Are Guinea Pigs Hypoallergenic? How to Prevent Allergic Reactions

About 10 to 20% of people have some kind of allergy to their pets. Many animal lovers find it difficult to deal with their pet allergies and look for less traditional animals that may be easier on the allergies. Some people may turn to guinea pigs as alternative pets to cats and dogs. But are guinea pigs any better for allergies than other animals?

Guinea pigs are not hypoallergenic. They shed dander and hair just as other animals do. Some people are also allergic to the hay that guinea pigs eat. However, guinea pigs may be better for people with allergies as their hair and dander are confined to a cage. Hairless guinea pigs (skinny pigs) do not shed hair, but they do shed dander. However, skinny pigs may be better for some people’s allergies, particularly if someone is most sensitive to the fur.

Many children have had their hearts broken when they are set on owning a pet, only to find this is impossible due to allergies. People often claim certain dog breeds are hypoallergenic, and some also make this claim about animals like guinea pigs. It is important to investigate the truth of these claims before purchasing a guinea pig or other animal.

Are Guinea Pigs Hypoallergenic?

Hypoallergenic refers to something which will not elicit or provoke allergies. To be hypoallergenic, guinea pigs must have a complete absence of shedding skin and hair.

Guinea pigs, like other animals, have skin that is renewed regularly. The old skin cells are shed and known as dander.

Similarly, hair has growth cycles that include a growing phase, a dormant phase, and a shedding phase. Hair is shed to make way for new hair growth. This is necessary for guinea pigs as it keeps their coats healthy. Broken and damaged hair is replaced with healthy new growth that protects the skin and keeps the guinea pig warm.

The result is that guinea pigs cannot be considered hypoallergenic as they shed both hair and dander.

Guinea pigs also eat hay as 80% of their daily diet, which can trigger some people’s allergies. Certain types of hay are more friendly to allergies, such as orchard grass hay or bluegrass. However, it’s important to test your reaction to hay before getting guinea pigs.

Are Skinny Pigs Hypoallergenic?

Skinny pigs are guinea pigs that, through genetic mutation, do not grow fur coats like regular guinea pigs. They have a very short down called peach fuzz. They do not shed as much hair and so considerably reduce allergens.

They do still shed dander, which can be a trigger for allergic people. They are, therefore, not hypoallergenic, but they are less allergenic.

Are Guinea Pigs Better For Allergic People?

People with pet allergies have an immune system that mistakenly identifies the proteins in pet dander and hair as allergens or toxins. The person’s immune system responds in an exaggerated manner, and the person suffers an allergic attack. The symptoms may vary individually.

Often people with allergies may have an allergic response to one animal but not others. For example, people may be allergic to cats but not dogs. They may be allergic to horses but not donkeys. 

If someone is allergic to cats or dogs, it does not follow that they will necessarily be allergic to guinea pigs. Genetic differences in animals mean each species has a unique protein in their skin and hair. This can result in someone that is violently allergic to dogs and cats but fine with guinea pigs.

In some cases, the quality and characteristics of the hair may also trigger allergies. Chinchillas have very fine fur that clings to surfaces and may easily trigger allergies. Guinea pigs have coarser hair and shed less than chinchillas meaning they are more allergy friendly.

Guinea Pigs Have Cages Making Them Allergy Friendly

Dogs and cats usually share the home with their owners. Their hair and dander are shed all over the house, including furniture, carpets, and bedding. Guinea pigs live in cages, which helps confine their hair and dander to a limited space.

Keeping the allergens limited to the cage allows people that are allergic to reduce their exposure to guinea pig skin and dander. Having someone who is not allergic clean the cage and feed the piggies can also reduce allergic reactions significantly.

The option of a skinny pig further reduces the allergen load in the home. It is vital to remember that guinea pigs are social animals, however. It is best to keep them with a guinea or skinny pig friend.

How To Reduce Guinea Pig Allergies

Some people opt to keep guinea pigs even if they have allergies. The allergic response to guinea pig proteins can be managed with some precautions.

Use Protective Gear When Handling Guinea Pigs

Using disposable or rubber gloves when handling guinea pigs will reduce the owner’s exposure to allergens. This is especially useful for those people that develop rashes, hives, or eczema in response to guinea pig hair and dander.

Long sleeves are also useful in minimizing skin exposure. A dust mask or other face mask will help to reduce exposure to airborne particles. A mask is essential for people that experience asthma, runny nose, and sneezing in response to guinea pig hair and dander.

Goggles prevent itchy or watering eyes in people allergic to guinea pigs.

Wash Well After Handling a Guinea Pig

Allergic owners should wash their hands, arms, and face well after handling their guinea pigs or cleaning the cage. Some people choose to shower to remove all the allergens.

Keep The Guinea Pig In Only One Room

Keeping the guinea pig in only one room of the home limits the spread of allergens. Avoid moving the guinea pig around the home.

Guinea Pig Bedding And Food May Worsen Allergies

People who are allergic to animals are often also allergic to grass and plants. Guinea pig bedding is often made up of wood shavings or chips.

These may trigger allergies, so it is worth checking if these are the problem and not the guinea pig. The wood shavings may also worsen allergic responses. The good news is that less allergenic alternatives are available for bedding, like fleece or paper-based bedding.

Similarly, grass or hay will often trigger allergies. While guinea pigs need grass or hay to stay healthy, some options may not trigger the owner’s allergies as much, like orchard grass hay or bluegrass.

In Conclusion

Guinea pigs are not hypoallergenic but are sometimes less allergenic than other pets. Since guinea pigs live in enclosures, this limits their exposure to one area which can benefit people with allergies. Skinny pigs shed less and can be less triggering for allergic people in some cases. However, it’s always a good idea to test your allergies to hay, bedding, guinea pig fur, and skinny pigs before committing to bringing some piggies home.

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