All domestic animals and pets are susceptible to parasitic infestations. Guinea pigs are no different. Skin problems in guinea pigs are among the top reasons for veterinary visits.
The majority of these problems are caused by small insects, living inside or outside the skin, called with one name – mites.
Although the mites are fairly tiny, they can make your guinea pig so uncomfortable. In a state of mental distress, the situation can result in loss of immunity and secondary infections.
If left untreated, mite infestations can lead to more severe disease and put your guinea pigs’ life at risk.
What Do Guinea Pig Mites Look Like?
Different types of guinea pig mites have a different appearance. Some of them are bigger and can be spotted with a naked eye, while others can only be seen under a microscope. One thing is for sure though, they all look nasty.
The first group of mites is called fur mites with two distinct species – the static lice (Chirodiscoides caviae) and walking dandruff (Cheyletiella parasitivorax).
Static lice are fairly harmless species that can be seen moving at the guinea pigs’ rear. They mostly resemble tiny egg-like structures. Walking dandruff is larger and can grow up to 0.3 mm in length. Their color is in between white and yellow.
It’s really common for the fur mites to inhabit guinea pigs without causing any symptoms for longer periods.
They are really small, but still noticeable without a magnification tool. That’s why it’s important to inspect your guinea pig regularly and look for the lurking threat.
The second type of guinea pig mites and the most dangerous one is the mange mites or sarcoptic mites (Trixacarus caviae). Mange mites are microscopic and cannot be spotted with a naked eye.
They bury themselves in your pet’s skin and build small tunnels inside where they lay their eggs. When the eggs hatch the procedure repeats again and again.
The third type of mites in guinea pigs is the biting lice. Slender louse (Gliricola porcelli) is the most common species.
They attach to the hair shaft around the neck, ears, head, and rear of the pet to absorb fluids. The adult forms can grow up to 1.5 mm and be seen with a naked eye. They are thin with no wings and resemble tiny white ants.
Can Guinea Pig Mites Transfer to Humans?
The mites in guinea pigs are only specific to that species and don’t have the ability to exist on/in human skin. That means they cannot be transferred onto humans and reproduce on the new host.
However, occasionally a rash may develop in people with sensitive skin when they get in contact with guinea pigs infested with mites.
Luckily this type of rash is self-limiting and disappears once the direct contact is avoided or the pet is successfully treated.
How Do You Know If Your Guinea Pig Has Mites?
The symptoms of mite infestation in guinea pigs are various and depend on multiple factors like age, immunity status, type of housing, number of affected guinea pigs, type of mites, cross-infestations, etc.
The severity of the symptoms can vary from mild to very severe. Your guinea pig might have mites if any of the following signs appear:
- Hair loss
- Patchy fur
- Self-mutilation (aggressive biting)
- Scabs and inflamed skin
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
Severe infestations with fur mites result in frequent scratching and grooming. The hair has lower quality than usual and the skin becomes red or scaly.
The intense grooming contributes to the forming of hairballs in the mouth of the pet. Because of the hairballs, some guinea pigs will show reluctance to consume food. The complications with fur mites occur in guinea pigs with a weakened immune system.
Sarcoptic mange is the itchiest type of guinea pig mites. The scratching can become so intense that some guinea pigs can experience life-threatening seizures due to the extreme pain they are feeling.
The damaged skin is a perfect ground for pathogenic bacteria and yeast to start colonizing. That’s why secondary infections are very common.
Infestation with sarcoptic mange initially appears on the ears and the face and spreads to the back and the legs of the guinea pig.
The skin becomes thick with yellow and white crusts all over. Sometimes it’s dry and sometimes greasy. The animal starts losing weight and becomes restless.
The signs of lice infestation are somewhat similar to fur-mites infestations. Patchy hair loss, moderate scratching, and reddened skin in the neck and the ears.
The intensity of the symptoms is mild and the parasites and their eggs can be easily visualized.
Whatever the severity of the symptoms might be, if you suspect guinea pig mites, you should make a vet appointment immediately.
Choosing a vet experienced with small animals is important because of the specific biology and physiology of guinea pigs.
Along with the clinical signs, a definitive diagnosis is achieved with a microscopic examination of skin scrapings.
Be advised that the collection of the skin sample is really painful for the guinea pig so only the cold-blooded should remain in the examination room.
Skin scrapings are stressful for the pig but they are the only way to prove or eliminate mange (sarcoptic) mites. Early detection and the beginning of treatment can save your pet’s life!
Can Guinea Pigs Get Mites from Hay?
Theoretically, guinea pigs can get hay mites from infested bales of hay; however, with commercially bought hay that thing cannot happen.
Another unlikely way of transmitting mites through hay is moving it from a cage with guinea pig with mites to a cage with a healthy one. Not sure why anyone would do this, but it is still possible.
These nasty insects can infest your fur-baby when he is in direct contact with an already infested guinea pig.
Regardless of where the new guinea pig originates from (breeder, shop, shelter), there is always a chance of mites. Contaminated bedding is another way of transmission.
Guinea Pig Mites Treatment
Severe infestation resulting in weight loss and seizures may require hospitalization. Guinea pigs in critical condition need to be treated with intravenous fluids, corticosteroid, anticonvulsant (for the seizures), and other supportive care.
Adult mites can live in any organic material, so before you start the treatment you must clean the living environment of your pet thoroughly.
Get rid of any type of wood, bedding, and paper product. During the period of treatment use shredded paper for bedding and replace it daily.
The causative treatment for any mite infestation in guinea pigs is an antiparasitic medication such as ivermectin or newer drugs like imidacloprid, moxidectin, and selamectin. The latter ones come in the form of topical solutions.
Secondary bacterial and yeast infections require a concurrent antibiotic or antifungal treatment. Shampoos with broad antimicrobic properties and soothing effects can also be used at home. Decreased itchiness and flaking indicates that the infestation is under control.
Ivermectin for Guinea Pigs
Ivermectin is the most widely used medication for treating mite infestations in guinea pigs. It is a safe and effective solution for the treatment of all types of mites.
Ivermectin can be applied via injection, given orally, or topically used on the skin behind the ear.
Whilst most veterinarians prefer to give the medication via injection, the solution feels really painful once under the skin and the guinea pig may react accordingly.
Dropping it on the skin instead will also result in the absorption of the medication in the bloodstream and without all the pain.
To completely eliminate the problem, several treatments are required. If your affected guinea pig lives with others that don’t have any symptoms, it’s advisable to treat the healthy ones as well.
Never start treatment without consulting a veterinarian. Even though ivermectin is safe, it still is a poison and without caution, the solution can become the problem.
How to Prevent Mites in Guinea Pigs?
With all the preventative measures combined, there is no guarantee that your guinea won’t ever get infested again. But taking a few precautionary forms of actions can reduce the risk of reinfestation to a minimum.
First and foremost, the housing must be kept clean and the bedding changed regularly. Hygiene is the most important factor in prevention and treatment.
Give your pets a regular health check. Look through their fur and part the hair in the predilection places for mites. If you are not sure, you can always go to a vet to have your guinea pig checked.
The guinea pigs should experience as least stress as possible. Enough space, a place for hiding, enough food, and a friend to keep them company will make them a lot happier.
The food they eat should be of high quality and provide the essential nutrients for their bodies. Adding a vitamin C supplement is always a good idea.
When you want to introduce a new guinea pig, make sure you get it from a trustworthy source. Before binging it home, have it checked for fur mites because the infestations are not always apparent.