Extended Family Allergic to Cats wants me to find new childcare

Hello,A family member would like me to find new childcare for my children because she believes the dander they pick up could be making her sick.  My provider has one cat and my children are there from 5-10 hours per week.  This family member does not live in the same house as us, she never picks them up from childcare, and my children never go directly from their babysitters house to my sister in laws.  We do not own a cat at our house, have it professionally cleaned twice a month, and store all our hats, coats, boots, and shoes in a mudroom directly next to the entrance of our house.  We have no carpeting in our home.  We wash all our clothes and outerwear before we see her.  My children's friends have cats so there is no way for us to be totally cat free.  We see this family member maybe 1-2 times per month.  We suffer from well controlled allergies ourselves and are not convinced firing our well liked sitter will solve this problem for this family member.  Anyone have any thoughts? 

Thank you!


Comments 21

  • K8sMom2002

    Hugs … this is a tough situation. Good childcare is really tough to find, and it's hard for children to change. 

    But pet dander can be a severe trigger for some folks, even small amounts.

    It sounds as though you have already been trying very hard to reduce the family member's exposure to pet dander. Have you checked out ?

    Dander can be extremely sticky and hard to remove. And dander is present even in homes that have never had a pet in them.

    It sounds like you are very thorough with cleaning. Do you dry clean or launder the coats and outerwear as often as you clean everything else? 

    Another few questions: is either the childcare provider or her cat a new change? Did your family member's asthma or allergies get dramatically worse after either changed?

    Does your provider have any ideas about how to reduce cat dander cross-contamination? Is this a home-based daycare?

    And finally … how old are your kids? How much longer will they naturally be with this provider? If it's months, then that is different from years.

  • TeacherMom5

    Thank you for the reply.  It is a home based day care.  My kids are older but I will have one in childcare for another 2-3 years.  The childcare is new for us this year, but her daughter has also started school outside her home this year as well.  My husband works in a building with cat owners, and I'm a teacher that sees multiple groups of students per day.  I don't feel like we can limit our cat exposure.  We could add regular dry cleaning to the routine as well.  But do you really think firing our sitter will solve her issues?  

  • K8sMom2002

    Before you up-ended your children's daycare situation, could you think through possible cross-contamination situations?

    A way for me to understand this is the "glitter test." Glitter travels far and wide and sticks in the most unlikely of places … but you can definitely see that the transfer happens more in certain situations.

    For instance: does the cat have free reign of the home? Do the children actively play with and pet the cat? Does the cat snooze on their coats or clothes or books? Could they change into play clothes when they arrived at daycare, and then change back before they left? If you didn't want to dry clean their outerwear so often, could you set aside a "school day" coat for them to wear? 

    What sort of reactions does your family member experience? Do these reactions occur only on the days that you visit? Only when your kids are present? What has her doctor recommended? Is there any way that you could go with her to her doctor and discuss the situation and get the doctor's expert opinion about the amount of cross-contamination that would be in your home and then in hers?

    Wow … that's a lot of questions I just asked … But these are questions that I would have to explore before I made permanent changes. 

  • TeacherMom5

    We haven't visited her home since Christmastime and her severe reaction began last week.  She believes the dander transferred from my children to my mother in law, to her and her home.  My children did not go into her home and my mother in law did not pick them up from the babysitter (it did not even occur on a day they were AT the babysitters house).  I think the dander (if that is even what is causing this reaction) could have been picked up anywhere.    

    Yes, the cat has free reign of the babysitters house.  My children's coats and backpacks are hung up.  I honestly don't know if they actively play with the cat, it's super friendly so I would assume yes.  Changing into and out of clothes specific at the sitter would be pretty impractical for the amount of time they are there, honestly.  We often leave from there to go to a lesson or sport.  

    My family member has reactions often.  I am not aware of what exactly this entails.  

    Thank you.   

  • K8sMom2002

    So this how she thinks it happened?

    • The kiddos picked up cat dander from the sitter's.
    • They traveled to your home, where clothes are washed and put away in a cat-free home and where the kiddos shower or bathe.
    • They shower before they go to their grandmother's. They visit their grandmother's home on a day that they have NOT been in daycare and are wearing clean, freshly laundered clothes.
    • Your mother-in-law does at least some cleaning and vacuuming and doesn't have a cat.
    • The family member then later visits your mother-in-law's home and picks up dander. 

    Do I have that right?

    I do think a deep dive into how the kids interact with the cat could help you figure out exactly what sort of concentration of cat dander you're talking about. 

    Your question about how much cat dander could be — let's see — thirdhand sounds like a great question to submit to AAFA's free Ask the Allergist™ service.  You can submit your question by filling out this , and a board-certified allergist will reply within a couple of weeks.

    And if the relationship with your in-law is a relatively good one, I would highly encourage offering to go with her to speak to her doctor. Then you can explain all of this and hear the doctor's advice directly from the doctor.

    I'm also hoping that other folks who manage severe dander allergy will chime in. Dander can be sticky and stubborn and for very sensitive people, it can cause real troubles at low concentrations. But there are other for asthma and allergies that may need to be considered.

  • Shea

    Cynthia, you did a great job of explaining the dander issue. And teachermom, it sounds like you are really working with the family member. 

    I am one of the people with severe dander allergies and it is such a weird and scary thing that developed and worsened over time for me that I often have a really hard time getting others to understand even with showing doctors notes, research, and then seeing it with their own eyes, so I can empathize with the family member dealing with it— and I can understand your issue as well. 

    How far is too far? How much will carry and cause a reaction to her? She might be trying to figure that out herself. I did AND of course I know people with cats and dogs and had to find safe ways to interact and not to and ran into tough situations. 

    In studies in well established medical journals, it shows that preschool classrooms with more cat owners in them do cause significantly more allergic and asthmatic reactions to the children with allergies to cats, more medication need, and worse prognosis. These reactions are caused because of second-hand dander exposure, the amount carried on on shoes, jackets, backpacks, clothing. Cat dander tends to be stickier on both stuff and, can stick into the lungs of the allergic individual(s). 

    I personally do not have anyone in my home who regularly visits or lives with cats or dogs. Keeping my home as clear as possible became a very important part of my treatment plan. My son and I do not go into homes with cats or dogs. We visit relatives at my parents home (which does not have cats and dogs), BUT I have siblings and siblings girlfriends and friends that are at my parents house visiting with us who own cats and dogs. At first I was having reactions– stuff gets kicked up, I avoid hugs, I have had to use my inhaler more, get rashes it was scary. But that is typically when there are more people. I greatly appreciate when my siblings let me know they changed into freshly laundered clothes before they came over to my parents house. I know that doesn't eliminate dander, but it lessens my exposure. I also bring my asthma mask AND know I can leave at any time back to my safe breathing space at my house. I carry a portable nebulizer in case of big attack. I am letting you know this because I want to say this is a real thing for people and it is tough. This is what works for me. I admit I asked my brother and his wife when I first got this disease and was having life threatening reactions to rehome their cats. They would not. I felt very hurt that my health was less important than their cats. I have more anxiety because of it and it hurt our relationship. But, I respect their decision to choose and they in turn wear freshly washed clothes on holidays at my moms. It was a compromise that I just deal with. I  get together with some people who I know have cats or dogs out at parks or in open spaces, but will not ride in a car with them, vehicles trap a lot of dander. And after at one of those events, I wash my clothes and shower when I get home. My son also has dander allergies. We homeschool and go to a homeschool co-op socially every week, and meet at parks and events as well. 

    So, obviously it is your decision what you choose to do for a person with dander allergies. I can only say,  it is real. It is severe. I myself developed a life-threatening allergic disease that allergic eosinophils (blood cells produced during allergy)surrounded my heart choking it and giving me a heart attack and now live on disability (which is hard to get approved for at the time I was 28 but it did because of the tests and biopsies of heart and rashes and asthma and damage and meds I had to take) and cannot work and now live in poverty on social security BECAUSE I was not aware how severe allergies can become to dog and cat dander. I am on daily prednisone and get regular heart exams and sometimes need chemo medications to stop the reactions, which cause long-term issues. I became educated on how dander spreads and avoid avoid it, and the anxiety because I  found my safe space in my home, and safe people as much as I could,  and it made a difference for me, but I am not fully recovered or in remission of off medications, I just needed social relief. Some people I can tell avoid me because just hearing U have severe dander allergies think I am dramatic and not worth the trouble. It hurts, but I can't ignore my allergies and asthma, so I just let people know this is what I can do right now, and that is it, and I try not to judge, because I understand there are not a lot of voices out there with this issue. I hope it is helpful to hear from another person with the issue. 

  • TeacherMom5

    This family member and I do not have a good relationship but I don't want her to be sick.  I would love to speak with her doctor but that will never happen.  She does have a good relationship with my husband and children and I'd like that to remain.  I feel like we are being blamed for her healthcare issues and to ask us to change childcare is unreasonable.  We do not own a cat (I haven't had one since childhood in a different house, in a different town).  Isn't it possible her new reactions are more likely to be from her own daughter bringing home pet dander from a new school setting as well as other new classes? Stores she goes to? Restaurants they frequent? Movie theaters she visits? Her husbands job?  And much less likely to be from my children who she rarely sees?

    It would be a totally different situation if the cat were living in my house.  But there is no direct contact between this family member and our babysitter.  

  • Melissa G

    Welcome to AAFA, Teachermom5! Cynthia and Shea have given some great advice and information. Sending you lots of !

  • Shea

    TeacherMom, I honestly don't know…. It is hard for me personally to ask things from others, and …I can see it from both sides. In one sense, if your children regularly go into a home with cat hair and get it on their clothes, shoes, bags, it is going to bring more dander into their lives than if they had a childcare regularly in a home with no cat. I think it is a great idea to have a jacket/coat room in your home, that should make it less– and you keep it clean in your home– as long as the allergic persons clothes and jackets arent in that coatroom, and if they are visiting twice a month, and pets do not reside in your home, then to me it wouldnt be much different than going to a public building with no pets in it gor a few hours every two weeks. 

    I can see it is different with her kids going into a school that has secondhand dander in tbe classroom and then seeing her because their not playing with a cat or the dander is not getting concentrated on jackets or shoes at jigh levels snd then into cars and into homes on hair and clothes– it is sticky stuff and does get into homes where no pets reside– and that makes it tough when a person is trying ti keep it out of their lives so badly because they just want to breathe and feel safe– I get that.

    Now, the studies done are limited, and have been with multiple cat owners in a school setting bringing dander into a preschool classroom– which I know preschools are regularly cleaned, but also the alkergic/asthmatickids are there more than 2 times a month… The study is also done on kids with positive dander allergies not necessarily on one individual with SEVERE dander allergies… So her sensitivity might be very high. But, if she is visiting you at your home, then her exposure is not for long to a setting that is not filled 25 percent with cat owners, but is filled with people who are going to places regularly where cats reside–  so it is much less exposure than the studies done thus far. Doesnt mean it will not affect her– again because of her severity.

    Now, she might not want you in her home regularly if she is trying very strict avoidance– mostly the shoes and jackets would be the places dander might get onto, but an option is that you entertain more at your house and she keeps her house more strict.

    And I get that your changing childcare  wont solve her asthma or allergy issues– with you making this change, it may lower risk and lower anxiety– it has the posdibility of lessening the amount of an allergic trigger.

    But it is a lot to ask. Probably more thsn I have hsd the guts to ask of anyone. 

    So, I guess if you can find another childcare person then it would be a huge way of supporting this severely allergic person, but if you cannot or really dont want to, then my siggestion is to try to offer up ways you can be there to support her, and set that boundary.

    I dont think there is a reason this allergic person is trying to be difficult or has any reason to want you to change childcare beyond the allergic concern, so I think she might just be in a tough position of trying to find ways to can control her disease and lower her exposure to known triggers to them.  It would be hard for her to know (or you to know) how much dander is getting from one place to another, but that problem is bypassed by eliminating regular visits with those in cat owners homes (which I think they mean eliminate regular weekly visits for hours with cat contact, and NOT incidental visits to cat owners house–like your kids to their friends houses every now and again). 

    So, in conclusion (sorry if I go on and on!!!) … I think whatever you decide, keeping or not keeping your current childcare situatoo — the main theme is to be supportive,  in that you understand she is highly allergic and you dont want to put her at risk and do want to keep a good relationship with her, so you will work with her to minimize the risk as much as possible by—— ——- ——-…

  • K8sMom2002

    Shea, thank you so much for your wisdom and your balanced approach! I love how you said this:

    Shea posted:

    — the main theme is to be supportive,  in that you understand she is highly allergic and you dont want to put her at risk and do want to keep a good relationship with her, so you will work with her to minimize the risk as much as possible by—— ——- ——-…

    Teachermom, it may well be that your family is unreasonably blamed for her worsening health. There may indeed be other contributing triggers. 

    But it sounds like she's focused on removing known triggers first before she will think about identifying other triggers. She may not yet be open to looking beyond "the usual suspects."

    I think it will go a long way to helping if you say, "I believe you are having real troubles with pet dander, and I want to do everything in my power at the moment to help reduce your exposure. Right now, we're not at a point where we can find a new childcare provider. But while we consider ways to make that happen or even if it's possible, let's try step by step to see what will improve things." Then you can name the ways you are trying. 

    Here's one thought … it seems that the point of intersection between your family and this family member is your mother-in-law's.  

    As Shea has pointed out, car upholstery is a natural gathering point for dander, and the car would be the first seat your kiddos touch when they leave the childcare provider's house in their dander-covered clothes. And then they would sit in that dander again going to their grandmother's. 

    So how about, since they don't have time to change, putting down seat covers or towels that can be washed on the car seats? Or, if they are in booster or child car seats, making sure you wash those covers regularly as well?

    Your family member's need is to reduce her exposure to dander as much as possible. You are helping to meet that need by asking, "How does the cat dander get from my childcare provider's home into my home, and from there to my mother-in-law's? And how can I prevent that?"

    Again … think of glitter. Maybe even try putting some glitter on your kiddos' clothes and hands as you're picking them up from daycare (on a non-sports or lesson day of course!) and see where all that glitter travels.

    Your family member will hopefully be reasonable and gracious and open to your attempts to try to improve things. I hope she's half as willing to work with you as you seem to have been with her. 

    And kudos to you for wanting to help prevent her from being sick and to maintain good relationships between your family and hers!

  • Marie E Natzke

    TeacherMom, ,

    I'm sorry to hear about your situation. Unfortunately it doesn't take a lot of exposure to dander to trigger an allergic/asthma attack. Both can kill. Bluntly put, but it's a fact of life that I and my allergic asthmatics/ allergy sufferes face on a daily basis. Once a pet has been removed from a home it can take a year or more to get rid of all the dander. I had to walk away from a job that I had for 30 plus years because the owner had to bring his dog to work with him. He was supposed to keep the dog in the main office. I still had a really bad asthma attack. 1– because people in the office brought the dander into the plant. 2– he brought the dog into the plant. 

    I've read that when dander is on fabric washing it doesn't remove all the dander. I made a quilt for my cousin. It had ripped and she asked me to repair it. I told her ok. But she neglected to tell me she let her dog lay on it. By the time I finished working on it I was having breathing problems. When I mentioned it to family I was really annoyed by their answer that her dog lays on it, but she washed it before giving it to  me.

    K8SMOM2002 gave you great advice. The clothes the kids wear at day care should not be worn when visiting an allergic family member. 

    It's very disheartening with everyone brining there pets to stores etc..our exposures to dander have increased tremendously because of this. The more we are exposed to our  triggers the more sensitive we become.

  • MizWheezie

    QUOTE: Unfortunately it doesn't take a lot of exposure to dander to trigger an allergic/asthma attack. Both can kill. Bluntly put, but it's a fact of life that I and my allergic asthmatics/ allergy sufferers face on a daily basis.

    Ditto! – Both of my sisters have those little (what I like to call) "Pocketbook Dogs" and it has put a strain on our otherwise beautiful relationship…

    They carry them EVERYWHERE, and treat them as though they are their "babies."

    Soooo, needless to say, I don't visit or hang out with them any more, and they don't visit me (because they either insist on having their "babies" with them, or their clothes (and vehicles) are full of dander. 

    It's heartbreaking for everyone involved, and it's a tough choice (for some people), but I think we all can agree that a person's health is truly more important than anything.

  • Marie E Natzke

    Miswheezie you would think people would understand that a person health is the most important thing to any human being, but lately people don't seem to care about anyone else but themselves…😢

  • TeacherMom5

    A person’s health is clearly the most important thing.  To imply that we think otherwise is disheartening.  We have tried and are trying to find the best solution to support this person’s health issues.  I do, however, have children that have needs that have to be taken into account as well.  I have spent weeks feeling blamed, guilty, frustrated, confused and ignored by this situation…I have very little information or understanding about what is going on.  I have a diagnosed cat allergy myself so I understand that precautions need to be taken.  We obviously did not set out to make this person miserable and we aren’t even sure that we are the cause of this flare up.  We don’t have a cat in our home and we never had a cat in our home.  Her exposure to cat dander via us is comparable to her exposure to cat  dander sitting next to someone in a movie theater, on an airplane, etc…she does all these things. 

  • Marie E Natzke

    Teachermom5 my comments was not against you. Do not feel guilty about having a pet. I was thinking about what happened to me personally. I can't tell you how many times I've been told my asthma was an emotional problem. I'm 55 yrs old. I had a teacher in grammar school tell my Mom I had an emotional problem. We had just put our dog down due to her age and my asthma, but I had an emotional problem. When I tried to explain to my employer about my asthma he told me it was emotional problem and that I was just afraid of a dog. Yes I'm afraid they will trigger an asthma attack. The next one could kill me as the last 2 came very close to. Each time you have an asthma attack the next one is worse than the last one. I can't afford another attack. The last one I ruptured a disk in my neck and had to have a cervical fusion. 23 months to the day of having a 2 level cervical fusion. Not knowing I had an underlying autoimmune disease/inflammatory arthritis, which is attacking my spine and other joints. 

    So please as you read response from all of us we are not blaming we share our experiences anger frustration in this forum. Why? Because we all have  had something happen. A few weeks ago my Dr sent me to a speciality shoe store.  I have arthritis in both feet. I can't find good comfortable shoes. So I go this store and there's a dog in there. I tell them I highly allergic. I need the shoes so I have no choice but to keep the appointment. So what happens. I'm taken to the back of the store away from the dog instead of the dog being removed to the back office. The gentleman son comes in and starts to play with the dog so the dog is running all around the store. By the time I left I started having a problem with my sinuses. I was ok later but I had to double up on my allergy medicine. 

    I sent him a email thanking him But telling him I can't come back to the store because of the dog. All I get is we can ship the shoes to you. I need to try shoes on not order on line wait two weeks to get them and have to send them back because my feet changed again. So he didn't get it. I won't be back period. He lost me as a customer. 

    So please no offense was meant.

  • Shea

    I totally got that Marie's comment was mostly to show compassion to Miss Wheezy's sad story of separation from her sibling/relatives due to them bringing the dogs everywhere with them despite her allergy and to business owners who do not understand, and how it feels to be prioritized as less important. I have experienced those situations personally.

    And teachermom, I know you don't fit into those categories and are trying to work with the allergic person– and to many of us  with severe allergies, you have done more than most people have for us, and the ladies above just wanted to share that it is a severe disease that can be triggered by amounts of dander carried on others or in places where animals frequent. I dont think there is a clear answer to the amount that can trigger a reaction out there, or to prove that you are or arent causing the reaction would be difficult. It is hard sonetimes to think, can I hug these kids and be safe– did they just come from a friends or babysitters home with cats and been playing with them? 

    One thing I do is not hug people. The other is meet out in public for get togethers. When we meet at my moms house, we have a policy where pet owners will wear freshly laundered clothes and not play with the animal right before they come over. But yeah, dander is in their cars, its on them to a degree– but its not coming into my home and Im not touching them alot. That is my sort of sweet spot I guess. (You arent a pet owner but you can say the same for as far as coming from a place with a pet– that you all have freshly laundered everything and havent been petting animals, also maybe kerp shoes off outside by the doir or jacjets that havent been washed outside or by the door). Maybe you can ask the relative if that would work for her? (If that is something thatd work for you).

  • Marie E Natzke

    Hi Shea Miswheezie, Melissa G 

    I think I really offended teachermom5. I did not  mean to do so. I've haven't seen any posts from her after my comments. Just like all of you I've been through a lot as well. Having to walk away from a job like I had to do over a dog still at times …me off. I really believe that having the asthma attack like I did set off my immune system in ways I never thought could ever happen. Triggering the Ankylosing Spondlitis was a shock.. I have had this disease my whole life but it was a mild form of it. It's not mild anymore  since the Asthma attack. Exposing someone to their trigger isn't just an annoying allergy attack. It can be so much more for someone with underlying unknown health conditions. 

    I feel bad that she isn't responding. 

  • Shea

    It is OK Marie. She might respond later. A lot of us have sensitive spots. 

    I know I do. I used to be (maybe still am) a people pleaser and would ignore my own body and symptoms and that is how things just got worse and worse. These invisible allergies lurking around and causing symptoms that for me also trigger a severe chronic life threatening disease (church-strauss syndrome) can make my world feel small and unfriendly. You watch place by place disappear, friend by friend sort of cut you out of lose touch after deciding they want a dog or cat, and it gets very … Depressing. It hurts self-esteem and trust. My family had raised me to just take benadryl and deal with it. Nearly dying was an eye-opener that that technique, wasn't acceptable. Being triggered by second-hand dander was a whole new class of scary for me. Being stuck in prednisone is an affirmer that I have to keep making changes and lessening expoisure. Living at the most dog-friendly time and state doesn't help… Now more than ever people are bringing dogs everywhere. I want my own personal world and bubble to be as free from cats and dogs as possible. Not because I don't like them. I want to be able to get off prednisone fully and breathe.  But also, I want to matter more than a dog to people. So I understand how that feels– in work and family and friends relationships– and it is sore still. We did the right thing walking away from the places where dogs or cats frequent or reside. They did the wrong thing for choosing the desire for a pet in public over keeping a safe environment for work, school, and home for human beings. I will never believe anything different that that. 

    Right now my policies are 1- no dander (including secondhand) in my home air 2- not visiting in indoor environment where cats and dogs frequent or reside 3- not being in an enclosed area with a cat or dog 4- not petting cats or dogs (kinda obvious) 5- not hugging or getting too close to people I know own cats/dogs unless I know they've worn freshly laundered clothing then I might even though washing doesn't fully remove danded and I still might have a reaction.. So I am careful still.

  • Marie E Natzke

    Thanks Shea….I read  something , even though we don't have pets we still have dander in our homes. We bring it in from the outside.  That's why at work I put my coat inside my locker. Scary stuff…

  • Shea

    Yes, that is why I dont host events in my home– others who have furry pets or who go into environments where they are could have dander on them and bring it into my home. I know I am not getting any significant dander on me from environments I go (nor is my son), so we dont bring in much. I also have HEPA air purifiers and regularly vacuum and wash things in hot water and have allergy quality a/c filter. It is really important to me that our home air is of good quality sonce we both have allergies and mine is part of a greater and more severe allergic condition.

    But you are right that studies show dander can be high in homes with no cats or dogs and that is from the types of things I guard against above.