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Allergies, what are they and what can be done?

When you think of allergies, you think of cats, pollens, dust and some foods. Did you know you can be allergic to guinea pigs? Some people are allergic to nearly every pet out there.

Are allergies becoming more prevalent or are we becoming more aware? It's hard to say, but many allergists, who study the system of your body as a whole, are coming to understand that the body becomes overwhelmed with pathogens, or perceived toxins or invaders, and fights back against all things that might be irritating. Do you have allergies, or know somebody that does?

Allergies are either inhaled (breathing in pollen or dust), ingested (food allergies), or tactile (touching or contact allergies). Inhaled allergies are by far the worst to control. You can wear a mask, but still some small microparticles can get through the masks, and frankly, masks aren't that comfortable to wear. They can keep your face toasty in the winter however, when you have to feed horses and cows!

Ingested food allergies are theoretically one of the easier ones to get over, it's a matter of just not eating those foods. It's difficult though, when you have to read every label of food products you buy at the store... you can't imagine all the products that manufacturers slip bacon, egg or corn into! Try to buy just about anything without corn in it, whether it be corn sweetener, corn solids, corn starch, corn syrup... well, you get my point.

Tactile allergies are a bit more difficult, depending on the severity of the allergy. Many folks who are allergic to cats can be in the same room, and even pet the cat, but just must remember not to touch their eyes or nose before washing their hands. Some other people cannot even be near somebody who has cat hair on their clothes, they are so sensitive to that allergen! Many people who find they are 'allergic' to guinea pigs, are in this category.

Most owners will discover an allergy to their guinea pig when scratched on accident by a scrambling guinea pig. The claws may slightly open the skin, introducing the allergen. The area may become red, swollen, itchy or very irritated, or even a rash may break out when you touch the piggy. This may persist for up to 3 days. Other folks may notice itchy eyes, swollen and teary eyes, running or itchy nose, coughing, tickle in the throat, sneezing around the piggy, or even a mild rash around the face. This is a bit more difficult. About 60% of the folks who experience these latter symptoms aren't actually allergic to the guinea pig, but rather to it's shavings or hay!

If you are actually allergic to the piggy, there is a product that was made for cat and dog allergies, and through personal experience I can recommend it highly. I shared an apartment with somebody in 1996 who was HIGHLY allergic to my cats, and in desperation I tried Allerpet (I got it through Jones & Co Pets in Lynnwood, Washington, USA, but can also be found at Petco and Petsmart, if you can't get it through your local smaller pet store), and it neutralizes the acids in the cats saliva. It works WONDERFULLY!

People can be allergic to many compenents of their animal, from the dander (dead skin and hair), saliva, urine or even the dust that the hair can carry. Allergies are cumulative, so if your home is dusty or pollens are in the air, your allergies (and your immune system!) are in overdrive! Anything you can do to help eliminate or lessen one of the allergens will help you out immensely.

If you think you may be allergic to your bedding, there are a couple of options for you. Pine shavings (and aspen) are dusty, but mostly its the wood itself you are allergic to. Carefresh, supposedly the 'allergy' free bedding, is dustier even than shavings! It didn't work for me, and I don't care for the odor of it when it gets wet. You can bed your pigs on newspaper, shredded paper, or even towels. All of these are a lower dust option than CareFresh or shavings.

If you think you may be allergic to the hay, you can offer hay cubes instead. It's a cubed version of the hay, but more processed with more water which tends to rinse away the fines, the pollens, seed heads and dust. Some pigs eat it just fine, others don't seem to recognize it as food. My pigs love it! Keep in mind, even pellets are dusty, but opening the bags outside, or keeping it in a covered plastic bin also helps.

For those of you allergic to your guinea pigs, or you think you are, we implore you to try to talk to an allergist, who can suggest filters, shots, and other regimes to help combat your allergies. Remember what was said about this being cumulative - you very well may be allergic to dust or pollen, which may be at a high rate, and your immune system may not be able to handle both the pollens and the piggy. However, when the pollen or dust is negated, you may be able to handle your guinea pig with ease. Giving up your pet should be your LAST resort, NOT YOUR FIRST!

What I did with the Allerpet was to drench a washcloth with it (it's clear and does NOT stain!) and rub the animals with it, backwards, to saturate the skin and the coat. A pleasant smell, not chemically or very perfumed, and no oily residue! It dried quickly, and was harmless, even with my fastidious rabbit, my curious cavies, and the two very cranky cats. I didn't use it with the parrots, but it is reportedly safe enough to do so!

I re-applied the Allerpet about once a month, and the allergies diminished exponentially! I highly recommend this product!

If you can't find it where you live, please check out AllerPet's Online Site for dealers in your area and for questions that were not answered here.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at kirstinkey@yahoo.com.