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Pet allergies are one of the top reasons rabbits are surrendered to our rescue. The good news is that while allergies can’t be cured completely, they can often be managed to the point where you can keep your pet, making the pet happy and you able to breathe a bit easier!
If you're allergic to many things but haven't met a rabbit before, we encourage you to visit us at care day and just meet a bunny first before taking one home. Most people are allergic to the hay, so buying a bag of hay ahead of time and ensuring that you can handle it is also a 'cheap' option to try to test allergy sensitivity. We also have a foster-to-adopt option.
Always talk to your doctor about allergy management when it comes to your health. This article is intended solely for husbandry tips to manage your allergen exposure.
Allergies have a cumulative effect. If you’re allergic to several things, you’ll need to limit your exposure to all of them in order to see a big difference. If you’re only mildly allergic to cats and weeds, doing a little yardwork and petting the neighbor's cat in the same day can be enough to trigger a response, but doing those activities on different days may not cause a noticeable reaction.
Managing your contact with allergens is the most effective thing you can do. Antihistamines will help, and visiting an allergist to get tested will help you determine what your strongest allergens are. Shots are often very effective if received routinely until your response has diminished.
So what triggers your bunny allergies? Most often it is the timothy hay that rabbits eat that is the main culprit. The dust in most varieties of bedding can be a source too. Allergies to an animal itself are usually caused by the saliva more than the pet dander. More people are allergic to cats and self-grooming animals because they bathe themselves so frequently, placing those saliva proteins on their hair, which later gets airborne or sits on your furniture.
- Switch from timothy hay to another type of grass hay (orchard, bermuda, oat) or to lessen the dust, many pet stores have timothy hay cubes.
- For litter, switch to a pelleted paper product (such as Yesterday's News in the cat section or Back-2-Nature), or use plain newspaper. If your rabbit is trained to use a litterbox, you don't have to provide bedding for the whole cage.
- Brush your bunny frequently (and outdoors) to minimize the amount of hair in your environment. A shedding brush (especially the Furminator or Shed-Ender) often works better and more efficiently than a slicker brush, but be careful with repeated use as it can be hard on sensitive bunny skin.
- Wipe down your bunny with wet cloth to grab loose hair, or use Allerpet/C (which breaks down many of the proteins that cause allergies - www.allerpet.com) to reduce the dander and hair but keep it from becoming airborne.
- Keep your rabbit in a single room (less to clean) or do not allow the rabbit access to your bedroom (keep it a "safe haven" from allergens). Be sure the rabbit is kept in a place that it will still feel like part of the family and not easily forgotten.
- Use a HEPA vacuum to clean. The animal allergens are small enough to go right through the filter of most vacuums, spewing them right into the air and making your allergies worse.
- Use an air purifier in the room the rabbit is in most often.
- Keep all of your allergens at bay by reducing the amount of carpet in your home, keeping curtains clean, and change your central air conditioner/heating system filter.
- After handling what you are allergic to, wash up and change clothes so you don't continue to breathe it in throughout the day.
Want to know for sure if you're allergic to rabbits or hay? You can see your doctor or check out the following links for at-home testing (these have NOT been evaluated by MHRR):
Health Labs' Rabbit Allergy Testing that is available in Baton Rouge and other Louisiana locations.
Health Labs' Timothy Hay Allergy Testing, that is available in Baton Rouge and other Louisiana locations.
Accesa Labs' Timothy Hay Allergy Testing
We understand that allergies can develop at any time, and the reactions to allergies can change throughout a person's lifetime. Husbandry management will usually make a difference, but may not work every time or be enough to make your symptoms manageable. We always encourage you to check with your doctor about any medical concerns.
"I used to not have allergy problems with my rabbits but over the years I developed an allergy to timothy hay. At first I thought it was just the dust from the hay causing me to sneeze when pulling it out of the bag or cleaning the cage but then I noticed it didn't happen when I fed or cleaned out the cage of my oldest rabbit, Q-Tip. A few years ago he developed an allergy to timothy hay and I switched him to orchard grass. When I figured out I was allergic as well I just switched all my bunnies to orchard grass.
My parents are allergic and it's not to the hay. I already use a dust free litter (Back-2-Nature), clean cages frequently, and vacuum often with a HEPA filter. Ammonia and dust can cause both Q-Tip and me to get a bit sneezy. When my parents visit I make sure to do these things right before they come and also take the extra step to move bunnies away from where they are sleeping and change the A/C filter."
- Lisa and her rabbit "Q-tip"
"I have suffered from allergies for years, both indoor and outdoor...and especially pets! When I first started fostering bunnies I thought I was allergic to the animal, but that was not the case. Instead of giving up on fostering I made a few easy changes and voila! no allergies. Most of the rabbits have hay as bedding and also eat timothy hay to help with digestion. I have switched from using hay to using natural paper bedding (which you can get at pretty much any pet store). I also provide the foster rabbits with timothy hay cubes, which they seem to really enjoy...and obviously lots of veggies and fruit. The cubes are quite compact and last a while so really there is no added expense. Also, the rabbits do not seem to have a problem with the paper bedding.
I have not had an allergic reaction to a bunny since I made the switch. Right now I have a rabbit with especially long hair, and I thought maybe the allergies would come back, but no. For people with allergies, there are alternatives if you want to have a rabbit for a pet...it just takes time figuring out what works for you and the bunny."
- Rachel and her foster bunny "Fluffy"