Seems like everybody has allergies these days. Are more people more allergic to more things, or has the media simply made us more aware of allergies - and the products to fight them? For owners who love their pets, being allergic to one of them can be heartbreaking. An allergy is an inappropriate response (causing troublesome symptoms) to substances that cause no response in most people. For pet owners, it's often the skin (welts, redness, itching) or respiratory system (hay fever or asthma type symptoms) overreacting to animal dander, particles of skin and hair or saliva and urine. For cavy owners it can also be a reaction to dust and pollen in bedding (such as wood shavings) or hay. If an owner is sensitive, bedding or hay dust on the cavy may be enough to set off an allergic reaction while cuddling it.

To weed out the cavy as the culprit and to hopefully get quick relief from symptoms, an owner might want to omit hay and bedding from the cage (and the house) for a week. Cage and accessories should be rinsed well to remove all traces of dust and debris. Bathing the cavy in a mild cleansing/conditioning pet shampoo is also important to clear out potentially irritating leftovers. During this time flat towels or newspaper can be used on the cage floor. Withholding hay is probably tougher than not using loose bedding, as most cavies love their hay. If allergy symptoms lessen or disappear during this week, it's a good indication the cavy isn't the problem.

Wood shavings can be very irritating to some people. Cedar is especially bad, and should never be used as small animal bedding. Cedar contains chemicals that can trigger allergic responses, and may also cause serious health problems in animals constantly exposed to it. Pine and even aspen bedding can trigger allergies as well.


There are quite a few pelleted and/or recycled bedding products on the market now that claim to be allergyfree. They are generally more expensive than wood shavings, but may be worth the price to avoid allergic reactions.

If owners don't mind a little extra laundry, cavies can be kept comfortably on flat towels instead of loose bedding. Towels need to be changed twice daily. I buy nice thick towels for cavy cages. Thin ones get urine soaked too fast and wear out quickly from frequent washings. Wal-Mart often has sales on nicer towels when the color is discontinued.



An alternative is to line the cage pan with newspaper and use shredded paper as bedding. Personal shredders are fairly cheap nowadays. Cavies enjoy tunneling under and chewing up shredded paper. Drawback is paper becomes urine soaked quickly and needs to be changed every 2 or 3 days.

If hay is the allergy instigator, owners need to experiment to see what (if anything) is tolerable. It may be as simple as buying a better quality grass hay. Much of what I see sold at local pet stores is junk - old, brown and dusty. The dustier hay is, the more irritating it will be to both owner and cavy. An owner sensitive to hay dust and pollen may do OK with fresher greener less-dusty grass hay, such as generally sold by American Pet Diner. The more tightly packed hay cubes might cause less reaction than loose hay. American Pet Diner sells a timothy/apple cube called Apple Smacks. Oxbow Hay Company sells a 70% timothy/30% alfalfa cube called Hay Cakes. Those a problem, too? Years ago I knew a man who soaked hay cubes in water, then drained them for his pigs. He claimed the cavies liked them that way. I was skeptical, but it did keep the dust to a minimum. Some people are more sensitive to one type of hay than another. Timothy isn't the only grass hay cavies can have. Oxbow Hay Company (800-249-0366) and American Pet Diner (800-656-2691) both sell orchard grass and wheat grass hay, Oxbow sells brome as well. Canary and bluegrass are other acceptable grass hays.

If all else fails, Oxbow Hay Company makes a timothy hay based pellet called Cavy Cuisine. If hay in most its forms makes life miserable for a cavy owner, the cavy can make do with Oxbow's timothy pellets added to his diet. It's a small price to pay for staying in a comfortable home with an owner who loves him, and will no doubt make up the loss of hay with plenty of other treats. Perhaps a daily ration of fresh grass could be fed instead (free of fertilizer and weedkiller of course). Some pet stores sell small pots of live wheat grass through the winter months so herbivores needn't go without. Owners can also grow their own grass and save some money.

Worst case scenario - it is indeed the cavy causing somebody in the family to have allergic reactions. Don't pack his bags yet. Routine bathing may help reduce allergens on the cavy's coat and skin.


A popular veterinary book, The Biology and Medicine of Rabbits and Rodents, states "Allergies to guinea pig dander and proteins are common, and commercial shampoo preparations intended to remove antigens from animal fur may reduce human allergic response."

One such product is Allergen Shampoo, advertised as "non-toxic to cats and all other pets, regardless of the amount of licking." Another product is DanderSeal spray, advertised as "Safe, non-toxic and non-irritating to the eyes and skin of humans and animals." A mild moisturizing pet shampoo may do just as good a job at eliminating dander, maybe followed up with a leave-in coat conditioner like Miracle Coat brand Skin Treatment Spray or Spray-on Shed Reducer. You can check with local pet stores or veterinary clinics for these and similar products, or order them from KV Vet Supply mail order catalog (800-423-8211).

If the owner has become allergic, can somebody else in the family take over cuddling and routine care of the cavy? For several years I had cavies as classroom mascots in a couple 5th grade schoolrooms. Teachers got permission from all the parents first, and asked specifically about children with allergies. A couple times we did have kids with allergies to furry pets in the class. The parents OKed the cavies as long as their kids didn't have reactions to them. These children were put on the opposite side of the room from the cavies, didn't handle them, and did just fine.

Unfortunately, some people are so sensitive to cavies that just being in the same room with them can trigger an allergic response. In these extreme cases owners can try keeping the cavies in a room the allergy sufferer doesn't frequent.

I generally do not like having cavies shut away from the family, but it may be better for them to be somewhat isolated if necessary rather than forced to find a new home. A pair of cavies are likely to do better in this situation as they have each other for company. If the room is well lit, with a radio on softly for background noise, and plenty of toys and chewables to keep busy with - the cavy should do OK.


It is important that somebody in the family can provide the cavies with attention and affection each day. Give them as much quality time as possible. Cavies can still be let out for exercise, if kept in an enclosed area with a plastic tablecloth or small tarp on the floor so all traces of the cavy can be easily cleaned up once exercise time was over. A plastic wading pool used as an exercise area is even easier to rinse out and air dried after use.


All family members should wash their hands and arms after handling the cavy. Keeping a special shirt handy to wear while holding the pig, something that can be taken off afterwards, will help control dander and debris migrating through the house.

As the media constantly reminds us, there are many medications available to help people cope with allergies. Chances are, if you're allergic to cavies - you're allergic to other things as well, so removing the cavy from the home may not solve all the allergy problems. Like the notorious House Dust, for instance. How the heck does a person escape that? Sensitivity tests can better pinpoint exactly what a person is allergic to, and working with an allergy specialist may be the ticket to making life much more comfortable for allergy sufferers - and their beloved pets.

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