Guinea Pig Allergies

Are some people allergic to guinea pigs? What do you do if you find out someone in your house has guinea pig allergies?

Guinea pigs are wonderful little pets, but sometimes someone will get a guinea pig only to find out that someone in the house has an allergic reaction. What causes it? What can be done, other than just getting rid of your new friend? We’ll explore all aspects of guinea pig allergies here.

How Common Is It for Someone to Be Allergic to Guinea Pigs?

Having one or more allergies to something is common – in the U.S, it has been estimated that one in five people, or about 5-6 million people, suffer some type of allergy symptoms. About 10 million people exhibit some type of allergy to pets, with cat allergies being the most common. I couldn’t find any exact numbers describing how common allergies to guinea pigs in particular are. Severe allergic reactions to guinea pigs are quite rare, however.

What Are the Causes of Guinea Pig Allergies?

The most common causes for an allergic reaction are coming into contact with proteins found in the guinea pig’s urine, saliva, and sometimes dander. The offending proteins are usually Cav p I and Cav p II (source: NIH). Usually, the main bodily cause of the reaction is the antibody in the blood known as Immunoglobulin E, or IgE. Allergic individuals often have much higher levels of IgE than the rest of the population.

Sometimes you might think you’re allergic to the guinea pig when you’re actually allergic to something else! Some people are allergic to the hay or wood shavings that they use in the cage. If you show an allergy, it’s a good idea to get tested by an allergist to find out exactly what you’re allergic to.

If it’s the bedding you’re allergic to, you can just switch to a different type of bedding and solve your problem. If it’s the hay you’re allergic to, you should store the hay outside, like in the garage or in a shed, and let someone else in the household feed him the hay.

What Symptoms Manifest if You Have an Allergy to Guinea Pigs?

These are some of the symptoms that might show up after handling a guinea pig or handing cage items if you have an allergy:

  • Itchy or watery eyes
  • Swelling of hands, eye area, or throat
  • Asthma attack
  • Throat tightness
  • Shortness of Breath of Difficulty Breathing
  • Runny Nose (sometimes the opposite – a stuffy nose
  • Itchy skin rash
  • Anxiety

What Can Be Done if I’m Having a Reaction Right Now?

If you encounter a guinea pig and have a reaction, you can either go get medical help or treat yourself. Your decision will depend on how severe your reaction is. To treat it yourself, you can take an antihistamine like Benadryl (I’m not a doctor!! This is not medical advice!). Be sure to remove yourself from the guinea pig and his area. It’s a good idea to go outside and get some fresh air.

If you go to a medical facility, they are likely to give you epinephrine or some medication that will lower your body’s immune response to the allergen. If you treat yourself, the main symptoms should disappear in 1-2 hours. If it lasts longer than that, I would definitely go seek some medical help (again – I’m not a doctor!).

Solutions for When You Have an Allergy

If someone in your household is allergic, you might just say “Well, we gotta get rid of the guinea pig!” But there are alternatives to giving him or her away.

  • The easiest solution is to limit contact with the guinea pig or it’s cage contents. This doesn’t mean you have to ignore him or give him away. You can wear rubber or latex gloves when you want to hold him, and keep him away from your face area when you do hold him.
  • Thoroughly wash your hands after handling your guinea-pig or his items.
  • Use a barrier when holding him – put a towel of blanket on your lap, etc. Make sure you wash it each time you use it.
  • Assign the cage-cleaning task to someone else in the household.
  • Take daily anti-allergy medications like antihistamines or corticosteroids
  • To avoid inhaling the offending proteins, you could optionally wear one of those paper face masks that cover your nose and mouth. In Asia, the masks are quite common, and people wear them all the time whenever they get a little cold. You can buy a box of 50 of them at amazon for $4.00.
  • Go to an allergy doctor, get tested for guinea pig allergies, and if you test positive, they can give you allergy shots
  • Buy a good HEPA air filter and put it next to the guinea pig cage. It will filter out airborne allergens, preventing them from getting into your eyes, nose, or throat.
  • If you find out it’s the hay you’re allergic to, try switching to a different kind of hay. Options include Timothy Hay, Orchard Grass Hay, Barley Hay, Bluegrass Hay, Fescue Hay, Oat Hay, Wheat Hay, etc.
  • Wear long sleeves or turtlenecks (or a scarf) when handling your guinea pig to limit skin contact with him
  • Change your clothes after handling your guinea pig or messing with his cage. Put them straight into the washer.
  • Bathe your guinea pig with an anti-allergy shampoo. Allerpet has one called Allerpet C that claims to cleanse the hair of allergens and dander. Amazon sells a 12-ounce bottle for $14.60 + $5.99 shipping.

Good Advice

If you or someone in your house is prone to allergies, you should test your ability to be around guinea pigs before you go out and get one. Find someone who has a guinea pig, visit him, and handle the pet. Spend a bit of time around his cage. If you don’t know anyone with a guinea pig, go to a pet store that sells them and ask to handle one for a while. Most pet stores will allow you to handle the pet and check him out before you buy him.

Laurie Ansberry wrote an article about how she manages her guinea pig allergies without getting rid of her guinea pigs. You can read her tale here.