Saturday, September 12, 2015

Guinea Pig Allergies

Cat and dog allergies are well-known, which is not surprising given that they are more commonly owned pets. Is it possible to be allergic to guinea pigs as well? The answer unfortunately, is yes, although luckily our humans do not suffer from this problem.

What are allergies?
Allergies occur when your immune system is hypersensitive to a substance that normally isn't a problem for others. Allergies can cause red eyes, itchy rashes, runny noses, skin inflammation, and difficulty breathing.

How common are guinea pig allergies?
According to one source, 15% of people are allergic to dogs or cats. Another source claims 10% of people are allergic to household pets, with twice as many allergic to cats as dogs. We have no idea how common it is to be allergic to guinea pigs. The closest we've found to an estimate of this is a study of allergies among animal handlers, which found that 16% of animal facility workers were allergic to one of the animals they worked with (rat, mouse, guinea pig, hamster, and rabbit), but only 3% of non-animal handlers were allergic. So we're guessing somewhere in the neighborhood of 3%-16% might be allergic to guinea pigs, but nobody knows for sure.

What should I know about guinea pig allergies?
Here are a few things you should know about guinea pig allergies:
  • Contrary to what many people think, it is not the hair itself that causes allergic reactions. Animal hair can be a good carrier for the substances that cause allergic reactions, however.
  • The substances that actually cause allergic reactions are usually proteins in the saliva, urine, and dead skin debris. Because of this, getting a hairless breed of guinea pig like a skinny pig or a baldwin will not prevent allergic reactions.
  • If you do not yet have a guinea pig and are considering getting one, it's probably a good idea to find out if you're allergic first. See an allergist and get tested. If you are allergic, you can then decide if it's worth the hassle of trying to control your allergies or not.
  • If you're allergic and still want to be a guinea pig owner despite this, you might want to try immunotherapy (allergy shots). Treatment can take up to 18 months, and is likely covered by your health insurance policy if you have one. Please note that while this treatment is effective in the majority of patients, it does not work for everyone.
  • Besides immunotherapy, there are also medications like antihistamines that may help. 
  • In addition to being allergic to guinea pigs, it is also possible to be allergic to hay and certain kinds of bedding (e.g. aspen or pine bedding). If this is the case, you may want to switch to Carefresh or fleece for your bedding, and experiment with different types of grass hay. (For example, we found one person who was severely allergic to timothy hay, but completely fine with orchard grass hay.)
  • It is a good idea to keep the source of potential allergens (the guinea pigs, the hay, and the bedding) out of (and away from) your bedroom.
  • It is also a good idea to have an air purifier in your bedroom and another one by the guinea pig cage.
  • If you are allergic, try to get someone else who is not allergic handle the tasks that are likely to set you off. This includes clean the cage, handling the hay, and so on.
  • You should wash your hands and arms after handling your guinea pig if you're allergic. You could even add barriers like gloves and paper towels to prevent physical contact if necessary
  • Clean your house frequently and thoroughly to prevent the accumulation of allergens.
The decision to get a guinea pig should not be taken lightly. You should do your research on whether you're allergic before you get a guinea pig. If you're allergic and decide to get one anyway, you should do your best to keep your allergies under control and give us a decent home. Discarding a guinea pig (or any other pet) due to a failure to plan for the possibility of allergies is not only unfortunate, but irresponsible and unfair to your furry friend. So do your homework, and take your cavy commitments seriously!


  1. I have a male guinea pig named chewy who we take outside once every day. We just got an outdoor dog and would like to keep taking chewy out. Any tips for getting them to like each other?

  2. We have 2 piggies, Bob and Billy. Billy has straight fur. Bob has crazy fur that goes in all directions and is a serious shedder. I am allergic to cats and used to be allergic to dogs, but seem to have outgrown it. Both my son and I are allergic to Bob. :( We can hold him a few minutes before it hits and then it's sneezing and itchy eyes for us both. (It definitely doesn't stop us from giving him love!) Billy doesn't shed as much and we don't react to him.

    1. Very strange! Unknown said the same thing below regarding having an allergic reaction to some guinea pigs but not others. We might have to look into this and maybe do a follow-up post.

  3. We are looking after my son's guinea pigs, he had two girls and we were fine with them but he has recently had a male with crazy hair and both myself and my husband get tight chested around him. Not sure wether its the long hair or wether its because he's male so not sure if we can look after them again :(

    1. That's strange that you would have an allergic reaction to one guinea pig but not the others. You didn't change hay or bedding around the time you got the male, did you?