What To Do If You Are Allergic to Your Rabbit


Are rabbits hypo-allergenic?

I happen to be allergic to both cats and dogs. As an animal lover, I naturally turned to rabbits as my pet of choice, thinking rabbits were a type of pet that I would not have to worry about allergies. Unfortunately, I was wrong. 

As a general rule, it is less common to be allergic to rabbits than cats or dogs. However, rabbits are not hypoallergenic pets. People can have allergic reactions to a rabbit’s dander, saliva, or even urine. The grass and hay used for a rabbit’s diet and bedding can also cause severe allergies in rabbit caretakers.

In my case, I am allergic to hay, which is a staple of the rabbit diet. Because of the high amounts that rabbits eat, hay and hay dust get everywhere in the home, along with rabbit fur and dander. All of these have the potential to cause allergic reactions in people. But there’s no way I could get rid of my bunnies. I have found ways to deal with my allergies while still living with my companion rabbits.


Important: This post contains affiliate links. As an associate to Amazon, Small Pet Select, and Chewy.com, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.


Are rabbits hypoallergenic pets?

Unfortunately, rabbits are not hypoallergenic pets. The fur itself is not a significant allergen, but you could be allergic to a rabbit’s dander, saliva, or urine along with the airborne particles. However, according to a 2007 study in Korea, rabbit allergies appear to be a lot less common than reactions to household cats and dogs. While it is possible for people to have severe allergic reactions, it is not commonplace.

The same study found that people who showed allergic reactions to rabbits were unlikely to also have reactions to cats and dogs. There is a very low chance of cross-reactivity, which means that the allergens present in cats and dogs don’t have much in common on a molecular level with rabbit allergens. They are two completely unrelated allergies. If you cannot get a cat or dog because you are allergic, a rabbit could be a good option for you since the allergens that rabbits produce are different from these other pets.

The reality is that no mammal is entirely hypoallergenic. Even animals marketed as hypoallergenic pets show very little science to back up their claims. So even though rabbit allergies are rare, if you’ve never spent much time around rabbits before, you may find that you are allergic.

How to know if you’re allergic to rabbits

If you’re thinking about getting a pet rabbit, you probably want to know if you’re allergic before bringing your new bunny home. I volunteer at a rescue center, and one of the common reasons that animals are brought back after an adoption is because the new caretakers suddenly realize they are allergic. It’s an unfortunate situation, but also understandable that you wouldn’t want to live with allergies for the rest of your life.

The easiest way to figure out if you’re allergic is to spend time around rabbits. If you know anyone with bunnies as pets, see if you can hang out with the rabbit for a few hours. If you have no reaction (such as watery eyes, sneezing, trouble breathing, or hives), you are probably not allergic.

At the animal shelter, one of the tips we recommend for people who believe they might be allergic is to take home a towel that’s been rubbed all over the animal in question. Then carry the towel around your neck and sleep with it nearby to see if you have an allergic reaction. It’s not a foolproof method, but it’s usually pretty effective.

Are you allergic to rabbits or hay?

While allergies to rabbits are relatively rare, grass allergies are commonplace. The bad news is that a rabbit’s primary food source is hay, which is basically just dried grass. Even if you are not allergic to rabbits, you might be allergic to their food. 

If you already know that you have a severe grass allergy, it’s probably best for you to stay away from rabbits. However, a mild allergy is definitely manageable. This is the scenario that I find myself in. Fortunately, my allergies are not severe. Since the hay mainly stays in one small area of the home, I don’t have much trouble keeping my allergies at bay. 

If I clean frequently, the grass allergens that I’m allergic to don’t affect my day-to-day life too much. You can wear gloves while handling hay and a face mask while cleaning to prevent inhaling the hay dust. I also always take an over-the-counter allergy pill before cleaning to avoid itchy eyes and sneezing due to hay allergies.

There are also different types of hay that you can give rabbits to help reduce allergy symptoms. For example, if you are most allergic to timothy hay, you may be able to transition your rabbit to orchard hay instead, another healthy option.

Are some rabbit breeds better for people with allergies?

You may have heard that rex or maybe angora rabbits are hypoallergenic and better for people with allergies. I have not been able to find any research that backs up this claim. Anecdotally, it appears these breeds may be better for allergy sufferers, but more likely, it varies by individual. 

If rabbits are like other mammals, then I can only assume that the amount of allergy-causing particles they produce fluctuates based on the individual rabbit, not the breed of rabbit. So there may be a specific rabbit you are less allergic to, but probably not an entire breed. The only way to find out is to go and meet the rabbit and see if you have a reaction.

It has not been studied in rabbits, but there is a small amount of research going into the characteristics of cats that could cause greater allergic reactions in humans. Female cats and lighter colored cats tend to produce fewer allergens on their skin and saliva. Cats with longer fur also tend to produce less of a reaction in humans because the hair follicles are better able to hold the allergens against their skin. While it hasn’t been studied specifically, it’s possible that the gender, color, and fur length of rabbits will also affect how much of an allergic reaction you will have.

BRUSHING A RABBIT
During shedding season, rabbits will shed more dander and allergen particles along with their fur.

How seasons can affect rabbit allergies

You may find seasonal changes in your rabbit allergies. It’s common to find that you’re not allergic to your rabbit in winter but are constantly sneezing with watery eyes once spring comes. This is how I experience my allergies around cats and dogs, and it likely has to do with the amount that the animals are shedding.

Most types of mammals, rabbits included, have heavy shedding seasons in the spring and fall. This usually means that people will have stronger allergies to animals during these seasons. Because allergies tend to coincide with heavy shedding season, many people believe that a rabbit’s fur is what’s causing the allergic reaction. However, the animals are also shedding skin cells and dandruff. More allergen particles are becoming airborne, which exacerbates allergy symptoms.

Because of this, you may want to be prepared to spend extra time cleaning and have over-the-counter allergy pills ready in case you start to have mild allergic reactions during these seasons. If you find you have severe allergic reactions, it’s best to get medication prescribed from an allergist.

What to do if you are allergic to your rabbit

If you got a rabbit and then realized you have allergies, there is a lot you can do to lessen the symptoms without giving up your pet. Our rabbits can come to feel like a part of the family very quickly after we bring them home. I would never want to give them up just because of some mild allergies. Use these tips to help keep your allergies at bay while living with a house rabbit.

1. Clean frequently

Frequent cleaning is the best step you can take to limit your allergic reaction to your rabbit or their hay. Cleaning keeps the allergen particles from building up as dust around the home. You’ll inhale fewer allergens and touch fewer of them on surfaces around the home. You’ll want to vacuum and dust frequently to keep the area as clean as you can.

While you are cleaning, pay attention to air conditioning filters and ceiling fan blades since these are areas that collect a lot of dust and fur before dispersing it back around the home. Learn more about my techniques for cleaning out rabbit enclosures.

2. Avoid handling your rabbit

If you hold and pet your rabbit frequently, you’ll be more likely to have an allergic reaction. The dander and saliva can easily rub off onto you, your hands, and your clothing. The allergens also have the ability to stick onto surfaces for long periods of time, so you may continue to experience allergies many hours after you’ve touched your rabbit.

3. Wash your hands often

By washing your hands frequently throughout the day, you can avoid touching your face with rabbit or hay allergens on your hands. For many people, allergies won’t be severe until they get into the eyes or nasal passages. If you are diligent about washing your hands, especially after touching your pet, you’ll be much less likely to experience allergy symptoms.

keep rabbits away from open doors
Use baby gates to keep a rabbit from having access to some areas of the home to prevent allergens from spreading.

4. Keep some areas of the house rabbit-free

If you can, try to designate one room of the house as the rabbit room and keep your rabbit out of all other rooms in the house. This will give you some safe spaces around your home to sit and breathe if you are experiencing major allergy symptoms.

When you’re allergic to the hay, keep it closed into a box with a cover. Only open the box once a day to feed your rabbit. This way, you’ll prevent the hay dust from becoming an airborne allergen.

5. Use hardwood floors

When searching for apartments, I always try to find the options with wooden flooring because it’s better for my allergies. Wood floors are easier to clean and don’t collect allergen particles the way carpeted floors will.  If you have the option to use hardwood floors in your home, go for it. 

8. Brush your rabbit during shedding seasons

Brushing your rabbit daily during heavy shedding seasons, or even multiple times a day, can prevent all those allergen particles from becoming airborne. Instead you can help your rabbit shed their coat more quickly and place the fur in the garbage where it won’t circulate around the room.

6. Use an air purifier

Air purifiers are great at cleaning airborne pet dust and allergens. I recommend getting an air purifier with a HEPA filter. The filter is what is able to effectively remove the allergens from the air in a way that is safe for rabbits. I do not recommend getting an air purifier that uses ionizer technology. In the past, these were known to be harmful to birds and some small pets. Ionizer purifiers are better regulated now, but it’s best to stay on the safe side and stick with the HEPA air purifiers.

7. See your doctor about allergy medication

If you have severe or ongoing allergies, the best solution might be to see an allergist or immunologist about getting a daily allergy medication. There are many medications, such as nasal sprays, available that are highly effective at controlling the symptoms of pet allergies. You may also be able to get periodic allergy shots that can work to suppress the allergy symptoms you are having without needing daily medication.

Do NOT bathe your rabbit

Before I finish, I want to give a warning about bathing rabbits. There is some advice online for pet allergies that recommend bathing the animal to help. While it may be safe for cats and dogs, do not bathe your rabbit.

First, it’s an ineffective way of controlling allergens in the home. A study was done with bathing cats to see how it affected allergens in the air and home. The bath made very little difference, and the allergens in the home were back to normal within 24 hours.

Bathing is also dangerous for rabbits. Without proper care, a wet rabbit could go into hypothermia, or their delicate skin can cause a major injury even from a small cut. Rabbits who are bathed also have a higher likelihood of injury due to slippery surfaces and handling, ear infection from getting water up their ears, and in rare cases, they can get shock from touching cold water. Check out my article to find out more about why you should not bathe your rabbit and better ways to keep them clean.

Sources

  1. Feldweg, Anna. “The Truth About Cat Allergies.” Everyday Health. December 2006. https://www.everydayhealth.com/specialists/allergies/truth-about-cat-allergies.
  2. Jeong Hee Choi, Hyun-Mi Kim, and Hae Sim Park. “Allergic Asthma and Rhinitis Caused by Household Rabbit Exposure: Identification of Serum-Specific IgE and Its Allergens.” Journal of Korean Medical Science. October 2007. Accessed: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2693847.
  3. Marx, Maggie. “Are Air Purifiers Safe for Pets?” RabbitAir, www.rabbitair.com/blogs/air-purifier/47383941-are-air-purifiers-safe-for-pets.
  4. Robinson, Jennifer MD. “Pet Allergies: What You Need to Know.” WebMD. May 2019. https://www.webmd.com/allergies/pet-allergies-triggers.
  5. Smith, Susan Ph.D. “Living With Rabbit Allergies.” House Rabbit Society. https://rabbit.org/care/living-with-rabbit-allergies/.

Amy Pratt

Amy Pratt is a lifelong rabbit owner who has been specializing with rabbits at the Humane Rescue Alliance. She helps to socialize the rabbits and educate volunteers on the care and behavior of these small mammals.

Recent Posts