'Do Cats Always Land on Their Feet?'

Like humans, cats have two kinds of sleep. The deeper kind is characterized by rapid eye movements, so it's known as REM sleep. We know humans dream during REM sleep. We also know that when cats twitch their limbs and even their whiskers while they're asleep, they are in feline REM sleep. So it's not a far fetch to believe cats are dreaming, too.

What are they dreaming about? We'll never know. But we suspect the mice are fat and on crutches, birds can't fly, nasty neighborhood kids are nowhere to be seen, dogs disappear on command, invading cats from other territories scat with a mere glance, the pantry is full, and they've got opposable thumbs and a new can opener.

Q. What percentage of a cat's day is spent, well, catnapping?

A. Predators always sleep more than animals who have to spend their days finding vegetation to munch. The extra nap time is one of the perks of being higher up on the food chain. If you're a lion, you can sleep most of your life away, and as long as someone gets up now and then to bring down a hoofed animal, all is well.

Domestic cats spend about 70 percent of their lives asleep. As you've probably guessed, most of those hours are spent in short snatches of sleep -- catnaps, of course.

Q. My husband is allergic to our cat. What should I do?

A. Divorce him. Or have an indoor cat and an outdoor husband.

Not really. In fact, these sorts of conflicts come up all the time and they are never, ever easy to resolve. Even more difficult than having a mate who's allergic to cats is having a child who has developed such allergies. (Although studies now show exposure to pets in childhood may prevent allergies later in life.) A mate can choose to live with mild to moderate allergies, after all, but what parent would choose suffering for their child?

More people are more allergic to cats than to dogs, and cat allergies are often more severe, as well. For people with asthma, a severe reaction to a cat can be more than annoying -- it can be life-threatening.

Nobody's really sure why cats are such an allergy trigger, but one thing any allergist will tell you: The increase in the popularity of cats and the trend toward keeping them inside has meant more sneezing, wheezing, and red eyes among cat lovers. It's estimated that 6 to 10 million Americans are allergic to cats, and a lot of them would rather cope than give up their pets.

Cat fur isn't what causes allergies, so finding a cat with little or no fur won't help much. A substance called Fel D1, found in cat saliva and urine and deposited on skin and fur when a cat grooms, is the source of the problem. This allergen becomes part of what's commonly called dander -- flakes of skin, secretions, and saliva that a cat spreads wherever he wanders and that become airborne as he's petted, jumps, or shakes. You don't have to live with a cat to be exposed to dander: Studies have found the stuff everywhere, even in a doctor's waiting room.

While every family will have to come to the decision that's right for their specific circumstances, there are a few tricks that might make living with a cat and allergies more comfortable for all but the most severe allergy sufferers.

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