Guinea Pig Allergies – What to Do?

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According to statistics, more than 50 million Americans are affected by different allergies each year. The animals that contribute the most to that huge number are cats, dogs, cockroaches, dust mites, and rodents which include hamsters, gerbils, mice, rats, and guinea pigs.

Allergic reactions can manifest with a runny nose, itchy eyes, and/or a rash. They’re usually triggered by either inhalation of an airborne allergen into the lungs or physical contact with the allergen.

Being allergic to your own pet can be difficult. People build emotional connections with animals that even the strongest barriers can’t keep apart. Guinea pigs aren’t hypoallergenic nature, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get allergic.

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Are you Allergic to Guinea Pigs?

Have you been experiencing the symptoms described above when in close proximity to your guinea pig? If you’re showing guinea pig allergy symptoms when you’re in touch with one, is it possible to co-exist without having to suffer through all that come with the allergy?

The first thing to do is to know for sure if you’re allergic to guinea pigs, especially if you’re a first-time owner. It is possible that the allergic reaction is being caused by other materials and not the guinea pig itself.

Other possibilities include the guinea pig’s bedding, hay, or dust. The easiest way is to visit an allergist and take a test. When you call them to set up an appointment, be sure to specify in advance that you need to be tested for guinea pig allergies.

Another way to verify if you’re allergic to guinea pigs is to visit rescue shelters or households that have guinea pigs as an experiment, to see if you break out with any of the symptoms. If you do, or when the test results come back positive from the allergist, a decision must be made to either isolate the pet or attempt to reduce the effects of the allergens.

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Common Guinea Pig Allergy Symptoms

Being able to identify the symptoms associated with pet allergies will give you a head start in planning what to do next. The earlier that you are able to validate your allergy to a guinea pig, the better.

Shown below are some of the most common allergic reactions that people experience when in close contact with guinea pigs:

  • Asthma – perhaps the most common allergic symptom, asthma is a respiratory reaction that makes it difficult for a person to breathe.
  • Conjunctivitis – also known as “pink-eye”, conjunctivitis happens when the membrane on the lining of the eyelids becomes infected or inflamed.
  • Eczema – a nasty skin rash that has the tendency to become itchy and inflamed.
  • Rhinitis – congestion of the nasal cavities which is characterized by a runny nose, facial pain, and constant or irregular sneezing.

All allergic symptoms can be treated with medicines prescribed by doctors. Epinephrine can be self-injected at the request of a health specialist and oral antihistamines are useful in cases of accidental exposure to the allergens. The good news is, severe allergic reactions are rare and almost never fatal.

big male guinea pig and apples

What Causes Allergic Reactions?

Some people believe that a great way to prevent being affected by allergens from their pets is to buy a hairless breed or even to shave all the hair off! If this sounds silly to you, that’s because it is. This will never work because the allergens are not located in the hair as most people assume.

Allergic reactions are triggered by a protein that is created and released from pores in the guinea pig’s skin. This protein attaches to dust, dander, and the cavy’s hair.

All of these materials are easily blown about by the wind and serve as carriers to spread the protein allergen around the room in many directions. Studies have found that only a tiny speck of allergen can trigger the symptoms and the particles can stay airborne for up to two hours.

Urine, saliva, and feces can also be carriers for the allergen, with the former two being the most potent.

There are many commercial guinea pig shampoos available which are marketed as anti-allergenic. You can avoid using these shampoos for several reasons.

Firstly, guinea pigs don’t appreciate water and often become very tense when submerged in the liquid. Secondly, they don’t need to take baths often since they clean and groom themselves every day. If you absolutely have to use a shampoo (perhaps at the request of a veterinarian for a medical reason), give your guinea pig a bath no more than once a month.

Preventing Allergic Reactions

If you’ve made the decision to endure the allergens for the sake of your connection with the pet, here are 10 tips to hopefully help you to keep the air clear in the room and reduce the symptoms:

  1. The location of your guinea pig’s cage is important. Keeping it in your bedroom may make it difficult to sleep due to the number of airborne allergens in the air. Place the cage in a different room but make sure that it’s still in an area where people pass occasionally. Guinea pigs love to see and be part of the hustle and bustle of our daily activities.
  2. Don’t keep your guinea pig’s store of hay in the house. Hay can act as a carrier for allergens and the idea is to minimize the amount of possible airborne carriers. Storing it in the garage or an outdoor shed is the best idea.
  3. Investing in an air purifier is extremely beneficial. The best kind to buy is a true HEPA air purifier. As allergens can stay airborne for hours, an air purifier placed right next to a guinea pig’s cage will help keep the air clear. If possible, keep it running all day long. If you can get one for your bedroom and other areas with lots of activity, it will greatly help to reduce symptoms.
  4. When cleaning the cage, it’s best to ask a non-allergic friend or family member to assist with the task. As much as possible clean the cage outside, as doing so inside the house will aid in spreading the allergens through the air. It should be cleaned at least once a week. If you have nobody to help you, wear a mask and gloves when cleaning the cage.
  5. Invest in hypoallergenic bedding. Fur and dander can easily stick to certain materials and may even cause separate allergic reactions.
  6. Use a thick towel or two if you absolutely must handle the guinea pig. Immediately wash your hands and arms thoroughly after your interaction with your pet just to be safe. Make sure to wash the holding towels too!
  7. Try wearing a turtleneck, long sleeve sweater or a scarf to protect the skin on your neck when handling your cavy. Put on a face mask to prevent inhalation of hairs which will inevitably become dislodged during handling.
  8. If you have an excessive number of rugs in the house, consider reducing them or at the very least, keep them vacuumed as much as possible. Your vacuum cleaner should also be a good one that has a HEPA filter.
  9. Get allergy shots. Treatment can take up to 18 months but is almost guaranteed to completely cure a sufferer of all allergy symptoms.
  10. Keep prescribed medicines nearby for emergency situations. Antihistamines are helpful for stopping runny nose and sneeze outbreaks. Asthma medications and inhalers can also temporarily provide relief in case you are accidentally exposed to airborne allergens.
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Carlye Yancey
Carlye Yancey

Between internships, volunteering, and paid jobs over the last 4 years, I have pretty much-gained experience with domesticated animals. Currently being in school for my veterinary technology degree, I spend my leisure time with 3 critters that I own.

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