Despite what you may have read or heard, rabbits really are hypoallergenic.
“Hypoallergenic” does not mean that rabbits never cause any allergies.
Describing rabbits as hypoallergenic means that they are very, very unlikely to cause allergies. That is what makes them a relatively hypoallergenic pet.
You are seven to 10 times more likely to be allergic to cats or dogs than you are to be allergic to rabbits.
But that does not mean that it is absolutely, positively impossible to have an allergy to rabbits.
You can’t be born with an allergy to rabbits. You have to have some exposure to rabbits, usually at least three to five months, usually for about two years, for your immune system to encode rabbit proteins as allergens.
Scientific study shows that, eventually, about 1 in 70 rabbit owners develop an allergy to rabbit dander, rabbit fur, rabbit urine, rabbit meat, or some combination of all three.
But rabbit allergies are much, much less common, even on a percentage basis, than allergies to cats, dogs, cattle, and horses.
In this article, we will explain what it is about rabbits that can provoke an allergic reaction. Then we will tell you what you can do about it.
How Sensitive People Become Allergic to Rabbits
Researchers have found that almost 99 percent of people who have rabbits never develop an allergy to them. (The precise figure is 98.47 percent of rabbit owners, according to the study linked above.)
You won’t develop an allergy to rabbits unless you are otherwise prone to allergies to animal proteins. Additionally:
- You probably won’t develop an allergy to rabbits until you have had rabbits for at least three months. More commonly, rabbit allergies come on after you have been in contact with rabbits for two years.
- You can develop an allergy to rabbit dander if you live with someone who keeps rabbits or works with rabbits, through the dander on their clothes.
- You can develop an allergy to rabbit dander (flakes of dead skin), rabbit urine (when it dries up and tiny dried urine particles get into the air you breathe), or rabbit “serum” (the blood proteins in rabbit meat). You can be allergic to rabbits in one, two, or three ways.
Nearly everyone who is allergic to rabbits develops both nasal and bronchial symptoms. That is, they both sneeze and wheeze.
Among the 1124 people scientists studied to understand rabbit allergies, just one had an allergy to rabbit meat without ever having been exposed to rabbits in any other way.
But three-fourths of people who were allergic to rabbits were also allergic to dogs, cats, or both.
Another study found that asthma and nasal allergies in children were much worse when the children had any kind of small furry animal, such as a mouse, a hamster, or a gerbil.
These animals provoked even worse allergies than rabbits.
And, when families have multiple furry pets, it is impossible to determine which pet is responsible for which symptoms.
Do You Really Have a Rabbit Allergy?
Even if you have rabbits, and you have allergies when you are around them, you may not have a rabbit allergy.
You may have an allergy to hay. Or you may have an allergy to molds that grow on damp, old, musty hay.
Or you may have an allergy to timothy grass but not other plants used for hay.
The solution is not to try taking hay out of your rabbit’s diet. All rabbits need to eat a diet of mostly hay.
But because many more people are allergic to hay than are allergic to rabbits (up to 30 percent, compared to less than 2 percent.
According to Rekom Biotech, the thing to do is to find out whether you are allergic to hay before you try to find out if you are allergic to rabbits.
You are probably allergic test to timothy grass hay if:
- You get allergies in the early summer.
- Your allergies are worse when the pollen count is high. In most of North America, the pollen count is part of the weather forecast.
- You get allergies when you walk through tall grass. Timothy grass grows about 5 feet (1.25 meters) tall and blooms in the early summer.
- You sneeze when you are putting hay in your rabbit’s feeder rack.
- You are allergic to citrus, canteloupe, tomatoes, peanuts, hazelnuts, pineapples, persimmons, bananas,zucchini, or watermelon, which are cross-reactive with timpthy hay.
One way to know that you are allergic to hay, not to rabbits, is to have a skin-prick test administered by an allergist.
If the problem is hay, then there are some simple steps you can take to reduce your symptoms.
- Wear a pollen mask when you are handling hay.
- If you keep your rabbits mostly indoors, run a HEPA air filter to remove pollen from the air in their room. This also reduces rabbit dander and dried urine particles in the air.
- Sleep with windows closed when timothy grass is blooming in the early summer. It releases most of its pollen at about 4 o’clock in the morning.
- Gently brush your rabbit’s coats while they are standing or sitting over a large piece of paper. Then, roll up the paper from its edges, trapping dander, pollen, and hair inside, and throw it away.
- Make sure everyone in your family removes their shoes before they come indoors after they have been walking through or playing on grass.
- Vacuum upholstery, carpets, and curtains at least twice a week.
Your doctor can prescribe medications that reduce or even eliminate pollen allergy symptoms. But eliminating the source of the allergy may be enough.
What if the source of your allergy is your rabbits? What if you have had allergy testing at your doctor’s office, and you know for sure?
Also read: Can I Dye My Rabbit Hair/Fur?
What to Do If You Have a Confirmed Allergy to Rabbits
Most people keep their pet rabbits even if they are allergic to them. They find ways of dealing with the problem.
Choosing the Least Allergenic Breed
No one has an allergy to rabbit hair.
If you have an allergy to rabbits, you are most likely allergic to the dander that is trapped on your rabbit’s hair.
Dander is tiny flakes of dry, dead skin.
The longer the hair on your rabbit, the more dander gets trapped in your rabbit’s fur, and the less dander gets into the air, where it can activate your allergies.
Here are eight long-haired breeds that may cause fewer rabbit allergies:
- American Fuzzy Lop
- Cashmere Lop
- English Angora
- French Angora
- Giant Angora
- Jersey Wooly
- Satin Angora
Combing your rabbits once a week, outside, over a sheet of newspaper or other paper you can wad up and throw away, reduces allergy problems even more.
Keep Spayed Female Rabbits
Rabbit urine is another source of rabbit allergies, especially when rabbits urinate outside their litter box. The urine dries up, and tiny particles become airborne.
Males that have not been neutered, when you are raising a number of rabbits together, will mark their territory with urine almost any time.
Females who have not been spayed will identify their preferred nesting sites with urine at the beginning of each pregnancy.
Spayed females do less marking than other rabbits.
However, size also matters.
A dwarf rabbit that has not been spayed or neutered will release less urine than a giant that has been fixed.
Take Extra Precautions During Shedding Season
Rabbits shed their hair twice a year, once in the spring so their summer coats can come in and one in the fall so their winter coats can come in.
Shedding hair releases a lot of dander into the air. When rabbits are shedding, rabbit allergy problems are worse.
Rabbit owners can prevent problems by combing their rabbits every day during shedding season. It is a good way to bond with your rabbit.
Place a sheet of newspaper or craft paper on the floor. White paper is better because it is easier to see fleas and mites on a white background.
Get down on the floor beside your rabbit. Your rabbit can see you better when you sit beside it, not directly in front of it or behind it.
Position your rabbit over the paper to catch loose hair and dander, and gently comb its coat with a flea comb or some other kind of fine-toothed comb.
Go all over your rabbit, then fold the paper inward from its edges and throw it away.
Do this once a day while your rabbit is shedding. You will start seeing less hair on the paper toward the end of the shedding season.
Use Your Vacuum Cleaner Regularly
Vacuum cleaners capture the tiny particles of rabbit dander and rabbit urine that can cause allergies.
You may not need to use a vacuum cleaner every day, unless there is a visible accumulation of rabbit hair inside your home.
But vacuuming all the surfaces to which rabbit dander and urine particles can stick, such as pillows, sofa cushions, upholstery, drapes, and curtains reduces the impact of rabbits on your allergies.
You don’t have to get rid of your rabbits just because you have allergies.
First, make sure it is really your rabbit that is causing your allergies, not something else.
Then, remove rabbit allergens by cleaning, vacuuming, and air filters. Then, see your doctor about the best way to keep your allergy symptoms under control so you enjoy living with your pet.
Other articles you may also like: