Guinea pig epithelium

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Code: e6
Latin name: Cavia porcellus
Source material: Epithelium and dander
Family: Caviidae
Common names: Guinea pig, Cavy
Direct or indirect contact with animal allergens frequently causes sensitisation.
Animal allergens are major components of house dust and laboratory dust.

Allergen Exposure

Geographical distribution
The Guinea Pig (unrelated to Pigs—the name may be due to this rodent’s shrill squeal), native to South America, has been used as a domesticated food source for hundreds of years in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. Guinea Pigs have also been invaluable in research laboratories, where they have been used in fields such as nutrition, pathology, genetics, and toxicology. The Guinea Pig is also an excellent pet, much handled by children due to its gentleness and sociability. Cavia porcellus are not known in the wild (unless in a feral state), but domesticated Guinea Pigs are now found worldwide in captivity.
There is a number of varieties, some with short, smooth hair and others with longer hair; and a great range of color combinations, including mixtures of black and white and many shades of brown. They have rounded bodies, large heads and blunt noses and reach a length of 15 to 25 cm and a weight of 450 to 900g.
Guinea Pigs as a food source can be kept in specialised huts or allowed to run free and scavenge. It is believed that feral colonies of Guinea Pigs may be present in some South American countries, living in grasslands or forests. See also under Geographical distribution.
Guinea Pig allergens are derived from the urine, saliva, and pelts of Guinea Pigs. (1, 2) In sera from patients with Guinea Pig allergy, 3 major allergens have been identified with molecular weights of 8 kDa, 17 kDa and 20 kDa (2). Three have been characterised to date:
  • Cav p 1, a 20 kDa protein, found in hair, dander and urine
  • Cav p 2, found in hair, dander and urine (3-5).
    Serum albumin, which binds significant amounts of IgE (2).
  • Cav p 1 is a member of the lipocalin family (6).
Guinea Pig dust, dander, fur, urine and saliva have been reported to be the more potent extracts; while whole pelt, faeces and serum were considerably less active.
There appears to be no appreciable difference in the potency of the allergens between the sexes. The results of skin- and serum-specific IgE, and of inhibition studies, suggest cross-allergenicity between the various extracts (2).
Guinea Pig allergen particles may be as small as 0.8 micrometre in size, and would be capable of remaining airborne for long periods after disturbance. In one study urine was said to be the major airborne allergen as well as the allergen to which the greatest percentage of the subjects studied reacted (4).

Potential Cross-Reactivity

The cross-reactivity of Guinea Pig urine, pelt, or albumin has been studied in RAST inhibition assays. Guinea Pig pelt extract and urine produced dose-related inhibition in all 3 assays, i.e., were cross-reactive, but Guinea Pig albumin was inhibitory in only the homologous assay (4).
Cav p 1, from Guinea Pig hair, has been shown to have 57% identity with a sub-sequence of MUP (major urinary protein), a member of the lipocalin superfamily. Allergenic relationships among Guinea Pig allergens derived from hair and urine of different animal species (Mouse, Rat, Cat) were studied by ELISA inhibition assays, and neither urine of Mouse, Rat and Cat nor hair extracts of Rat and Cat produced appreciable inhibitions in Guinea Pig ELISA studies. Thus, although the physicochemical characteristics of Cav p 1 are very similar to those for other rodent allergens, and partial sequence identity with Mus m 1 occurs, Cav p 1 is an immunologically independent major allergen (6).

Clinical Experience

IgE mediated reactions
Asthma, allergic rhinitis and allergic conjunctivitis occurs frequently following sensitisation to Guinea Pig allergens (7-11).
In a study of atopic children with contact with pets, 29% were sensitised to Guinea Pig and 21% showed clinical signs in the animal’s presence (12).
In New Delhi, India, the role of animal dander in the etiology of bronchial asthma was studied. Intradermal and bronchial provocation tests with Guinea Pig whole pelt extracts performed on 68 asthmatics resulted in significant positive skin reactions in 1.4% of the group (13).
In 20 laboratory workers who experienced allergic symptoms after exposure to laboratory animals, 9 manifested elevated IgE antibodies to Guinea Pig urine, pelt, or albumin according to a radioallergosorbent test. Skin-specific IgE showed documented allergenic activity with all 3 Guinea Pig allergens. Guinea Pig urine allergen activity was detected in all indoor air filter samples by RAST inhibition. The authors conclude that urine appears to be the major source of Guinea Pig allergens, and that it is present in airborne particles small enough to penetrate the lower respiratory tract when inhaled (4).
Guinea Pig-allergic individuals show high serum levels of specific IgE and have demonstrated an immediate positive reaction to nasal provocation testing with urine-derived antigens (1).
Other reactions
Contact urticaria in laboratory technicians has been reported (14).
Compiled by Dr Harris Steinman,


  1. Hanada T, Shima T, Ohyama M. Allergic rhinitis in laboratory workers caused by occupational exposure to guinea pigs: an immunological and clinical study. Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol 1995;252(5):304-7
  2. Walls AF, Newman Taylor AJ, Longbottom JL. Allergy to guinea pigs: I. Allergenic activities of extracts derived from the pelt, saliva, urine and other sources. Clin Allergy 1985;15(3):241-51
  3. Bush RK, Wood RA, Eggleston PA. Laboratory animal allergy J Allergy Clin Immunol 1998;102(1):99-112
  4. Swanson M, Agarwal M, Yunginger J, Reed C. Guinea pig derived allergens. Clinicoimmunologic studies. Characterization, airborne quantification and size distribution. Am Rev Respir Dis 1984;129:844-849
  5. Walls A, Taylor A, Longbottom J. Allergy to guinea pigs. II. Identification of specific allergens in guinea pig dust by crossed radioimmunoelectrophoresis and investigation of possible origin. Clin Allergy 1985;15:535-546
  6. Fahlbusch B, Rudeschko O, Szilagyi U, Schlott B, Henzgen M, et al. Purification and partial characterization of the major allergen, Cav p 1, from guinea pig Cavia porcellus. Allergy 2002;57(5):417-22
  7. Muljono IS, Voorhorst R. Atopy to dander from domestic animals. Allerg Immunol (Leipz) 1978;24(1):50-60
  8. Osuna H, Maeda Y, Mita H, Yasueda H, Kaneko F, Hayakawa T, Hasegawa M, Murakami E, Akiyama K. 18 cases of asthma induced by hamster or guinea-pig bred as pets. [Japanese] Arerugi 1997;46(10):1072-5
  9. Hook WA, Powers K, Siraganian RP. Skin tests and blood leukocyte histamine release of patients with allergies to laboratory animals. J Allergy Clin Immunol 1984;73(4):457-65
  10. Bruchhausen D, Bruchhausen M. Guinea-pig and golden-hamster hair allergy. [German] Z Allgemeinmed 1975;51(34):1600-2
  11. Schultze-Werninghaus G, Gonsior E, Meier-Sydow J. Guinea-pig asthma. [German] Dtsch Med Wochenschr 1976;101(8):275-9
  12. Lelong M, Bras C, Thelliez P, Drain JP. Does the allergic child become sensitized to small domestic mammals (guinea pig, hamster, rabbit?). [French] Allerg Immunol (Paris) 1990;22(1):23-5
  13. Gupta S, Bidani RK, Jhamb S, Agarwal MK. Role of animal danders as inhalant allergens in bronchial asthma in India. J Asthma 1996;33(5):339-48
  14. Agrup G, Sjostedt L. Contact urticaria in laboratory technicians working with animals. Acta Derm Venereol 1985;65(2):111-5


As in all diagnostic testing, the diagnosis is made by the physican based on both test results and the patient history.