a high quality air-filter and changing it out more often?

Studies have shown that having pets around increases the quality of our lives and reduces our stress, so I know how big a decision it would be to find homes for one or all of them. But in terms of your mother's health, it's quite possible that reducing the amount of dander in the home could help her breathing.

A couple more tips: Keep the cats out of the bedroom at all times. It'll keep the dander from coming to rest on bedsheets, pillowcases, towels and clothing. One doctor said that that one simple action can reduce allergy symptoms by 30 percent; it makes sense that it would help your mother as well.

Does this information help? Do you need more? If so, let us know, we could submit your question to one of EmpowHer's experts and see what they have to say about it as well. Take care.

April 28, 2009 - 10:00am


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