If you find yourself sneezing and spluttering when you’re close to your piggy, you may have an allergy. Here’s our guide to coping when your piggy is making you ill.
Sneezing, wheezing, swollen lips and itchy eyes….
The chances are that you know someone with an allergy. In fact, allergies are so common, you may well have one yourself. According to the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation, it is estimated that a staggering 20 million people in the UK suffer from allergies.
So what exactly are allergies?
Allergies develop when your body’s immune system becomes sensitive to ordinarily harmless substances, such as pollen, dust, hay or fur. Your body’s immune system kicks in with a physical reaction which is when you’ll experience certain unpleasant symptoms from rashes to sniffles or even itchy eyes. These symptoms can range from mild to severe so it is important that individuals seek advice from their doctor for further assessment if an allergy is suspected.
Generally, allergy sufferers can cope by avoiding whatever it is that triggers their symptoms - certain foods or beauty products, for instance.
But what if you discover that you’ve developed an allergy to something really precious in your life, such as your beloved pet?
Unfortunately, pet allergies are very much a thing.
Some pet owners may sneeze when they’re close to their cat or sniff when they cuddle their dog. And how about guinea pig parents? Well, sorry to say, but we’re not immune to allergies! The sad truth is that some people are allergic to their little fluff balls.
We asked our Kavee community on Instagram if they suffered allergies to their piggies - and were overwhelmed with responses, such as these:“I am! My eyes suffer the most. They get watery, itchy, dry and red.” @happylittlebea
“I am definitely allergic to hay! Every time I go in their room I get hay fever symptoms like streaming eyes, itchiness and sneezing! When I touch it my hands and arms come out in a rash! After cleaning or changing hay I am so wheezy and my throat feels very itchy.” @higgiepiggies
“My spouse is very allergic to cats and dogs, so we got guinea pigs. Turns out that I’m allergic to them! Or rather, their hay aggravates my sinuses.” @megthegpmom
It’s official - guinea pigs may be adorable and super cuddly and they make amazing pets. However, for such tiny little creatures, they’re also very allergenic! Sad times….
How do I know if I’m allergic to my guinea pig?
There are a few tell-tale physical allergy signs, including:
- runny nose
- watery, itchy, sore eyes
- asthma, wheezing, coughing or shortness of breath
- skin reactions such as itchy skin, hives or a rash
- swollen face, eyes, lips or mouth
If you suffer one or more of these irritating symptoms around your guinea pig then this is pretty indicative of an allergy.
However, if your symptoms are more severe or you’re not sure if your pet is triggering them, you should consult your doctor for further advice. Your doctor may refer you for allergy testing at a specialist allergy clinic, where a test may be carried out using patches, blood tests or skin prick testing. This test will help your doctor identify what is specifically triggering your allergy and help them to create a treatment plan for you.
It’s important to be aware that the NHS doesn’t recommend the use of DIY home allergy test kits. That’s because allergy tests should always be carried out by a trained medical professional.
Why am I allergic to my guinea pig?
There are a number of reasons why you may have started sniffling and sneezing around your piggy - and some aren’t as straightforward as you’d think. That’s why we have listed some of the most common causes of allergies when caring for guinea pigs!
Allergy to your guinea pig’s Hay
Have you ever gotten itchy after handling hay? Maybe you have even started to feel congested or teary eyed after being in the same room as hay. With up to a quarter of the global population suffering from hayfever, is it any surprise that our guinea pig’s favorite food stuff gives many of us the sniffles? So, what exactly is hayfever?
Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, is described as an allergy that irritates the delicate mucous membranes of your nose, eyes and mouth. This allergy is commonly triggered by dust, pollen, or in some cases, mold!
Let’s face it, guinea pigs LOVE hay.
They don’t just enjoy munching on it either. They roll in it, sleep in it, hide in it….they’re basically little hay monsters and their fur is covered in tiny particles of pollen and hay dust, even if you choose top quality hay marked as ‘dust extracted’. So when you cuddle and kiss your guinea pig, you end up inhaling these particles.
Cleaning out your cavy’s cage is another hay fest for us piggy parents! When we remove soiled hay and replace it with mounds of lovely fresh hay, we end up inhaling those tiny particles and getting them stuck to our skin which may then transfer to our eyes and airways, causing nasty allergic reactions.
How to cope with your guinea pig hay allergy
Use good quality, dust extracted hay, keep it in a closed container to reduce air pollution, open windows during cage cleans, and use an air purifier to remove tiny irritants from the air such as dust and hay particles, like @heidi_adele_piggies who says: “Air Purifier with HEPA filter is 🙌.”
Wear sunglasses or goggles (yes, really) and one of those fabric face masks that you probably have hanging around right now, to protect your eyes and airways when handing hay.
You should also wear gloves and long-sleeved tops when handling hay to protect your skin from irritation from hay, as @wooarkansascavies recommends: “My husband has developed an allergy to timothy hay and he has never had any allergies before. He wears an N95 mask when he helps clean up and a pair of nitrile gloves.”
Allergy to your guinea pig’s wood shavings
It’s possible to be allergic to certain types of wood and sawdust. Just like hay, even wood shavings marked as ‘dust extracted’ will contain an element of dust.
So if you use wood shavings as bedding for your guinea pig’s cage, you may find that it causes you to sneeze, cough or wheeze, develop runny, itchy eyes or even skin problems such as rashes, blisters and itchiness.
You may find that your allergic reactions intensify when you clean out your guinea pig’s cage as you handle the wood shavings and inhale the dust.
How to cope with your guinea pig wood shavings allergy
As above, wear gloves and sunglasses or goggles when changing your guinea pig’s bedding. Buy dust extracted wood shavings and store them in an airtight container before use. Open windows during cage cleans and use an air purifier. However, the best option when you’re allergic to wood shavings is to convert to Kavee fleece liners - as we explain below!
How can my choice of guinea pig bedding help ease my allergies?
Choosing the bedding for your guinea pig’s cage is one of the biggest decisions you’ll make for your fluffballs and a topic we’ve previously discussed at length here at Kavee.
For many years, wood shavings were the traditional option for guinea pig parents - they’re relatively cheap, easy to buy and they’re absorbent - ideal for soaking up guinea pig pee.
However, as we’ve already mentioned, wood shavings can trigger nasty allergies for guinea pig parents due to their high dust content (even the packs marked as ‘dust extracted’).They can also be very messy.
Thankfully, there is another option - and this is one that Kavee wholeheartedly endorses!
Fleece liners. Kavee fleece liners are highly absorbent, super soft for delicate piggy feet and reusable because they’re machine washable - and most importantly for allergy sufferers, they’re hypoallergenic.
When we asked our Kavee Instagram community whether they suffered allergic reactions to their piggies, we received this reply from @rikke_rimmen: “I was until I started to use fleece liners.”
Here at Kavee, this sort of positive testimony is music to our ears and we want more piggy parents to know that they could also reduce their allergy symptoms too. All they have to do is opt for fleece liners rather than dusty wood shavings, which are constantly releasing allergenic particles into the air.
When you use fleece liners for guinea pigs, you can take them out after a few days and stick them in the washing machine for a thorough clean. The other benefit of fleece liners over wood shavings is that you can style your guinea pig’s cage to suit your own home décor as Kavee fleece liners come in a wide range of snazzy colors and designs. Long-term, they work out being cheaper and more eco-friendly than disposable loose bedding types too.
How many more reasons do you need to make the change to fleece?!
Allergy to guinea pig fur, dander, urine and saliva
Part of your guinea pig’s charm is their silky, strokeable fur, right? But sadly, for some piggy parents, fur can be an issue by triggering a reaction.
However, it’s actually more likely that you are allergic to your guinea pig’s ‘dander’ - which is the official term for the teeny flakes of skin shed by any animal with fur or feathers. These microscopic pieces of dead skin can cause allergic reactions in some people if they come into contact with them - which of course you will do during cuddles and playtime.
You may be surprised to hear that you can also be allergic to your guinea pig’s urine and saliva - yes, really! The Humane Society explains: “Some people are allergic to guinea pigs. These allergies are a reaction to proteins in the animal's saliva and urine.”
Again, microscopic traces of these allergens can be transferred to you via your guinea pig’s fur and dander, without you even realizing, when you handle your piggies and clean out their cage.
How to cope with your guinea pig allergy
Wear gloves and long-sleeved tops when holding your piggies and cleaning out their cage to protect your skin from irritation. Keep your hands clean too, as @megthegpmom explains: “I make sure to wash my hands immediately after handling them and cleaning/feeding.”
Allergy to your guinea pig’s food
Believe it or not, some foods produced for guinea pigs - such as pellet mixes containing cereals or mass produced chew bars - contain artificial colors, which might trigger your allergic reactions.
How to cope with your guinea pig food allergy
Piggy parents with this type of allergy may find that by switching out their guinea pigs’ pellets to one with higher quality ingredients may help improve their allergy symptoms. Your guinea pigs will also benefit from the increase in quality of their pellets.
Just make sure that any change is done gradually as you do not want your piggies to reduce or stop eating as they adjust to the new food.
If you do not wish to change your piggy’s pellets, you may also wish to consider using a dedicated scoop so that you do not come into direct contact with your guinea pig’s pellets.
- If you suspect that you’re allergic to your guinea pig’s food, try a different brand. Natural grain free pellets and snacks are best for guinea pigs.
How can I cope if I’m allergic to my guinea pig? Further Advice and Strategies
Knowing what to do about mild allergic reactions to your guinea pigs
Sadly there isn’t a cure for allergies but sometimes kids outgrow them in time, which is worth bearing in mind if it is your child who is affected.
In addition to the tips provided above, if you know that your pet is causing your allergies, you should be able to ask a doctor or pharmacist for guidance on over-the-counter treatments to ease mild discomfort, such as:
- Eye drops
- Antihistamine medication
You could also try natural allergy remedies including:
- Nasal barrier balm, such as Haymax
- Essential oils - lavender and chamomile have anti-inflammatory properties and which are often used in diffusers or as sprays.
Fellow piggy parent and influencer, @nutsandchips, swears by Chamomile water as she says it helps ‘calm down the allergies’ when she finds her skin gets itchy after handling her guinea pigs.
Other tips for reducing allergy symptoms include:
- Keep your hands clean after handling, feeding and cage cleaning.
- Using an air purifier to remove tiny irritants from the air such as dust and hay particles.
- Wear a fabric face mask, sunglasses or goggles to protect your eyes and airways.
- Ask for help with cage cleaning and feeding from someone who doesn’t suffer allergies to reduce exposure to your symptom triggers.
- Keep your piggies in one room to avoid spreading your allergy triggers, such as dust or dander, around your home.
- Store and wash your guinea pig fleece liners inside Kavee laundry bags and always wash your pet’s bedding in a separate wash to your own clothes to avoid transfer of allergens such as hay, fur and dander.
Knowing what to do if you have a severe allergic reaction to your guinea pigs
Whilst severe reactions to guinea pigs are very rare, they can happen. A severe reaction - known as anaphylaxis - causes your immune system to overreact by flooding your body with chemicals that can cause you to go into shock. Anaphylaxis is a potentially life-threatening reaction so it is important to recognize the signs so that you can act swiftly. Symptoms include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling or tightening around your airways
- Weak pulse
- Clammy skin
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sudden skin rash or pale skin
If this happens, you need to seek immediate medical attention. If you or someone goes into anaphylactic shock, it can ultimately be fatal if left untreated.
If you suffer from a severe allergic reaction, your doctor may advise you to carry an adrenaline auto-injector. This is a hand-held medical device that is prefilled with a dose of epinephrine. Epinephrine is a life saving medicine that can help during an anaphylactic reaction. If administered, it is important that you still seek medical assistance as reactions can still proceed even after receiving a dose. For more information on adrenaline auto-injectors, it is important to speak with your health care professional.
What if I am unable to manage my guinea pig allergy symptoms?
As we’ve already mentioned, sometimes guinea pig allergies can be really serious and even life threatening. If you suffer from shortness of breath or suspect that you are going into anaphylactic shock, you should seek immediate medical help.
Sadly, though, if you can’t manage the symptoms that are being triggered by keeping your guinea pigs, then you may have to make a very difficult decision.
No matter how much you may love your piggies, nothing is more important than your health. Your own safety and wellbeing should always come first.
If you come to the conclusion that you can no longer look after your pet, surrendering an animal can be devastating and heartbreaking. You may feel bereft - as though you’ve suffered a bereavement and guilty for not being able to keep your beloved pet. It’s a really difficult situation to find yourself in, there’s no doubt about it.
But if your guinea pig - or any other pet - is making you or someone else in your household seriously or intolerably ill, and none of the allergy reducing measures that we’ve listed above are having an impact, then sadly it is a decision that you may need to make.
When you make this decision, you must take responsible action by either:
- Giving your guinea pigs to a family member or friend, who you know can look after them and is willing to do so.
- Arranging for them to be taken in by a guinea pig rescue
Giving up a beloved pet is a decision no one ever wants to make. But the truth is that you deserve to be able to enjoy life without feeling ill and your guinea pigs deserve to be cared for by someone who can look after them 100 per cent too.
In some cases, it really is the kindest decision to make all round.
Can guinea pigs have allergies?
Us humans aren’t the only ones who can develop allergies. Animals can suffer with them too.
Guinea pigs do sneeze occasionally (it’s super cute) but if you notice them doing it frequently or they develop watery eyes, red, sore skin or a runny nose, they may have an allergy. For more information on guinea pig sneezes, you may find our article, ‘Bless You! The Truth About Guinea Pigs and Sneezing’ helpful.
Guinea pigs can have allergic reactions triggered by:
- Hay dust
- Sawdust from wood shavings
- Certain foods
- Cleaning products
- Strong scents such as perfumes
- Mites and fleas
Sadly, guinea pigs are very susceptible to respiratory illnesses and if they are exposed to allergens for a long time, they may become ill.
You can help your guinea pigs with their allergies in a number of ways:
- If you suspect that your piggy is allergic to a certain food, take that food out of their diet and see if it helps.
- If you notice that their symptoms are triggered by hay, try a different brand and always make sure it is labelled ‘dust extracted’.
- To minimize dust, fluff up the hay pile before you put it in your guinea pig’s cage.
- Minimize hay spread around the cage by using a hay feeder bag
- Dampen down dust by lightly spritzing your guinea pig hay with a water spray bottle.
- Switch from dusty wood shavings to guinea pig fleece liners.
If you or your guinea pigs are struggling with allergies, we hope that our advice article has been helpful to identify different ways to help you both cope.
Whilst you might be allergic to your guinea pig’s fur, dander, hay or bedding, such as wood shavings, your guinea pig may also develop allergies to certain cleaning liquids, food, such as their pellets, or even to dust in their hay or wood shavings.
To identify your allergies, your doctor can arrange for you to take an allergy test and may also find relief from some over the counter treatments for some of your symptoms.
To help both you and your guinea pig you can also consider changing your set up - by putting your guinea pig in a spacious C&C cage and changing from wood shavings to fleece liners - and by trying different types of hay or pellets.
If you are concerned about the severity of your own symptoms - or your guinea pig’s symptoms - you should seek medical advice for further assessment and support.