Living With Guinea Pig Allergies
"If you are truly committed to your companion animals, there is almost always a way. I cannot imagine life without mine, so a little suffering is worth it ten-fold!" by Laurie Ansberry.
The information on this page is not intended to be used as medical advice. This is a compilation of multiple sources about allergies and suggestions for dealing with and living with allergies. Please consult your physician or allergist for proper medical advice.
Signs include itchy eyes, sneezing, runny nose, persistent cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, a skin rash, and anaphylactic shock (a true medical emergency).
Symptoms of an allergic reaction include:
- Asthma, which is a respiratory reaction that causes difficulty in breathing.
- Rhinitis, which is characterized by a stuffy, runny nose.
- Conjunctivitis, which is an inflammation or infection of the eyes.
- Eczema, a skin rash which can be itchy and inflamed.Guinea pigs distribute allergen in the urine in the bedding. This allergen easily becomes airborne when the animal scurries around in its cage.
Don't Blame the Hair
Allergies are caused by exposure to proteins that are normally present in the animal's saliva or urine, or in secretions from glands in the skin. That's why an allergic person should never clean the cage. Contrary to popular belief, the animal's hair or dander do not themselves cause allergies, although they do make excellent airborne carriers for the offending proteins. Many experts say there is no good evidence that short-haired animals cause fewer allergies than long-haired, or that one breed is better than another.
See an allergist. Get tested for guinea pig allergies. When you call the allergist to make an appointment, be sure to tell them you want to be tested for guinea pigs as they may need to order the serum. Immunotherapy (allergy shots) for guinea pigs is the best option as successful treatment is a cure rather than treating symptoms with drugs. Treatment can take up to 18 months. It is likely to be covered on your health insurance policy. Asthma sufferers may enjoy relief, as immunotherapy offers a chance for a cure of allergies, which trigger asthma attacks for many.
If you do not test positive for guinea pig allergies, work with your allergist to determine a cause. You may be allergic to the hay. You may be allergic to pine or aspen bedding (if you use it). Some people have switched from pine bedding to aspen bedding and their allergy symptoms go away! Many have switched from pine to CareFresh or Yesterday's News and their allergies go away.
- Do not keep your guinea pig in your bedroom.
- Do not store your hay in the house.
- Buy a true HEPA air purifier and put it right by the pig's cage. Guinea pig allergens can stay in the air for a fairly long time and the purifier will help. Run it 24 hours a day if possible. Some air purifiers will cover a couple of rooms. Many people obtain significant relief with good air purifiers.
- Get another air purifier for your bedroom and keep the door closed and the purifier on all day. This way, at least you can sleep and you should feel better in the morning.
- Many houses are super insulated, not allowing any fresh air to circulate. Open a window and turn on a fan to eliminate mold spores floating around your house, but not during those "high pollen count" days!
Cage & Bedding
- Have a non-allergic family member clean the cage, which is the major potential source of allergens.
- Take the cage OUTSIDE to clean it if possible! It may be heavy and you may need help to do it. This, alone, can help a lot.
- Clean the cage at least once a week! Wear a mask and gloves when cleaning the cage. After you clean the cage, put the purifier on HIGH for one hour (moving the cage will disturb particles, especially if you clean it in the house).
- Do not use allergenic bedding. Try Cell-Sorb, CareFresh, Yesterday's News, or towels.
- Only put as much hay in the cage as they will eat.
- When you refill the hay racks, try to be as gentle as possible to avoid dust.
- Fill the hay racks OUTSIDE! Keep extra hay OUTSIDE!
- Wear a mask and gloves if you can. Wearing rubber gloves will prevent you from transferring particles to your eyes. Cover your mouth and nose with a scarf if you do not have a mask available.
- Wash your hands and arms after you touch the hay.
- Have someone who is not allergic or asthmatic do the hay racks.
- After you fill the hay, put the purifier on HIGH for 1 hour.
- Try different brands of hay. Try different kinds of hay. The fresher and greener the better, perhaps an Orchard grass hay.
- Have a non-allergic person pre-fill paper bags of hay for you. Grab a 'paper bag of hay' and put it in the cage, bag and all. The guinea pigs will have fun playing with the bag AND eating the hay.
Handling Guinea Pigs & Hygiene
- Wash your hands and arms (and any other area that may have been touched) thoroughly and immediately after holding your guinea pigs. Perhaps apply a light layer of cortisol cream to prevent further outbreaks.
- Hold your piggie on a couple of thick towels so that there is no skin contact.
- Wash the holding towels every time they are used. One lap time = one wash!
- When holding your piggie, keep them away from your face, wear cotton gloves if necessary.
- Wear a turtleneck when holding your guinea pig. The skin on your neck and face is thinner and more sensitive than the skin on your hands and arms. Therefore, you are more likely to get an allergic reaction there. Try to keep them away from your face and neck.
- Wear a mask when holding your guinea pig. Wear an apron that you can dispose of in the laundry.
- Change your clothes immediately after holding your guinea pig and put them away from where you sleep.
- Try applying a topical antihistamine before you handle your Piggy.
- Dust, dust, dust the house! Vacuum, vacuum, vacuum the rugs or don't have any rugs at all.
- Get a GOOD vacuum cleaner with hepa filters. An industrial vacuum cleaner may be a good option as they tend to extract more dust than the household cleaners.
- Replace carpeting that has your guinea pig's dander on it or shampoo it thoroughly.
Medications and other therapies
- Get allergy shots. You CAN get shots for guinea pigs to help with the sensitivity. It's time consuming and may not be 100% effective, but it can help! Same with the hay.
- If necessary, take medications prescribed by your allergist such as antihistamines, decongestants, inhalers, or asthma medications to relieve your symptoms.
- Try coating the inside of your nostrils with Vaseline to stop airborne particles from attacking the sensitive lining of your nose. Wipe clean after cleaning or handling activites.
- Investigate homeopathic solutions or treatments for allergies.
- Allerpet's allerpet/C Solution is a shampoo which is supposed to be good for cats, bunnies, guinea pigs and other small animals.
- Aaaah Choo! I'm Allergic to My Guinea Pig by Vicki Palmer Nielsen, Jack Pine Guinea Pig Rescue. An EXCELLENT article with some additional suggestions.
- A Fosterer's Allergy Experience by Laurie Ansberry. A woman who developed guinea pig allergies and her perseverance in dealing with it and ultimately overcoming it.
- Allerpet Care & Habitat Advice
Links To Additional Allergy Information
- Seagull's Winning the Battle Against Odors and Allergies
- Taming Your Allergies to Pets
- Allergy Society of South Africa's Pet Allergy
- UCSF's Laboratory Animal Resource Center Center: Occupational Health and Safety Information for Staff with Substantial Contact with Guinea Pigs
- ILAR's Laboratory Animal Allergens
- Allerpet, The site for people allergic to pets and dust
- Preventing Asthma in Animal Handlers