Do you think you might be allergic to your guinea pig? With more than 20 million allergy sufferers here in the UK, there is a good chance you are. But before you start looking for a new home for your cavy, there are things you can do to minimise your symptoms.
Battling with allergies is nothing to sneeze at. For many, the most common causes include pollen, grass, animal fur, certain foods and insect stings, and symptoms can range from mildly irritating to fatal.
Of course, if you are one of the fortunate few who don’t get the sniffs or itches, you might not know what allergies are, what causes them, and what possible allergic reactions include or how to relieve the symptoms.
What Are Allergies?
An allergy is caused when a person’s immune system reacts negatively to an external substance or item. This can be certain food items (such as seafood, nuts and dairy), pollen, dust, grass, bee stings, medicines, or animal dander.
As mentioned, symptoms can range from mildly annoying to a medical emergency. The most common signs include:
- Runny nose
- Itchy or irritated eyes
- Rash or skin welts
More severe signs of an allergic reaction may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Anaphylactic shock
Although there isn’t really a cure for allergies, children can often outgrow them. For less severe allergic reactions, an adult’s symptoms can be treated with over-the-counter or prescribed medications. Shortness of breath and anaphylactic shock will need immediate medical attention.
How Do You Know If You Are Allergic To Guinea Pigs?
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Thankfully, for the most part, allergic reactions to pets are on the mild side and rarely result in death. Allergy sufferers that come into close contact with an animal may experience skin irritations such as itching, rashes or welts, or respiratory problems including hay fever or asthma.
Signs you may have a guinea pig allergy include:
- Runny nose
- Itchy or irritated eyes
- Skin rashes
- Shortness of breath
- Wheezing or tightness of the throat
Unfortunately, if you, or a member of your family, experiences any of these symptoms around your piggy, then there is a very good chance you are allergic to it. However, it’s not all bad news.
When it comes to guinea pigs, it’s not their hair that causes allergens. Instead, cavy parents with allergies will more than likely react to their piggy’s saliva, urine, and even the dust or pollen particles in the wood shavings or hay.
10 Ways To Reduce Guinea Pig Allergies
If you or someone in the family is battling with allergies around your cavy, your first thought might be that you will need to rehome it. But there are ways you can reduce allergy-related symptoms. Carry on reading to find out how.
1. Have an allergy test
We strongly recommend talking to a specialist about having an allergy test. This will help you decide on the best way forward. Depending on the severity of your allergic reaction, various treatments are available that will help you manage and even alleviate the symptoms.
TIP: Even if you aren’t allergic to your guinea pig, there is a good chance you might be allergic to the hay or wood shavings you use as bedding!
2. Wear protective gear
Always make sure you are wearing protective gear when you are cleaning out your guinea pigs’ hutch. Long-sleeved shirts, gloves and a face mask will help alleviate symptoms such as asthma, skin rashes, sneezing, wheezing and a runny nose.
3. Wash your hands
Remember to wash your hands straight after handling your guinea pigs or come into contact with their bedding, litter trays and even their food. Use soap and water, and clean them for a minimum of 20 seconds. Singing the “Happy Birthday” song twice is one of the most effective ways to keep track of the time.
4. Ask for help
If it is at all possible, we recommend asking a non-allergic member of the family to help with the various guinea pig duties, including cleaning out the hutch, replacing bedding, and feeding them. This will help reduce your time around possible allergens.
5. Change the hay or wood shavings
We have already mentioned that your guinea pig might not be causing your allergic reactions. Instead, it could be the dust or pollen particles in the wood shavings or hay, certain oils or fragrances in these products or the hay and shavings themselves. An allergy test will help you identify exactly what’s triggering your allergic reactions.
Change to products that have had the dust removed and avoid anything with added fragrances or oils. You could also swap hay and shavings for fleece bedding which will reduce your exposure to possible allergens.
Take a look at how to set up a guinea pig hutch using fleece bedding.
6. Try different food for your guinea pig
You might be surprised to find out that even your guinea pig’s food could cause an allergic reaction. Some products may contain ingredients, such as artificial colouring that can trigger an allergy attack.
7. Keep your guinea pig in one room
If your guinea pigs live in your home and you or someone in the family is experiencing an allergic reaction, we suggest keeping your guinea pig in one room. This will help alleviate symptoms and reduce exposure to possible allergens. Ensure the designated area isn’t used by everyone all the time, and avoid putting the cage in the kitchen, living room, and bedrooms.
Another solution, if you have space, is to keep your guinea pigs outside in a hutch. Not only will the allergy sufferer appreciate it, but your piggies also will.
This article will help you set up an outdoor hutch.
8. Get an air purifier
In the UK, especially, many homes are really well insulated, which is great during our chilly winters. Unfortunately, allergens get into the air, causing sniffing, sneezing, itchy eyes and even asthma attacks. Without adequate circulation, these allergy-causing culprits hang around for a long time. To alleviate allergies, we suggest getting a HEPA air purifier and keep it in the room, as close to your guinea pig’s cage as possible.
9. Clean, clean and clean some more
It is essential to keep your guinea pig’s cage clean, as well as the room where it’s kept. Regular cleaning and vacuuming with a good quality vacuum cleaner will reduce the number of allergens, and alleviate common allergy symptoms. Replace old and soiled bedding regularly and give the cage a thorough clean at least once a month.
10. Take medication
While allergies can’t be cured, there are medicines you can take that will relieve the symptoms. Speak to your GP or allergist about the different options available, including allergy shots, decongestants, antihistamines and inhalers. There are also homoeopathic treatments available.
Frequently Asked Questions About Guinea Pig Allergies
Understanding allergies and what triggers them is the first step to living in harmony with your piggy. Below are some of the most frequently asked questions about guinea pig allergies.
Can you get hypoallergenic guinea pigs?
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a 100% hypoallergenic guinea pig according to the experts. This is because allergies aren’t necessarily caused by the fur, but rather a protein in a cavy’s saliva and urine.
Also, in some instances, it may not even be your guinea pig causing the allergic reaction. It could be the dust or pollen in the bedding you use, fragrances or oils in the wood shavings or artificial additives in its food or treats.
How do I know if I’m allergic to my guinea pig?
One of the most effective ways to find out if you are allergic to your guinea pig is to have an allergy test. However, if you or a family member sneezes, coughs, breaks out in a rash, has itchy eyes or battles to breathe around a cavy, then there is an excellent chance that it’s an allergic reaction.
Is it common to be allergic to guinea pigs?
Guinea pig allergies are more common than you think. People could have an allergic reaction to the proteins in a cavy’s saliva or urine, the hay or wood shavings, dust or pollen particles in the hay or shavings or even an ingredient in the food.
If you suspect you might be allergic to guinea pigs, we suggest having an allergy test. This will help determine what’s causing your allergic reaction and take the necessary precautions moving forward.
Are you, or is someone you know, allergic to guinea pigs? Let us know in the comments below how you’ve managed to work around this. And don’t forget, if you found this article helpful, please feel free to share it with family or friends.