One of the best things about chinchillas is that they don’t trigger allergies as easily as other pets. But is it true to say that they’re hypoallergenic? Can they cause asthma attacks, or worse?
Can you be allergic to chinchillas? You can be allergic specifically to chinchillas. They produce very little dander, but you can also be allergic to their urine or saliva, or to the hay they eat or the dust they bathe in. They can trigger severe asthma attacks in those already prone to them. Owning a chinchilla is not hypoallergenic despite what other guides say.
If you only have slight asthma, a chinchilla won’t trigger it worse than anything else. But it is possible to be allergic specifically to chinchillas. Read our comprehensive guide below to learn more!
Are Chinchillas Hypoallergenic?
Other sources state that chinchillas are perfectly fine for people with allergies, but that’s not true. They aren’t hypoallergenic. That’s because:
- You can be allergic to chinchillas themselves
- You can be allergic to a chinchilla’s hay, urine, bedding or bathing dust
There are specific tests that check whether you’re allergic to other pets or foods. While it isn’t commonly used, there is a blood test that can be done to check whether you’re allergic to chinchillas. This is different to a general dander allergy test. Many doctors aren’t aware of this, so you might have to ask for it specifically or talk to an allergy specialist. A doctor can also diagnose you as likely to be experiencing a chinchilla allergy based on what you tell them and their observation of your symptoms.
Whether you’ll have a reaction to chinchillas depends on the extent and type of your allergies. They are definitely better than other pets, but you shouldn’t get a chinchilla if you need an entirely hypoallergenic pet.
Do Chinchillas Get Dander?
Most sources say that chinchillas don’t produce dander, and this is true in a sense. People with allergies to animal dander don’t have as severe a reaction to chinchillas as to other animals.
But dander isn’t a mythical, magical substance—it’s dead skin, and chinchillas have skin. Chichillas don’t (or more accurately, can’t) use Olay anti-aging cream, so their skin cells gradually die and are replaced like in any other animal. And when a chinchilla’s skin cells die they have to go somewhere. They aren’t whisked away into a portal to another universe.
What’s really happening is that the chinchilla’s thick coat of fur catches the dander. When another animal shakes or rubs itself against something, it leaves behind dander. But a chinchilla’s dander stays in its fur instead. This makes chinchillas better for people with dander allergies, but it’s not true to say they’re completely hypoallergenic.
Owners suggest keeping the chinchilla in a clean cage with no bedding or accessories in it for an hour or so, and spending some time around it. This will tell you whether your allergy is from the chinchilla or its cage setup.
Can You Be Allergic to Chinchilla Food (Hay)?
A chinchilla for people with asthma is as bad as other pets. That’s because you can be allergic to a chinchilla’s cage.
Chinchillas eat hay, which is dried grass. ‘Hay fever’ isn’t just a reaction to hay; it’s actually relatively uncommon to be allergic specifically to hay. But you can be, and if you are, a chinchilla isn’t for you. Hay dust can also trigger asthma attacks. Unfortunately, there’s nothing else that can form the cornerstone of a chinchilla’s diet.
You would have to replace this hay every once in a while so that your chinchilla has enough to eat. But you would also need to feed it hay pellets, roughly a tablespoon per day. These and hay cubes are better than fresh hay because they give off less loose dust, but they could still cause a reaction. There would be no way of avoiding handling hay and breathing in any dust that comes from it each time you feed your pet.
Can You Be Allergic to Chinchilla Urine?
Most people think you can only be allergic to a pet’s dander, but that’s not true. You can also be allergic to its urine. Scientific studies show that urine can have allergens all of its own, distinct from those found in dander. While the chinchilla’s allergen profile hasn’t been looked at by scientists, it’s likely that chinchilla urine gives off allergens too.
With pets that go to the toilet outside, that’s not a major problem. But your chinchilla will either go to the toilet in a chosen corner of its cage, or in a litter box if you’ve provided one. Unless you constantly spot clean your chinchilla’s cage, it will sit there, and you can have a reaction to it. The urine can also soak into the bedding you use, which makes it doubly dangerous if you’re highly allergic.
On top of the allergy to your chinchilla’s urine, you can also be allergic to its saliva. You can come into contact with this saliva either by handling your pet or by touching something it gnawed on. Again, saliva can contain unique allergens, but it can also share the same allergens as are found in dander.
Can You Be Allergic to Chinchilla Bedding?
There are several common kinds of bedding people use for chinchillas, including kiln-dried pine (‘KD pine’), aspen and CareFresh. KD pine and aspen are made of wood that you can be allergic to. CareFresh is marketed as hypoallergenic.
It is possible to keep chinchillas with beddings other than these, which you won’t be allergic to. But this is still something you must be aware of.
Can You Be Allergic to Chinchilla Dust?
Chinchillas don’t bathe in water, they bathe in dust. There are two main kinds of dust available, which are pumice and aluminum silicate. Blue Cloud dust, which you might have heard of, is the aluminum silicate kind.
These kinds of dust can cause asthma flareups. Some owners note that they aren’t allergic to anything other than their chinchilla’s dust, which indicates that the problem isn’t a pet allergy, but a generic asthma issue. If you want hypoallergenic chinchilla dust, there are specialists who make it. But as for whether they’ll have any available is another question.
Are Chinchillas Allergy Friendly Overall?
Yes and no. They don’t produce anywhere near as much dander as other pets. But they also need to bathe in dust and eat hay, which other pets don’t. So, if you’ve got existing allergies and especially if you have asthma, a chinchilla might not be a good choice.
Our advice is to talk to a medical professional about the extent of your allergies. If it’s safe to do so, you could also benefit from handling a chinchilla in a pet store or visiting a friend who has them to gauge how serious your reactions are. There are lots of people with mild allergies who keep chinchillas and seem not to mind.
Chinchilla Allergy Symptoms
The symptoms you’ll experience if you’re allergic to your chinchilla (or anything in its cage) are similar to those you get with other allergies. The severity of these symptoms can vary. On the less serious end of the scale, you can expect:
- A stuffy nose
- A runny nose
- Sneezing & coughing
- Slight itching
But the more serious symptoms include:
- Tightening of the throat and difficulty breathing
- Lots of itching
These symptoms can be scary. If you have ever experienced these symptoms with other pets, you’ll know how bad they can be. But if you’ve never had asthma or an allergy to pets, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll experience them for the first time with a chinchilla.
How to Keep a Chinchilla If You’re Allergic
If you have asthma or allergy issues that aren’t severe, you may still be able to keep a chinchilla. We would recommend against it as you shouldn’t play games with your health. But if you’re going to do it anyway, there are things you can do to keep reactions to a minimum. These things are possible because most reactions stem from the chinchilla’s cage rather than the chinchilla itself.
Buy an Air Purifier
HEPA air purifiers suck in air and get rid of any allergens in it. These work best for dander, but can effectively help with dust, urine and bedding allergens too. You can sit one in the room that your chinchilla lives in, and it should make the effects of your allergy less serious. You’ll likely have to change the filters regularly as the bathing dust, especially, could clog them up. The only drawback is that good models are expensive, but if your allergies are a constant pain, the price might be worth it to you.
You can also keep the air clean in other ways. Frequent dusting and vacuum cleaning helps.
Use Fleece Bedding
Owners use many different kinds of bedding. Perhaps the most common is fleece. This doesn’t give off dust like wood- or paper-based beddings, and can be laundered easily.
Don’t Keep Your Chinchilla in Your Room
Proximity makes allergies worse. You can therefore keep your reactions under control by keeping your chinchilla in a room you don’t go in frequently.
The problem with this is that your pet will be lonely, and you won’t even enjoy having it. So, if your allergies are this serious, you should think twice about whether you would even have fun owning a chinchilla.
Wear a Mask & Gloves when Cleaning
To keep your chinchilla’s cage clean, you’ll have to spot clean it every day. This means swapping out litter trays and soiled bedding, and sweeping up poop. If this will make your reactions flare up, consider wearing a respirator and/or gloves.
You can buy masks like these from hardware stores. Look for ones that block out particulates, or marked particulate respirator. These are for contractors who work around lots of dust, and they filter that dust out.
Again, if you have to wear gloves and a mask to even handle or be around a chinchilla, you should consider a different pet! But if you have allergies and are still going to get a chinchilla, you must consult a medical professional beforehand. It’s your health condition and your choice, but make that choice fully aware of what’s facing you.