If you are looking into adding a furry friend to your home, you may want to consider a guinea pig. Guinea pigs live for several years, they are personable, fun to play with, and cuddly. Unfortunately, your delightful, cuddly friend could also be the reason you keep sneezing, coughing, and itching.
More than even cats and dogs, guinea pig allergies are exceedingly common. In fact, cases of allergic reactions to guinea pigs have been documented in laboratory animal handlers and non-occupational exposure. According to Guinea Pig Manual, common symptoms of guinea pig allergies include;
- Rhinitis, characterized by sneezing, runny nose, and stuffiness
- Eczema, a skin rash that’s itchy and inflamed
- shortness of breath and fast heart rate
- conjunctivitis which is an inflammation of the eyes and involves itchy or watery eyes
Luckily, there has not been any reported case of severe allergic reactions to guinea pigs unless you allow your allergies to go unattended.
It’s Not The Hair
Contrary to popular belief, guinea pig allergies are not caused by the pet’s hair. The allergies result from exposure to a protein found in the animal’s urine, sweat, and saliva. That said, the hair and dander make excellent airborne carriers for the protein, so you should avoid any contact with them.
This raises the question, do we have hypoallergenic guinea pigs? The answer is a resounding NO. There is a misconception that guinea pigs without hair or short hair do not cause allergies, but it’s not true since hair is not the culprit. Experts also agree that there is no breed that’s better than the other when it comes to allergic reactions.
Dealing With Guinea Pig Allergies
How do you know if you are allergic to your guinea pig? Well, the first thing you have to do is confirm that it’s really the guinea pig you are allergic to and not something else. People often think they are allergic to the cavy, but it’s actually hay or the cavy’s bedding material that’s affecting them.
If you or someone close have been experiencing the above allergic symptoms after getting the guinea pig, a visit to an allergist and a few tests can confirm or refute your suspicions. If you really are allergic to the beautiful cuddly friend, you have some decisions to make.
- Take antihistamines. Antihistamines are used to combat allergic reactions and relieve the symptoms much faster. Common over-the-counter antihistamines include Allegra, Cetrizine, and Claritin. You can also try nasal sprays like Azelastine and olopatadine. This will sort out sneezing, running nose, and itching. If the reaction is not severe, the drugs can clear the symptoms in a day or two. For some people, taking an antihistamine immediately after handling a guinea pig helps to prevent the unpleasant allergic reaction.
- Try a decongestant. Other symptoms of guinea pig allergy are blocked nose, wheezing, and trouble breathing because of a blocked chest. If this is you, try taking a decongestant after handling the pet to reduce the symptoms and clear the blockage. A decongestant combined with an antihistamine will work much better, and you can get them from a pharmacy without any prescription. However, if you have high blood pressure, enlarged prostate, or heart disease, you must consult your doctor before taking a decongestant.
- Go outside. Even as you take your decongestant and antihistamine, it’s important to walk outside of the house to get some fresh air. The air may not solve the allergic reaction, but it will help you breathe better before your airways open up. If you are asthmatic, use an inhaler or asthma medication to help with the breathing problems.
What if you are not allergic to the guinea pig?
Chances are, your body’s immune system is reacting to the hay, pine or aspen bedding in your cavy’s cage. The allergist will help to determine this and recommend switching to less allergic bedding. For example, you may switch from pine to CareFresh and observe if the allergies will stop.
Preventing Guinea Pig Allergies
“If you are truly committed to your companion animals, there is almost always a way.” by Laurie Ansberry.
Having a guinea pig allergy doesn’t necessarily mean you have to get rid of your furry pet. In fact, many people have chosen to keep their pets despite being allergic to them with some precautions.
If you test positive for guinea pig allergy, you can start with immunotherapy treatment right away to help your body stop reacting so badly to the pet. This is a continuous allergy shot that takes about 18 months to complete, but it’s not a guarantee that you will be completely free of the allergies. However, it is totally worth a try if you are determined to keep your guinea pig.
Besides taking immunotherapy treatment, you can also take these precautions to protect yourself and your family from guinea pig allergies;
A guinea pig should have a dedicated cage where they live and should not be roaming around the house freely. That said, you should also keep the cage in one room or one specific location, preferably not your bedroom or living area. The place where you choose to keep the cage should not be carpeted as carpets will absorb the urine, and you can’t clean it every day.
Buy a HEPA air purifier and keep it right next to the cavy’s cage. Guinea pig allergens stay in the air, and that’s how they move into your respiratory system. A purifier will clean the air around the house and get rid of the allergens as well. Keep the purifier running for 24 hours every day if it’s possible, and keep the house well ventilated by opening doors, windows, and turning on the fan.
Cleaning the guinea pig’s cage is the easiest way to expose yourself to the allergens because that’s where the cavy urinates, sweats, and sheds its fur. Have a non-allergic person clean the cage for you instead and have it cleaned outside the house. If that’s not possible, you have to take every precaution to protect your body from inhaling or touching the allergens. You can achieve this by wearing gloves, a mask, goggles, and full protective gear on your body.
A guinea pig’s cage should be cleaned at least once a week. After that, let the purifier run on high for an hour or so to pick up any particles that flew into the air when you moved the cage.
When it comes to their bedding, do not use allergenic bedding like hay or pine. Go for Cell-Sorb, CareFresh, and Yesterday’s News instead, or use towels that you can change and clean daily. These should be changed regularly, say every 2-3 days, and cleaned. Ensure you also clean the area where the cage stays and use a powerful vacuum cleaner to pick up all the allergens.
Only put enough hay for eating and always keep the extra grass outside. When laying the hay racks, wear gloves and a mask to protect your nostrils and skin from the allergens that come from hay. You can also use a scarf to cover your mouth and nose if you don’t have a mask. Clean your hands and face after touching the hay and turn the purifier on high for an hour.
5. Handling the Guinea Pig
As a pet owner, it’s normal to feel the urge to hold and play with your guinea pig. If you are allergic to it however, you have to be extra careful to avoid triggering your allergies.
- Apply some topical antihistamine before picking up the guinea pig.
- Put some Vaseline inside your nostrils to stop the airborne particles from entering in there and attacking the sensitive lining of your nose.
- Hold your cavy on a few thick towels every time and wash them immediately after use. This will cover you from direct contact with the piggie.
- Try to wear a turtleneck or a scarf around your neck every time you hold the piggie because the neck area is quite sensitive and prone to allergic reactions.
- Wear a mask and try to keep them away from your face and neck.
- Change your clothes immediately and then wash your hands and face after handling a guinea pig.
- Keep the HEPA purifier nearby when you are holding the cavy and let it run for an extra thirty minutes after putting them back in their cage.
- If possible, only hold the guinea pig when you are outside the house. This will prevent the allergens from getting all over your furniture, carpets, and indoor air.
When to Find Your Guinea Pig a New Home
Sometimes, nothing you do can protect you from the allergic reactions caused by petting a guinea pig. If you have tried immunotherapy and taken all the precautions we have discussed here, and nothing works, it may be time to find your furry friend a new home.
While allergic reactions are nothing serious initially, they may trigger some severe problems in the long run such as asthma and anaphylactic shock when you overwork the immune system.