Animal lovers who have the misfortune of suffering from allergies tend to look for animals that are hypoallergenic. Many have flocked to the chinchilla for companionship for the same reason, but are chinchillas truly hypoallergenic? Well, the answer is yes and no at the same time.
Chinchillas themselves are hypoallergenic, which we’ll discuss in a second, but their lifestyles can still cause allergic reactions. In this article, we will define what hypoallergenic is and is not. We will discuss the main sources of pet allergens, why Chinchillas are considered hypoallergenic, how chinchillas can cause allergic reactions, and some tricks of the trade to make your chinchilla ownership enjoyable.
What does hypoallergenic mean?
Contrary to popular belief, it does not mean that something is allergen-free. Hypoallergenic means that something has a small likelihood of causing an allergic response. The prefix “hypo” means below normal or deficient, which means that animals and products considered to be hypoallergenic are less likely to cause a reaction, but it can still happen.
About 30% of Americans are allergic to dogs and cats alone, so pet allergies are relatively common. Pet allergies stem from reactions to proteins in animal urine, dander, and saliva; it’s an immune response. Our bodies produce antibodies to fight off foreign invaders such as viruses and bacteria.
When people have allergic reactions, it’s because their bodies have created antibodies to something it labeled as harmful. This causes your immune system to overreact, which results in inflamed sinuses, airways, skin, or digestive system. For pet allergies, the body senses the proteins in pet urine, dander, or saliva, and thinks it’s under attack. It triggers the immune system and voila!, allergic reaction to your furry friend.
Why Chinchillas Are Hypoallergenic
Chinchillas are hypoallergenic because they shed very little dander. Dander is essentially dead skin that floats off when animals shed their fur or scratch themselves. People are generally allergic to the proteins that dander carries.
Chinchillas have skin, so they do produce some dander, but their fur is so thick that it catches and holds it. When Chinchillas take dust baths, they freshen up their fur and remove any dander and oil that may have collected. Chinchillas cannot take water baths because their fur is so thick, it acts like a sponge and absorbs water like crazy. If they stay wet for too long bacteria can form and lead to illness or death.
Chinchillas do lose their hair like any other animal, which is why they are “hypo” allergenic and not allergen-free. They are less likely than other animals to cause allergic reactions because they produce less dander and because of their wonderful dander trapping fur. The problem is their lifestyle.
How Chinchillas Cause Allergic Reactions
Despite their dander catching fur that makes them ideal pets for people allergic to pet dander, there are a few things about chinchillas that people can be allergic to.
- Dust Baths
As mentioned before, chinchillas do not bathe in water, they bathe in sand. They naturally do this in the wild but the sand that people buy in stores is fine and can get everywhere if you are not careful. When chinchillas bathe, the dust can get all over the area and even become airborne for a moment when they shake the dust off. These fine particles can irritate sinuses and cause allergic reactions.
- Their bedding
Chinchillas are a tad picky when it comes to the materials they like to waltz around on. Kiln-dried pine shaving, aspen shavings, fleece, and recycled paper are the best options for bedding. People may be allergic to these materials and think that it’s the chinchilla they are allergic to.
Also, the purpose of the bedding is to make a nice comfortable floor for your chinchilla to run on, sleep on, and urinate on. Many people are allergic to the protein in animal urine, so if your chinchilla’s bedding is soaked with urine, it’s likely to cause an allergic reaction.
- Their food
Chinchillas need a diet high in fiber. A popular food that chinchilla owners buy is Timothy hay or Alfalfa. Timothy hay in particular provides the right amount of nutrition that chinchillas need. While it ensures your chinchilla is getting the nutrients it needs, it may cause an allergic reaction in owners that are particularly sensitive to grasses.
Tricks Of The Trade
So, you have decided to buy a chinchilla, or you already have one, here are a few tricks and tips to lessen your allergic encounters with your chinchilla.
- Take dust bathes outside or in a bathroom with a ventilator.
If you bathe your chinchilla in its cage every time, the dust can build up. This dust has dander, oils, and other things that can cause allergic reactions. Bring your chinchilla outside or in a bathroom when bathing. Afterward, sweep up any dust that flew out of the “bathtub” and throw it away to make sure that dander is gone for good.
- Invest in an air purifier.
Although very clean, chinchilla cages and products can infiltrate your household air supply. Running an air purifier a few times a week can help keep the allergens at bay.
- Clean the cage regularly.
This cannot be stress enough. You should clean the cage out at least once per week. Maintaining a clean cage not only looks good and smells good, but it will lower your chances of reacting to your chinchilla’s home each time you walk by. It’s also not a bad idea to wear some protective gear when you do so. Putting on a mask and wearing some gloves can go a long way in preventing you from going into a sneezing fit when you clean the cage.
Chinchillas by themselves are hypoallergenic because they produce less dander. Their cuddly fur also traps the dander, so it doesn’t free-float around your home causing you to sneeze. Yet, there are several things about their environment that can cause allergic reactions, such as their dust baths, bedding, and food. By following the tricks of the trade you can lower your chances of having allergic reactions and be able to enjoy your chinchilla more.